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Good day at the office?

A miserable workplace is bad news for everyone. Our faculty expert Apryl Rogers-Brodersen explores how to ensure all go home with smiles on their faces.

March 7, 2017

By Cory Phare

Let’s start with an obvious point: No company sets out to be a terrible place to work.

And yet, who doesn’t know at least one person who thinks his or her job totally sucks? The fact is, building a happy, productive workplace is a tricky task that takes lots of hard work and constant revision – it’s like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces keep changing.

The following list identifies eight ingredients that can contribute to a contented workplace – and warns of some pitfalls.

1. Be authentic
By definition, authenticity can’t be faked. So, while employers can say and do the right things, if they’re just paying lip service everyone will soon know it. Giving out positive messages and then not living up to them is counterproductive. But, if employees are convinced their leaders really do have their best interests in mind, that counts for a lot. Basically, most people will go the extra mile for someone they feel has their back.

2. Clever bosses delegate
Many leaders cling too tightly to the “I am the boss” reins, which can cause a damaging cycle of behavior. Note to bosses: Hoarding responsibilities shows you don’t trust your employees enough to delegate. Which creates more work for you. Which means you don’t do your own job as well. Which ultimately means more work for everyone else. Besides demotivating employees, juggling too many tasks also brings the risk of managerial burnout.

Office workers

3. Colleagues count
While leadership is important, coworkers have potentially the biggest impact on people’s daily experiences. Just think: Much of the joy (or pain) in any given workday comes from the people sitting right beside you. But company leaders can still do a lot to help create a harmonious workplace – such as leading by example, providing stimulating work and tackling poor behavior. Ultimately, happy employees are more likely to get along.

4. Avoid predictable pitfalls
Many staples of work culture can blow up in an employer’s face if handled badly. Take employee surveys, for example. They can work brilliantly if leaders actually listen to what is said and act upon it; but if not, they will only sow resentment. The same applies for company retreats. Every “how to” managerial guide claims this tradition builds engagement and team spirit. But often the reality – awkward role play games, long presentations and bold visions that never materialize – does exactly the opposite. Instead of a company retreat, employers might consider giving staff members an impromptu day off or taking them out for a lunch where they can just talk and genuinely build relationships with each other.

5. Do talk down to employees
It’s only natural that people should want to know what’s going on in their workplace and understand how any developments might impact them. That’s just part of wanting to help and feel a connection to their company. One of the worst features you’ll occasionally find in modern work culture is a top-down management style where employees are basically told, “No, you don’t need to know anything.” That puts them in a vacuum, which benefits no one.

6. The feedback conundrum
There’s currently a big push among some companies to do away with annual reviews, widely seen as HR box-ticking exercises that focus too heavily on past performance rather than future potential. The fashionable new preference is for regular, ongoing feedback between bosses and employees. But while this is a great idea in theory, and most employers say they want it, such an approach involves a huge culture change and is fraught with the potential for misunderstandings. That’s because many leaders simply don’t have the skills or time (or even the motivation) to be effective coaches.

The fact is, if a boss approached any employee today and said, “Can I give you some feedback?” almost everyone would presume the worst. So, it’ll take a major change of perception throughout the American workplace – and a lot of hard work – to make giving and receiving regular feedback the new “normal.”

Dollar bills

7. The compensation quandary
People try to minimize the pay element, but it’s definitely a factor. High salaries will always count. But, although some companies (especially public sector ones) are limited in what money they can offer, they can compete in other ways. Juicy enticements – such as generous vacation and sick leave, commuter subsidies and the promise of a positive work culture – all really count.

8. Define great
There is no strict, binding definition of what makes a great workplace. At heart, we hope that all employees want the same things – challenging work, career potential, a collegiate atmosphere – but people have their own preferences and priorities. For example, an introvert in a happy, buzzing office environment might view it as a living hell. When trying to create the perfect workplace, you always have to factor in that people have different needs.


Apryl Rogers-Brodersen is associate professor of management at MSU Denver. She specializes in performance appraisal and management, and employee attitudes and perceptions.

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