There is a steady stream of articles, posts, and news items touting new “employee comfort” enhancements in company facilities. In just recent weeks, I have seen postings about a new coffee station in one facility. In another, the redesigned work area includes living room-like relaxation areas for employees to “connect and interact.” I have seen a variety of employee benefits added, such as meditation rooms or classes, yoga classes, de-stress rooms, new gourmet food courts, etc. Yes, from an employee perspective, these are nice, for sure! They make going to the workplace more enjoyable and fun. In many cases, they make it easier for working parents to balance work and family. And, because of this, it may even enhance employee retention and satisfaction. So, I am not trying to bash these efforts. Anything that can make the work experience more enjoyable and less stressful is good.
However, I think there is a perception that employee comfort efforts alone will drive an overall positive culture or drive improved productivity. I know many believe that a more enjoyable workplace automatically results in improved productivity and culture. I would suggest that this might be true in some cases, but there are other more important factors in play.
Many of my work years were spent in manufacturing facilities. I would say that in some of these, there were none of the employee comfort features that are becoming popular today. In fact, working conditions in some facilities were quite difficult. In some work stations, there might not even be air conditioning, much less a room to de-stress. Some of the work is dirty. The cafeteria, if there was even one, only offered a daily choice of a fried entree. Comfort was not a word used much to describe the work environment. However, some of the best employee culture experiences and highest productivity I ever personally witnessed occurred in those plants. Employees were engaged, enthusiastic, and dedicated to the work, the customer, and each other.
So, what is it that really makes a difference in employee culture and overall productivity? Are there factors you can list that truly make a difference? Everyone has an opinion on this, but let me list just six key things I have observed that make a difference in employee culture and productivity:
- Unity in goals and purpose – When employees are bound together to accomplish an important goal, you’ll always be amazed at what they can achieve. I recall in my manufacturing plant life what occurred when an FDA inspection occurred. From the time the investigators arrived until they left, every individual at the plant was focused and engaged to produce a positive result. Collaboration and cross-functional interaction was never better than when the plant was focused on a positive FDA inspection result. When information was requested, everyone pulled together to provide it. Employees worked late and came in early to prepare and drive a positive result. It seemed that there was no time in the life of the plant when the employee population was more focused on a positive result than during an inspection. Then, when the inspection was over, the entire site celebrated. I often wished that we could somehow keep that spirit of teamwork and focus all the time. So, when employees know what needs to be done and can work together to achieve it, they can do phenomenal things. Just make sure that the goals you choose for that focus are goals that matter and will “move the needle”.
- The ability to contribute and impact results – Almost every employee wants to make a difference. Employee morale suffers when employees feel the work they do – the way they spend nearly 50% of their awake time is spent – adds no value. I have seen this in every work venue possible: manufacturing plants, corporate settings, academia, government, etc. When an employee feels their work doesn’t matter – whether done well or poorly, on time or late – their attitude, productivity, and work quality all suffer. When we help every employee understand the value of their work, eliminate non-value added work, and ensure that individual employees are impacting the company and its customers, their performance improves.
- Communication and feedback – Every employee also wants to know how they are doing. It is inexcusable for an employee to go into his/her year-end performance review conversation with no idea how their work performance is perceived by their boss. I have seen many instances where an employee excitedly attended that meeting feeling their performance “exceeding expectations” for the year, but received the bad news that they were rated “needs improvement.” Employees perform best when there is routine, consistent, and truthful feedback regarding what they are doing, how they are doing it, how they could improve, and how much they are appreciated. When you do this well, you don’t need “employee comfort” features to sustain employee engagement, interest, or productivity.
- Frequent celebration of successes – Top employee cultures always celebrate and recognize successes… in fact, it is better to err on the high side in this regard. There is nothing that helps bond and motivate teams and individuals than having a pizza lunch to simply say “thanks” for a job well done. Identifying those efforts “above and beyond” tell the workforce that what they do matters and is noticed. If you have ever been to a soccer or basketball game with first-graders, you’ll notice that the kids are always looking to the sideline to ensure that their parents or grandparents were watching that last play. It matters that they notice and appreciate what they do. Employees are the same. It makes a significant difference when it is clear that efforts are genuinely recognized and appreciated.
- A commitment to do things right – “Don’t do what I do, do what I say.” How many times have you heard or, better yet, observed this attitude? When an organization, from the leader on down, is committed to doing things right (e.g., safety, benefits, commitment to quality, adequate investment, and day-to-day philosophy), employees become more committed, focused, and dedicated. By showing a concern, thus, a commitment, to employees, you foster increased dedication and motivation.
- Leaders that are trustworthy, involved, and that have integrity – Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the leaders of an organization determine overall employee satisfaction, engagement, and productivity. Someone once said, “An organization’s culture is defined by the worst behavior that is allowed to occur.” This puts the responsibility for employee satisfaction squarely on the shoulders of the leaders. Leaders must be trusted – what they say is truthful, open, detailed, and meaningful. Leaders must involved – they are engaged in the success of the organization, they are visible, they interact frequently, and they allow themselves to be vulnerable and knowable. And, leaders have integrity – followers always know that their leaders will do the right things, in the right way, at the right time. They never have to be worried about being embarrassed by their leaders. When leaders act and behave like this, you don’t need a smoothie station to keep employees coming back.
Yes, it certainly is important to work to make employees comfortable and accommodate their needs. We should make their time and effort spent at the workplace as enjoyable as possible.
But, please do not think that by providing a ping-pong table, employee engagement banners, “I love my job” coffee cups, or other amenities will substitute for creating a workplace marked by dedicated, enthused, engaged, and highly productive employees. It simply will not happen!
Thanks for all you do. Have one of your “best days yet!”