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Creating a workplace where workers want to work

Business magazine The Harvard Business Review published an article recently by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones about creating a workplace where employees can be really effective.

In the article (Creating the Best Workplace on Earth), the authors point out that: “People want to do good work - to feel they matter in an organisation that makes a difference. They want to work in a place that magnifies their strengths, not their weaknesses. For that, they need some autonomy and structure, and the organisation must be coherent, honest, and open”.

And recent research by Dan Cable of London Business School shows that employees who feel welcome to express their authentic selves at work exhibit higher levels of organisational commitment, individual performance, and propensity to help others.

It’s important that businesses, large and small, try to make the workplace as positive and as productive an environment as possible. Goffee and Jones offer six commonsense principles that will help you assess your workplace with a view to making it a more productive and rewarding environment:

• Let people be themselves
• Unleash the flow of information
• Magnify people’s strengths
• Stand for more than shareholder value
• Show how work makes sense
• Have rules that people believe in

Nothing to do with benefits, decor, HR policies or checklists. Great workplaces are made by the people and their daily experience of working effectively, creatively and productively together. Trust is the key factor in the equation – the credibility of your management team, the respect with which your employees believe they are treated, and their expectation of being treated fairly.

The Great Place to Work lists published annually look at how employees view their employers. The model chimes with the Goffee and Jones principles - if staff believe their leaders to be credible, respectful, and fair, they trust them. Then they can take pride in what they do, and share a sense of camaraderie with co-workers. 

Jennifer Robin and Michael Burchell explain in their book The Great Workplace, How to Build It, How to Keep It and Why It Matters how leaders and managers create and reinforce core values of trust, pride, and camaraderie with every communication, every decision, and every interaction.

In the best companies, leaders at all levels have a strong commitment to creating strong ties between the employee and the organisation. Enhancing trust, pride, and camaraderie in the workplace is the central task of effective leadership at work today.

Much research has shown that good workplace practices can definitely help the bottom line. Equally significant is that there have been almost no studies that conclude the opposite — that good workplace practices hurt the bottom line.

The third of the Goffee and Jones principles in particular resonates for me and I heartily endorse their comment that “the ideal company makes its best employees even better - better than they ever thought they could be". In robust economies, when competition for talent is fierce, it's easy to see that the benefits of developing existing staff outweigh the costs of finding new workers.

Think about how much time we spend in the workplace and how important job satisfaction is. Most of us spend about a third of our life at work (counting the time thinking about or worrying about work). A good workplace provides a sense of purpose, achievement, and a source of social connection – it can enrich our lives. A bad workplace can become a nightmare, leading to stress, depression, and dissatisfaction. 

If your organisation has strong core values, based on integrity, not just an HR manual, these values will be reflected in daily work and employees attitudes. The authors of Creating the Best Workplace on Earth suggest that you “think not about how much value to extract from workers but about how much value to instill in them”. In short it’s up to leadership to set an example and consciously design an inclusive and appreciative work environment.

Michael Moran (pictured) is chief executive and founder of 10eighty