The humane workplace

The humane workplace (August 5, 2008)

By Ben Teehankee

Managing For Society column, The Manila Times

When are people happier, Monday mornings or Friday afternoons? For many people I’ve asked, this question is a no-brainer – Friday afternoons win hands down. So even though we are destined to spend the majority of our waking adult lives at work, many people can’t wait to take a break from their work week. Worse, they have the hardest time hauling themselves back to work again the following week.

But the picture isn’t this simple. Some people do look forward to Monday mornings. And almost without exception, these are people who have a sense of control or otherwise feel that that they make a difference in the workplace. And here lies the key to making workplaces better; making people know they do make a difference.

The tough economic times and the competitive realities of today’s business environment make workplaces virtual pressure-cookers. But a manager can do a number of things to make the workplace more fit for human beings. This brings a nice bonus, too, by helping employees become more productive.

Firstly, managers need to learn how to listen to their people. The average manager got to where he is by knowing how to do things better than most of the people he works with. Managers are usually better at talking than listening. So, it’s no surprise that managers who know how to listen are difficult to find. But people want to be listened to in the workplace. There’s so much they want to say about the workplace if only they would be asked. Interestingly, they don’t always expect managers to follow what they say but it sure makes a difference to them that their bosses even want to know what they think. Having a voice and being listened to are certain to make the workplace a better place for an employee.

But how does a manager know if he is listening well? Simple: he should simply mirror back in his own words what an employee says and then ask the employee if the mirroring is correct. The employee’s agreement is a good sign that the manager is hearing the message loud and clear. Being listened to is like being given “psychological air” and the sense of well-being an employee gets from the experience is very real.

Secondly, managers need to involve people in matters that affect them. It still amazes me how managers can unilaterally make decisions that affect or even inconvenience employees without consulting them about these matters ahead of time. Such a lack of consideration for employees’ inputs is probably the leading source of demoralization in workplaces today.

Finally, managers need to show appreciation for their people. Some managers have forgotten how far a simple “thank you” can go in making their people feel better and valued. This is not a replacement for formal recognition programs or pay raises implemented by HR. Rather, this comes straight from the manager and simply shows that the employee’s contributions are being noticed. Whether through a note, an “OK” gesture or a pat on the back, a manager’s appreciation will always humanize a workplace.

Managers may think that listening to, involving and affirming employees take too much time. However, the trust and connection that employees develop with a manager who does these things can easily pay off in improved productivity many times over. In addition, the resulting humane workplace will surely make employees love their Monday mornings so much more.