give me hope; do healthy workplaces exist?
October 18, 2010 1:48 PM   Subscribe

what makes a workplace good / healthy for staff? In response to this question and numerous others on the green, plus my own experiences of being relentlessly treated badly by those above, below and around me in organisations; I am curious what are the elements that make a good workplace? What are some examples of such workplaces that I could do my own research on?

i'm currently taking a break from paid work as I could not handle the relentless dysfunction and projection that occurs. As I am usually in a middle manager role, i'm keen to re-enter my career in a few months with new insights and new approaches. Thanks
posted by MT to Work & Money (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Respect coupled with realistic projections of the work and a realization that the job should be somewhere in the employee's top 5 most important things, but not #1, #2, or #3.
posted by nomadicink at 1:56 PM on October 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Recognize employees as people first.

The goal of the office is to get the work done. Somewhere in there, you should hopefully be able to do it any way that is best for the employees (as long as the sub-goals are met as well).

You should hopefully be able to recognize people's strengths. Even though you won't be able to recognize everybody's strengths all the time, you should be able to rotate the less great things and give people opportunities every so often to step out of their rut and really do something great.
posted by Madamina at 2:00 PM on October 18, 2010

The single best book I've ever read on healthy work environments is Person Centered Leadership. There's also a version of the book about nonprofit orgs.

The idea is, basically, to use people's individuality to help them become better workers and make their jobs personally satisfying for them rather than trying to fit them into slots in an org chart. But it's a lot more than that. The books have both practical advice and case studies. The non-profit version follows an organization where nearly all of the employees were suffering from severe burnout due to the nature of the work as it transitioned to a place that functioned better using their individual skills.

(Caveat: I see that you're from Australia. The books say that this is a uniquely American way to work, but I'm not sure that's any more than marketing. I also get the sense that Australian culture is similar to American culture in the ways that matter for the theory, so you may enjoy it despite the marketing as an "American" method. However, I may be wrong about that, since most of the Australians I know live in the US now.)
posted by decathecting at 2:08 PM on October 18, 2010

My boss is awesome and has earned my undying loyalty. He treats me like a person (vs. an output-producing machine), is very trustworthy, goes out of his way to look out for me within the organization, is one of the most considerate people I've ever met, and is just generally someone I can admire for being a good person. He's made our little area of the organization awesome. Some of the other parts are a little dysfunctional, but he helps shield our team from most of that so it doesn't affect us much.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:20 PM on October 18, 2010

My experiences (both good and bad) lead me to think that a couple of things are super important:

-Transparency: "we want to accomplish thing A for reason B. we were thinking that plan C would be the best way to accomplish that. Do you have any thoughts about A, B, or C?"
-Giving credit: put credit where it belongs every time. People see this and appreciate both the person who was responsible _and_ the messenger. The responsible party also appreciates the act.
-Empathy: try to understand the perspectives of your co-workers, bosses, and direct reports and do your best to make sure that they understand yours.

If you can foster those ideals I think you are doing pretty well.
posted by milqman at 2:21 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

what type of work are you talking about, too? for many workplaces, especially those engaged in community/healing work, vicarious trauma can lead to a lot of problems. trauma stewardship is a good book in this regard and speaks to not only individual adaptations to making work sustainable, but organizational/systemic changes as well.
posted by anya32 at 2:33 PM on October 18, 2010

Don't create this kind of workplace.

As for positive traits, transparency is a HUGE thing, I've found, especially when establishing responsibilities. In my shop, our individual *roles* change daily (some days I manage a project, others I work in the trenches), but everyone is very clear on who is responsible for what on each project, and that prevents a lot of miscommunication, plus makes it easier to recognize contributions.

I also think an atmosphere of not being afraid to ask for help or even say "no" to something is a huge part of having a happy and profitable workplace.
posted by Wossname at 2:37 PM on October 18, 2010

Can I recommend some self examination? "[R]elentlessly treated badly by those above, below and around me in organisations" has more than a hint of the flavor of "The common factor in all your dysfunctional relationships is you."
posted by Bruce H. at 3:29 PM on October 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


Good workplaces give you great tools to do your job. Dual / Triple monitors with lightning fast applications. Coffee. Bluetooth headsets for your phone. Candy. Blackberries. Whiteboards. Plenty of meeting rooms and / or touch-down spaces. Areas to relax. Supplies. Filing Cabinets. Reporting tools. Administrative Support. Wikis. Fast Internet Access. Hammers. Shovels. Lithium Ion Drills Baby!!!!!!!!!
posted by jasondigitized at 3:43 PM on October 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

My 3 questions about a job are: what are my responsibilities? Do I have the tools I need? Do I have the authority I need?

At my current job, the answers are: different from what I was told at hire (with lower pay), no, and no.

So, bummer.

If my boss can't explain how I'm vital to the company and/or what I do all day, then I'm not likely to respect the organization. (this at least, is not a problem right now where I work.)
posted by bilabial at 3:52 PM on October 18, 2010

Transparency, respect, honesty, empathy.

If you can do that, then I can trust you and then we can work together properly and I will be the hardest working employee you will ever have.
posted by mleigh at 4:34 PM on October 18, 2010

Have a look at this book, First, Break All The Rules. Every good manager I have worked for is in there, whether they know it or not, and it gives me a good sense of what the bad managers haven't done. I think it's a really good rumination on what makes a good place good.
posted by gauche at 7:28 PM on October 18, 2010

I have a super-awesome boss right now. He understands and plays to my strengths, looks out for me, is unfailingly polite and supportive, complimentary, and is always willing to provide feedback while something's in process. He brings the team together and celebrates project completion and has been known to give small tokens like a (good) bottle of wine when a particularly difficult task is done. In return, I put up with all kinds of crazy shit from our clients and our parent employer (we're subcontractors) because I know he's got my back and won't break me. Also: he's not above doing crapwork when things get nuts. Bosses who lend a hand with the tedious/unpleasant things when necessary get a ton of points in my book (and it also shuts up those team members who think they're above certain tasks).

The worst boss I ever had was my first job straight out of college. Anti-social, didn't care that he was being a jerk (he owned the business, so he could be if he wanted). And as a result? No loyalty from anyone in the org. Constant employee turnover, people who stayed were unmotivated (even me, and I'm a chronic people-pleaser). He showed us no respect, no trust and reaped the same. Most inefficient and unpleasant workplace I've ever been in. He made gestures, like taking everyone out for lunch on somebody's birthday (there were only like 7 of us), but really, it doesn't have much positive effect on morale when you know you're just going to be treated like crap again in an hour and a half.
posted by smirkette at 8:49 PM on October 18, 2010

My third boss never asked any of us to do anything we hadn't seen her do. I've followed that when supervising people (and I never, ever say something is beneath me - if I saw a kid's diaper was leaking, I cleaned it up, for example, even when I was a librarian), and found that the people I supervised jumped to take care of stuff before I saw it that they'd just leave when the other librarians were around.

In my current job, people say please and thank you. I get public credit for even small improvements I implement. This has made me want to do more stuff for folks.

My best boss treated me as if he were training me to take over his job. He explained things, asked my advice, noticed I was good at writing, so he had me go over his memos and had me draft policies and stuff. The things he noticed I wasn't as good at, he assigned to other people or gave me concrete suggestions on how to improve. One time, when I was the senior staffer on duty, I had a situation we didn't have a policy for. I made a decision and handled it. The next day, I told him what I'd done and why. He told me it wasn't the way he wanted it handled, but that he'd back me up because what I did was reasonable and there was no policy. He explained what he'd like done in that situation and asked me to draft the policy so we could get it approved and in to the policy guide.

I was floored. He respected my judgment, even when he disagreed with me. I would have crawled over broken glass for him. I still would, over 10 years later.
posted by QIbHom at 7:00 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Bring in a baked item if it's not a huge office. I can't tell you how much it buoys spirits all morning if I bring a quiche in or if a coworker brings a kuchen.

Sometimes all it takes is for someone to be generous and selfless to start a ball rolling. After you bring something in, someone else may bring in one of their specialties. Etc etc.
posted by carlh at 5:34 PM on October 19, 2010

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