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How to Make Your Small-Business Workplace Great

blog-great-places-to-work.jpgI recently had an interesting experience at my doctor's office. The atmosphere at her office is always super-positive, and everyone's always smiling and relaxed. When her nurse came in with my chart, my doctor just gushed over her. 

"You got the test results out of that lab -- you're awesome!" she said. "I know they're not very responsive."

After the nurse left, I turned my wondering eyes back to my doctor. She told me, "I just love my staff! I want them to never leave. I take them to plays and out to dinner and pay them higher than anybody else around."

Bet her staff think their workplace is fantastic. It's sad how few business owners think in these terms -- of making their workplace so great that workers go that extra mile for customers, and never want to quit. But building a great workplace is a learnable skill. A new book, The Great Workplace: How to Build It, How to Keep It, and Why it Matters, outlines the steps any entrepreneur can take to make their place of business a wonderful place to be.

Authors Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin, of the 20-year-old Great Place to Work Institute, focus on this question full-time. They're the home of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For annual list. 

For small business owners -- many of whom struck out on their own because of their negative experiences as an employee -- making a great workplace should be a high priority. Nobody wants to feel like they've toiled to create their own business, only to end up perpetuating the familiar cycle of making work a torture for the staff.

Here are five of the authors' tips for making your workplace great:

1. Trust. This issue is so important that the authors discuss three separate aspects of trust business owners need to build -- credibility, respect, and fairness. 

2. Pride. At great workplaces, workers report they feel they're making a difference to the organization, and that their work is meaningful. Too often, workers don't get the feedback from higher-ups that would build that sense of pride.

3. Camaraderie. At one of my workplaces, we did annual surveys about our satisfaction in working at the paper. One of the key questions was whether you had a best friend at work. We always thought that question was oddly phrased -- what if I feel I have many casual friends, but not one best friend? But it turns out, the best-friend thing is a critical issue. At great workplaces, people say they have strong relationships with coworkers. 

Cliques aren't cool, either. Workers at great businesses say they feel welcome from the very first day. At so many companies, the first weeks are boggling or intimidating -- but any company can offer mentors or guides to new workers to help them learn the ropes.

4. Unity. The company is clear about what's expected, and what's important. Workers report they feel everyone is working for a common goal.

5. Acceptance. Workers report they can be themselves at work. Too many workers say they have to put on their "work persona" at the office and don't feel free to be who they are. When workers can be authentic on the job, they bring so much more joy to it. They feel more comfortable, so they stay longer.

How do you make your workplace great? Leave a comment and let us know your approach.

Carol Tice, a freelance writer, is chief executive of TiceWrites Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash. She blogs about freelance writing at Make a Living Writing. Email her at carol@caroltice.com.

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