Low-Cost Ways to Make Your Office a Better Place to Work

Last Updated Mar 16, 2011 3:27 PM EDT

In today's fragile economy in which corporate budgets have been slashed, can you still make your company a great place to work?

Authors Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin argue you can and attempt to teach readers how in The Great Workplace: How to Build It, How to Keep It, and Why It Matters. A vice president and consultant, respectively, at the Great Place to Work Institute, which produces Fortune's (and others') annual rankings of the best companies to work for, Burchell and Robin say a great workplace isn't about fancy perks, such as on-site health clubs and masseuses. Rather, it is based on strong relationships across, up, and down the organization.

According to their research, based on 25 years' worth of surveys of over 2 million people from nearly 6,000 companies worldwide, strong relationships require employees' trust in their leaders, employees' pride in their work, and camaraderie.

How you develop these elements is, of course, the challenge. The author suggest that trust involves:

  • Credibility: Leaders share information and match their words with actions.
  • Respect: Leaders collaborate with their staff, and they also are supportive and show that they care about workers.
  • Fairness: Leaders treat workers equitably and impartially.
The authors acknowledge that transforming the culture doesn't happen overnight. "It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than it is to think your way into a new way of acting," they write.

Still, here are their suggestions on how to get the process started:

  • Hold a TGIF meeting. Google is well-known for their TGIF meetings where senior management preview the week ahead, discuss major developments, recap the previous week's events, and take questions.
  • Give them a way out. At Zappos.com, the online retailer, all new hires are offered a $2,000 resignation package and option to quit after the first two weeks of training. That tests the person's commitment to the company and strengthens trust, the authors argue.
  • Develop a strong mentoring effort. At PriceWaterhouseCoopers, every partner agrees to take up to 15 staff under his or her wing to get to know them personally as well as professionally. This helps build camaraderie.
  • Train managers in the art of giving feedback. At companies such as Boston Consulting Group, and WL Gore & Associates, managers are coached in how to have authentic and crucial conversations with all employees.
  • Set some controls on executive salaries. At Whole Foods, the company makes available the gross cash compensation earned by every employee during the previous year--any particular salary is transparent. Further, Whole Foods sets wage cap that limits executives from making more than 19 times a full-time Team Member's salary.
  • Celebrate individual achievements. At Analytical Graphics, the president compiles a log of individual, team, and organizational accomplishments he hears about, witnesses, or comes across during the week, and shares those at the weekly company lunch where all 275 employees eat together.
  • Encourage small acts of kindness. At Perkins Coie and Deloitte, a high-powered law firm, secret, self-appointed, all-volunteer Happiness Committees perform random acts of kindness for employees; CXtec, a New York tech firm, holds a "donut cart" program where on the first Friday of each month, new employees who joined the previous month walk around the office to deliver donuts and coffee.
What have you done in your firm that had made it a better place for people to work and succeed? What would you like to see your company do in the future?

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Herb Schaffner is president of Schaffner Media Partners, a consultancy specializing in business, finance, and public affairs publishing expertise, and is found on Twitter and Facebook. He has been a publisher and editor-in-chief at McGraw-Hill, and a senior editor at HarperCollins.
image courtesy of flickr user, Phillie Casablanca
  • Herb Schaffner

    Herb Schaffner is the president of Schaffner Media Partners, which develops business book and media projects. He is the former Publisher of Business and Finance at McGraw-Hill Professional, and Senior Editor at HarperCollins/HarperBusiness. Books that Schaffner edited, developed, and supervised during his years in publishing won best book awards from The Economist, 800-CEO Read, BusinessWeek, The Financial Times/Goldman Sachs, Strategy+Business Magazine, and the Toronto Globe & Mail. He has acquired and edited dozens of bestselling books including Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, Always On, Make or Break, Freedom from Oil, and many others. During his career Schaffner also worked as director of speechwriting and public affairs to a governor, as a communications director at two universities, and for the highly influential Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, DC. He also coauthored leading reference works on labor and the workforce.