By Patrick Riley
Most people can shrug off just about anything — regular workplace conflict, mandatory overtime, the ever-present threat of layoffs, narcissistic management — for a regular paycheck.
When you think about it, it’s kind of amazing that humans can work alongside each other on a regular basis. A recent study found that a whopping 90 percent of office workers have experienced conflict with their co-workers. We might have different goals, visions for the future and personalities, but we still need to collaborate on a regular basis.
Still, there must be a way for leaders to foster corporate cultures where people actually enjoy working together. In other words, we must evolve rather than devolve.
In most offices, team meetings rapidly deteriorate into heated gripe sessions — everyone leaves demoralized and frustrated. Productivity spirals downward, and tensions make office dynamics and drama ugly. It might seem insurmountable, but a slight change in thinking can turn things around.
Flipping the script
When I first became CEO at the Global Accelerator Network, I made it my mission to buck the “negative meeting” trend. After quite a bit of experimenting and research, John Mackey at Whole Foods became my inspiration.
Mackey successfully changed the tone of his company’s meetings by asking employees to say something nice about every other person in the room. He called these “appreciations.” It was a novel concept, and I set out to see if it worked.
We instituted “Appreciation Mondays,” setting aside time after our weekly meetings to share positivity and gratitude. It felt unusual and a little touchy-feely at first, but it quickly had an incredible effect: Our team left the meetings buoyed and optimistic instead of drained and dispirited.
By showing a little gratitude to each other — a novel concept, I know — we started to see each other as human beings rather than work machines. Suddenly, we were prioritizing humanity in our office. Fortunately, this sort of paradigm shift isn’t overly difficult if you believe in the principles of responsible, respectful leadership.
Show your team some appreciation
Interested in bringing appreciation sessions to your office? At the end of each meeting, pick out a team member at random. Ask everyone in the room to share why they’re thankful for that specific person. Expect statements like “I really appreciate how you stepped in to help me when I was struggling,” and “I’m thankful for how you speak with clients because you’re so engaging and thoughtful.”
After the first round is done, pick another team member. Repeat the process until every person has been chosen. This activity takes a bit of time, so factor it in when you’re scheduling the meeting. For reference, my team of seven needs about 30 minutes to complete the weekly exercise.
It might sound simple, but appreciations have had a profound effect on our company. This routine has helped team members know exactly where they stand with their colleagues. It also helps us recognize our own strengths after hearing them confirmed repeatedly from trusted sources. Better yet, nobody feels the need to waste time talking himself up during meetings.
Remember basic physiology
In our office, we pay for everyone’s gym membership. Why? Because we’re all humans with the same needs. If you want to have a healthy work life, you need to have a healthy lifestyle outside the office.
Something as simple as promoting exercise or telling our colleagues we only want them to work 40 hours a week helps change everyone’s perspective for the better.
Choose your colleagues carefully
It’s interesting how many people forget about their friends after they get a taste of success. It’s important to surround yourself with people who have similar goals and values.
If your friends are obsessed with work and “maximizing potential output” (what are we, robots?), they won’t support you on your journey to rediscover the appeal of humanity. Water seeks its own level, and surrounding yourself with similarly motivated individuals can help push you to stay true to your mission and ideals.
Ditch the concept of work-life balance
While plenty of people talk endlessly about achieving a perfect work-life balance, I don’t believe such a thing exists. Instead, I like to think of it as work-life trade-offs. Both work and home life have unlimited demands of our time. Trying to balance a desire to play with our kids against the need to complete an email for a customer creates unbearable tension.
Instead, I like to lean into the tension. I recognize whatever decision I make will always have some sort of pull in the opposite direction. We can’t shove both activities into the same time frame, so we instead must pick whichever option is more important at that given moment. This allows us to take ownership of our decisions and eliminate some of the anxiety that typically accompanies this sort of tradeoff.
The novelty of putting people first
Does the idea of a confident workplace chock full of happy, smiling employees sound about as realistic as a purple unicorn? Given the current business climate, perhaps.
It’s understandable if you’re dubious, but treating workers like actual human beings can have amazing outcomes. It isn’t a panacea for every issue, but it can help unite teams while promoting gratitude and loyalty. Co-workers might be willing to deal with quite a bit of nonsense to keep a job, but all the money in the world ultimately isn’t worth it if you hate it.
Would you rather be the final destination in someone’s career or a steppingstone along the way? Be the employer they want to work for by giving them the respect they deserve.
Image credit: Pixabay
Pat Riley is the CEO of the Global Accelerator Network, a group of respected startups and the organizations that support them from around the world. More than 5,500 startups are in GAN, and many grew through one of its startup accelerator programs. Startups in GAN get access to its partner network and venture fund, which provides capital for startups to create and grow their businesses. For more information, visit gan.co.