Practical ways to create a cordial working environment
By ANNE THAM
“Anne, please take care of yourself. You have been working non-stop. You should take a break.”
I get this on a regular basis. It got me thinking.
Then, one of our teachers came back to work after a month off because of a knee surgery. But she still had two more weeks of medical leave left.
Another teacher says she can‘t wait to get back to work and that the holiday is too long. An admin executive hobbles around the office due to a swollen ankle. Yet, she is at work.
One of our directors has been working very hard and we order her to go home earlier and rest. She breaks down crying because she doesn‘t want to go home.
Yes, these are real incidents.
I realised that breaks and holidays are absolutely necessary for people in workplaces that practice formal codes of conduct; require you to watch what you say in case you offend your boss, superior, or your peers; deal with products or services you don‘t believe in or work with very difficult bosses and co-workers.
Then yes, you need to get away to recharge by spending more time with people you like, to do things you enjoy and wish you have more time for, to just have some plain old fun and let your hair down.
Finally, I reply, “If I take a break, I will be spending time with my family and friends, doing the things I enjoy in an environment that is fun. But I have all these at work!”
Many conventional corporations require their employees (be it executives or even the directors) to be formal and conduct their duties in a proper manner.
However, having to wear that formality all the time while you are in the office can be stressful, especially when you spend between eight and 16 hours a day in the office.
Wearing the formality takes a toll on people’s health and mind. In a way, it’s like wearing a mask and not being able to show people who you truly are. It prevents you from being able to connect with people on a more informal, genuine level.
That is where the informal corporate culture steps in. It is a culture that focuses more on giving people the chance to be authentic when dealing with the people around them.
Before I started teaching in 1987, I worked in a hotel as an executive and was a rank above the housekeeping staff. It was there that I found that by treating people right – like a fellow human being – they were willing to extend help and were happy to do it.
Looking at my other colleagues, who were high-handed, I found that the lower-level employees would do what they were asked because the said colleagues had seniority, but they wouldn’t do it willingly.
When you are genuine and authentic in your dealing with others, then you will find that people are willing to step forward and help you whenever you falter. They will be there to make sure that the mistake will not come back and bite you when you least expect it.
So, what can you do to infuse the informal culture in your company? Is it even possible? Here are some ideas that would help peel those masks off:
Be the right leader
Keep this in mind: the informal company culture cannot start in just one department. Instead, it has to start from the very top and then it will flow downwards to the rest of the organisation.
Like what Simon Sinek said in his book Leaders Eat Last, the leaders of companies set the tone and direction for the people. If only one department practised this, it wouldn’t be much of a “company culture” would it?
In the end, it all boils down to whether you want to be a leader that others would want to follow or a leader that others are forced to follow. When a leader cares and is concerned about the people working with him or her, then he or she will get back the same measure of care and concern.
The right leader serves!
Celebrating the littlest victories
A lot of large corporations tend to have a culture that is unforgiving and not really appreciative of what their employees do. Yes, corporations have such things as awards.
But let’s face it; do those awards celebrate the littlest of victories?
A little acknowledgement and celebrating wins together, big or small, goes a long way and everyone owns those victories, together.
Having a powerful purpose
It cannot be said enough that this pulls the right people together and keeps the team tight. Better still is that a powerful purpose moves the whole organisation in the same direction.
This is not a nice to have thing but has worked well for some of the biggest companies out there.
Changing the physical space
Managing directors and general managers should sit at the same level as their immediate team. This makes them easily accessible to the team.
Glass walls give the management the privacy they need without making it feel like they are shutting people out.
How about making these offices available for other team members to use if they need a space for discussions? How much more transparent can you get? Pun intended.
Create a fun environment
This is easy. Smile! Be happy to see one another. We have bosses who get pranked or play pranks on others. Those who laugh together, create great things together.
Tying it all together
So, to create and provide an environment where all can be authentic, keep in mind:
- Be the leader that people want to follow. Practise servant leadership. You’re more likely to gain followers than employees when you live the culture you’re attempting to build.
- Genuinely celebrate all wins together, especially the smallest of victories. You all work hard as a unit so own those wins. If you don’t know what a small win feels like, how would you embrace a big one when it comes in that matter of time?
- People inherently buy into why you do something, not how or what you do. When business gets busy, what will keep everyone aligned through the hustle? Your purpose.
- When you strip yourself of titles, we’re one and the same – human. So, what can you do to keep an environment human and authentic? Sit with and among your people and share that space. Keep things accessible and transparent.
- What I’ve learned from over 20 years of running my organisation is that serious business can also be so much fun. In fact, the ones who have fun with what they do get so much more done. Keep it light, laugh a lot and laugh together!
Anne Tham is the founder and CEO of ACE EdVenture, an organisation that has a 20-year track record of making exam-based education fun and engaging for students. She’s at the helm of an award-winning line-up: Sri Emas International School, Dwi Emas International School, a chemistry role-playing game called ChemCaper, and a host of learning centres. To get in touch with Anne, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org