Saturday, April 12, 2014


”Someone from the office comes over every day for coffee,” my friend says.  Her eyes glisten and her voice softens in  breathless wonder and gratitude.  She is at home, managing a terminal illness with inspirational grace and courage.  In fact, she continues, the CEO is likely to encourage a specific staff member she might not have seen in a few days to ”take ten minutes and run over for coffee.”   

That kind of appreciation for a workplace, in addition to the sensitivity of the CEO, got me thinking about other qualities an extraordinary work environment might have.  My list of the characteristics of a workplace that no one would want to leave is a self-generated one.  It’s a synthesis of my own experience, not a summary of any research that might exist on the subject.  I have singled out what’s key for me.

1.     Caring relationships.  Colleagues in your workplace care about what is happening outside your contribution to the company mission.  They have an idea of what might be going on in your life, and they ask questions.  They share in life events, and they commisserate.

2.     An orientation toward abundance.  Great workplaces function from abundance, not scarcity.  “Yes”  is the operative word.  They forge ahead with a great idea that was impossible to foresee, or they extend a project that needs extending.  Generosity is their hallmark.  

3.     A positive worldview.  An underlying assumption of great workplaces is that everyone wants the organization to prosper and is working very hard to make that happen.  The language of the office reflects that worldview.  Cognizant of implicit and potentially negative messages embedded in some phrases, colleagues instead choose expressions that convey positive undertones. They cut each other slack, because they know that any bumps in the road do not stem from malice, incompetence or neglect.  They just happen.

4.     Help with a smile.  Colleagues in an exceptional workplace will help each other with a smile, no matter how busy they might be or how trivial they might perceive the requested assistance to be.  They share their time and knowledge  with a glad heart, and they never convey rushed exasperation.

5.     Value for the dissenting opinion.  Great places to work not only acknowledge the dissenting opinion, they seek it out.  They encourage employees to look for potential flaws in a project or improvements that could be made.

6.     Mutual trust.  No one micro-manages in a great workplace.  Leaders have assembled a competent team, and they trust the staff to fulfill their responsibilities.  In turn, staff members keep the administration informed, and seek feedback at important junctures.

7.     Calm and stability.  No matter how tense the situation, or how many glitches arise in a process, people in a great workplace stay calm, breathe, and smile.  A casual observer might never know issues need immediate and continual monitoring and action.  Former Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who died Thursday, embodied that kind of equanimity, say the G20 Finance Ministers in their tribute to him: “At all times, Jim retained his refreshing honesty and good humour.”  (Globe and Mail, April 11)  

8.     Diffused credit.   In a great workplace, workers refuse to accept credit for success, preferring to defer it to the savvy of others.  Success is always the result of a team effort.    In his blog post about the success the Saskatchewan Roughriders enjoyed in 2013, Rod Pedersen says, “Trying to find someone to take credit for the current flush state the franchise is enjoying is a nearly impossible task. ”    Everyone he talks to keeps pointing the finger of success at a colleague.  The Rider brass diffuses the credit for success.

In a workplace like that, people love to go to work.  They look forward to seeing their colleagues.  They ask questions without fear, and they share their opinions and knowledge for the benefit of the organization.  Laughter and play characterize collaboration.  Like my friend, I am privileged to work in that kind of environment. 

However, wherever I go, there I am, in the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn.  I have a responsibility to my colleagues to live out each principle.  As a player in that environment, I contribute to a respectful and positive atmosphere that nurtures and supports creativity.  How fortunate I am to have a friend who has channeled her entire life to building relationships and a dynamic workplace.  I am so grateful for her example.

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