Friday, February 17, 2012

Work Environments

My first job, summers when I was in high school, was working in a greenhouse and in the fields. It was a fairly physical job, and involved a lot of time outside, and a lot of getting dirty. There were quite a few things about the job that I really liked, and an important thing that I didn't.

I had no autonomy at all.
Each day I would be told to do something, and when that task was done, I'd be given another. There was no explanation of the scope of the project, no discussion of what might be the best way to accomplish it. Nothing like that, at all. Multiple times, serious problems would have been averted if I (and other crew) had been told the overall goal of what we were doing, and allowed to have some input into how to meet that goal.

My next job was in a grocery store.
It was, in some ways, pretty similar. Employees were not treated well, except for a couple of favorites. We had no input into our schedules, what tasks we were assigned to, what we wore, or when we could take our breaks. The work itself was not unpleasant, but the environment was. The managers were, to put it mildly, assholes.

Contrast these with my first job out of college.
The pay, although higher than my previous minimum wage jobs, was not great.
We had complete freedom of what hours we worked. As long as we put in enough hours, and the work got done, what hours of the day and/or days of the week we worked was entirely up to each individual employee. For a while, I chose to work from 4am to noon, because it was generally quieter and there were fewer interruptions.
We were given projects to work on, and each required a variety of things to be done. How we did them, and in what order, was up to us. We were allowed to collaborate with each other as necessary.
There was no time clock. We wrote down on time sheets when we worked and how many hours we spent on which projects.
The owners of the company, who were the top engineers, regularly came out where everyone else worked and worked with us, and we were given the opportunity to work with them, to learn more about the job.
The company provided a number of bonuses and benefits that were somewhat unusual.
There was a real sense of camaraderie and fun. We celebrated birthdays, holidays, new babies, engagements, etc. We had a volleyball team in the summers that played against similar teams from other similar companies.
The work itself was about evenly divided between interesting and tedious, but the work environment was the best I've ever experienced. It has been nearly 25 years, and I still miss the place.

I've been thinking about this today, about what makes a work environment a good one.
What makes an employee feel welcomed, respected and appreciated?

For me, it isn't about money.
It isn't about being told I'm great.
It isn't about awards or recognition.

It's about trust.
It's about being treated like an intelligent adult, rather than being controlled like a misbehaving child.
It's about having the opportunity to do the job better, whether that's through having appropriate training, or control over the various components of the job, or having input into how things are done, or having my opinion valued.
It's about having control over my time, and not having it wasted.
It's about having a good working relationship with management, rather than an "us vs. them" feeling.
It's about the people you work with- their friendship, and their integrity and professionalism.

What do you think are the components of a great work environment?
Anything I left out?

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