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10 Things That Make Up an Ideal Workplace

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When you think about the perfect workplace, what comes to mind?  For some, it may be fellow employees playing volleyball in a sand court just outside the office doors like Google.  Or perhaps you think of employees sitting around on bean bags brainstorming ideas and finding solutions to problems in an open office environment.  Maybe you are even alone, sitting on the beach with your laptop, working in between quick dips in the ocean.  Most people fantasize about the perfect job, the best place to work, following their passions and harnessing collaborative energies to do something meaningful.  Or you may just dream of winning the lottery every day.

Your ideal work environment may not be the same as the person sitting in the office (or cubicle) next door. The same holds true when comparing the attitudes of different generations.

CareerBuilder recently surveyed more than 3,000 employees age 18 and over, as well as 210 high school seniors. Their answers regarding attitudes toward workplace culture greatly differed.

Glassdoor recently published its annual 50 best places to work among large companies and 50 best places to work among small businesses, defined as employers with less than 1,000 employees. Although SurePayroll's customers often employee far less than 1,000 employees, the characteristics of building an amazing company to work for are the same.

While perks are important, it's most often the culture, opportunities for development, open communication, mission and vision, ownership of work and environment of inclusion that makes the real difference for employees.  Yet a juxtaposition appears to exist.  Many of the companies at the top of these lists also may make these same employees feel miserable. Why would employees rate their companies as the ideal place to work when, in fact, these same employees feel exhausted, overwhelmed and maybe even become ill due to the long hours and lack of rest and recovery time?  According to the qualitative research from the New York Times, today's employees are prisoners of low expectations. And they are worn-out.

As a small business owner, here are 10 tips to build that mythic, often dreamed about, idealized workplace from the ground up.

  1. Define a clear mission and vision. Identify what your company stands for, where you want to take it and why you are doing what you are doing. It's important to think about your vision and write it down. Hone it. And own it.  Your mission should serve as your compass.  If you are doing something that does not deliver against it, you should not be doing it.
  2. Make sure every employee understands he or she contributes to the mission and vision. This is about connecting the dots for each employee, not only when they join the company, but consistently while working for your company.  Your mission should be your rallying cry and help each employee know what they are contributing to daily.  It provides your measurement tool as well.
  3. Engage in transparent communications. Provide opportunities to communicate with employees - not just to them. Make sure to provide both positive and constructive feedback. Encourage feedback about the workplace, challenges and opportunities for continuously improvement. Actively listen. Open communication practices will help to reduce silos as your company grows.
  4. Provide opportunities for growth and development. It's part of the human condition - to be productive. People want to grow, develop and be challenged.  Through projects and training opportunities, an ideal workplace helps employees to grow individually which may great spillover for your company, culture and morale.  Growth includes future positions in the organization. Learn where your employees want to go and help them to find the path.
  5. Flexible schedules. While 33 percent of current workers believe it should not matter what time you arrive at the office, as long as your work is completed, only 25 percent of high school students feel the same way. No one knows more than an entrepreneur that time is one of the most valuable commodities in life. In today's technology-driven world, employees can easily stay connected to what's happening with the business without being physically present.
  6. Offer competitive salaries, benefits, perks and promotions. Eighty-seven percent of high school students believe that a worker should be promoted every two to three years, as long as they are performing at a high level. Conversely, only 73 percent of current workers feel the same way. While this is often more difficult for small business owners, think creatively. According to the Glassdoor survey, at Facebook, employees are frowned upon for missing important family affairs. Be flexible. Perhaps employees can work from home or shift hours to spend time with the children each day or go to school.
  7. Mobile usage. Sixty-six percent of high school students feel it is acceptable to check a mobile device for work during family time. Only 43 percent of workers age 55 and older agree with this.
  8. Treat each employee as a person. Remember to recognize people not only for what they do, but who they are. Understand that each employee yearns for respect in both their work and their personal lives. Get to know your employees. Celebrate personal and professional milestones. Support employees when they face personal challenges.  A little bit of caring goes a long way toward employee and brand loyalty.
  9. Be the leader that you wanted as an employee. Research consistently suggests that an employees every day experience, and as a result, perception of where they work is most directly correlated with their relationship and experience with his or her direct supervisor. In a small company, that's probably you.  An employee's attitude is a direct reflection of leadership.  Leading others is not easy.  Reach out to mentors and identify training opportunities to help you develop your skills as a leader.
  10. Have a little fun. Being happy at work includes finding your passion, working toward it and having fun along the way.  It's about the journey as much as the destination.  It also includes sharing your passion with others.  No one said that you cannot have a little fun and laughter at work. People spend a lot of time working today.  Making the workplace somewhere that employees actually enjoy will ensure people are working to support and deliver your mission.  Encourage social activities and fun outside the office - for those who want to participate.  Include family and friends when possible.  In the end, if people know and understand each other, you can build a positive workplace culture.

No place is perfect, but if you begin with the end in mind and think about walking in your employees shoes, you will be well on your way to creating a positive, productive workplace where people are happy to be part of your vision, contributing to your end goal.