L.M. Sixel, the Houston Chronicle columnist, recently wrote an article about what makes a better workplace. She had five simple rules for creating a better workplace. I think her rules are excellent and I would like to comment on them further.
The basis of Sixel’s workplace rules is “respect.” It sounds simple, but if respect can be maintained, it makes a big difference in the workplace. I will use a law firm as an example to explain. Names will not be listed to protect the innocent and to not embarrass the guilty.
Some lawyers don’t respect their staff. If they are in a time crunch and under pressure, they take it out on their secretary. It is said that people take out their troubles on the ones they love the most. I don’t know if lawyers love their secretaries the most, but often times they are the closest ones around. My secretary told me one day she always knew when something was going wrong on one of my cases. When I asked her how she knew I was upset, she replied, “Every time, I hear you saying the same thing, over and over and over. You say, Shit, Shit, Shit, Shit.”
Oops. Once this was brought to my attention, so I made an effort to curb my potty mouth. Again, it is all about respect. I know a lawyer that waits until the last minute to give his secretary the work assignment. The discovery requests may be due tomorrow, but he waits until 4:45 the day before to give it to her to type. She gently reminds him several days in advance, but it does not change his bad habit. The attorney is not purposefully trying to be inconsiderate, he just isn’t thinking about the matter from his secretary’s point of view.
When you consider your secretary as part of your team, and not just “your secretary,” you take the first step towards respect. Your team will function better if it is treated with respect. Don’t take your frustrations out on your secretary.
Another one of Sixel’s workplace rules is to keep your employees informed about where they stand. Again, the bottom line is respect. Wouldn’t you want to know how you are doing rather than having to guess or hope everything is OK? When you don’t keep your employees informed about their performance, it creates a secretary on edge. She or he comes to work not knowing if they are doing a good job or not. Their nervousness translates many times into negative performance. A nervous employee is not operating to their highest level. The nervousness takes away from their performance.
Another bad habit I have noticed in the practice of law is not complimenting your staff when they perform well. I once knew a legal assistant that had recently helped her attorney with a huge case that had numerous documents. I mentioned to her that she must be glad the case was over and what a good job she must have done since they won the case. To my surprise, the legal assistant teared up and commented that her boss never once told her she did a good job. That surprised me at the time, but it doesn’t surprise me now. I see this happen often. The boss is quick to point out what is wrong, but never says anything when matters are done well. I assured this legal assistant that her boss thought the world of her and would be lost without her. I told her that he was very complimentary about her. For some reason he told everyone else how great she was, he just forgot to mention it to her. So remember, Sixel’s rule to be kind. Again, it is all a matter of respect.
Sixel’s third rule is to encourage innovation. I like to put this rule in effect in my office. For example, I want my secretary to know that she is the expert in her field, not me. I don’t care how she gets to the finish line as long as we get to the finish line. I want the document prepared with no errors and in the correct format. I don’t need to tell her how to do it. If you give your employees the confidence to know that they are the experts in their job, they are free to come up with new ideas on how to make things better. This brings up a pet peeve many secretaries have with their boss. Don’t stand behind them looking over their shoulder as they type. Many times the type A attorney will be so anxious, they will stand behind their secretary and peer over her shoulder to see what she is typing or how fast she is typing. Don’t do this…..You wouldn’t want someone peering over your shoulder when you are on your computer.
Sixel’s fourth rule is to make sure your front-line supervisors are trained. This is a key point. You may be the nicest boss in the world, but if your mid-level supervisors are being a jerk, you have a toxic workplace. I see a lot of employment disputes when I mediate employment cases. Many times when companies need to settle lawsuits, it is because of a rogue supervisor. The corporate officers and owners of the company are great people, but they had an out of control hateful mid line supervisor.
Unfortunately, human nature sometimes causes people with power to let it go to their head. A supervisor should be humble and understand that it is only with respect that true leaders excel. Supervisors can motive the employees in a positive way or they can undermine productivity with their hateful managerial style. Owners of companies should always keep their eyes and ears open. The old adage of “where there is smoke, there is fire” is very true in the workplace. If employees are leaving or complaining about their supervisor, wake up and listen. Good supervisors can be tough, but they should be fair. Bad supervisors tell the employees that they have full backing of management, so the employee better do what they say. They let power go to their head. This creates one of the worst workplace environments and is sure to create a lawsuit.
Sixel’s fifth rule is to remember that employees have lives outside of the office. Letting employees have the occasional time off to leave early or come in late can be one of the best presents you can give your employees. Remember it is team effort. You cut them some slack, they will give you back in spades loyalty and support.
So, when you boil this down, you are left with one word, respect. Respect your staff and they will respect you. Thanks Ms. Sixel for pointing out these important employment workplace rules.