Come On, Get Happy: How to Make Your Org a Great Place to Work

A recession is upon us. Talent management has never been more challenging for senior leadership. Employees are overworked and underpaid. Businesses are fraught with scandal and corruption. New technologies make workers prisoners of their own professions by making 24/7 communications possible. It's a sad story waiting to be told--or is it? According to the March 2008 Global Workforce Study conducted by Towers Perrins, which surveyed approximately 42,000 U.S. employees, at least some of the above statements are more myth than reality. Specifically: 69% of respondents reported being anywhere from neutral to energized by on-the-job stress; 86% of employees worldwide liked or loved their job; 77% liked or loved their company; and 73% liked or loved their boss; and, 86% said technology actually helps them achieve some level of balance between their personal and professional lives. Combine these optimistic statistics with rankings such as Fortune's "Best Companies to Work For," and communicators can have a renewed sense of hope that their jobs--at least as far as internal communications and employee relations are concerned--aren't limited to crisis clean-up; on the contrary, they feel that they are the central engines that drive a successful organization. "The only practice that is absolutely essential to every great company is communication," says Jane Weiss, senior consultant for Great Place to Work Institute, which works with Fortune to compile its iconic annual list. "Communicators play an extremely critical role in helping HR and senior leadership developing messaging that reaches everyone on the organization, and that enables a two-way dialogue to take place." With that, Weiss offers tips that communications executives can employ when aiming to improve their employee relations function and, ultimately, to make their organization a proverbial great place to work no matter how grim things may seem outside the office walls. *Change the stigma surrounding meetings. Meetings are a necessary evil of the corporate world, but they don't have to be code for "nap time" among employees. On the contrary, these gatherings can do wonders for fostering a strong internal culture and boosting employee morals. Here are some strategies and best practices to facilitate effective meetings of the minds: Take it down a notch: Weiss underscores the value of using meetings as a time for employees at different levels of the organization to come together. "A very common practice is for leaders to have informal meetings with their direct report's direct report," she says. "It opens up the dialogue to different levels." Retool your thinking to streamline communications: Weiss credits Wegmans Food Markets--which ranked third on Fortune's 2008 list--with their innovative meeting master plans that come, well, in boxes. Their "meeting in a box" toolkit provides leaders throughout the organization with the information needed to facilitate meetings. Because each toolkit is the same, employees hear consistent messaging regardless of their location. Remember the five W's. Who needs to attend meetings? What is the meeting about? Where is the meeting? When is the meeting? Why are we having the meeting in the first place? The answers to these questions should be obvious to every person present. *Be culturally sensitive. "What works in one employee culture won't always work in another," Weiss says. "Reaching different groups of employees is all about knowing what is unique about them and what they really need. You can't separate communicating with how you treat people. To nurture a positive culture, find out who your employees really are and what drives them to succeed. Pass out fun questionnaires that ask them to list their likes and dislikes, and make it a ritual to send these tidbits around in e-mails, or to use them in quick-fire sessions during meetings. It engages employees on a personal level and fosters a sense of community; plus, you can use the information to reward them for closing a big deal or to celebrate their birthday. If one person's favorite dessert is ice cream cake, for example, you know exactly what to bring to their fifth anniversary celebration. *Home in on the company's differentiating factors. Studies consistently show that employees are happier if they work for an organization that contributes to society in meaningful ways, so use this to your advantage. Take Pfizer: Executives encourage employees to participate in the Global Health Fellows (GHF) program, which sends staffers on three- or six-month missions to expand healthcare services in developing nations. According to Rekha Chalasani, manager of worldwide philanthropy for Pfizer, the internal communications function is integral to the success of the program. "GHF is featured in Pfizer's internal communications vehicles to raise awareness about the program, highlight fellows' work and impact on the ground and aid in recruitment efforts," she says. "Hearing from fellows directly excites colleagues, increases applicants and helps them make the connection between their day-to-day work at Pfizer and the long-term impact it has on global health challenges around the world." *Use technology to your advantage. Not every employee--or company, for that matter--fits the digerati profile to a T. However, that doesn't mean that digital communications channels can't be used to strengthen the culture from the inside out. IBM uses its "Jam Sessions" to connect employees around the globe and to get their creative juices flowing. Southwest Airlines' blog engages all staffers by encouraging them to write posts and comments. Plus, these channels assist true integration of communications across every business function--a requirement for any great place to work. "The greatest workplaces are able to integrate communications into the fabric of everything they do," Weiss says. "Take Carmax [No. 46 on Fortune's list]. The leader of its communications department is a trusted adviser to the CEO and is incredibly involved in all kinds of tools and strategies." *Listen, communicate, repeat. Finally, and perhaps most important, is taking what employees say to heart, applying it and then circling back to communicate the changes. Surprisingly, it's often the latter practice that falls by the wayside, leaving all positive actions lost on employees. "It's about really listening, Weiss says. "Executives forget the 'we heard you' piece. They'll take advice and act on it, but they don't communicate back, and they don't reap the benefits accordingly. PRN CONTACTS: Jane Weiss,; Rekha Chalasani,

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