One day last November as I was waiting for my delayed flight
to take off from Terminal 3 of JFK airport, I noticed a television monitor
carrying a message from the Port Authority proudly claiming that some 440
million passengers per year use the New Jersey and New York airports and train
stations. Given that I was waiting in a crowded terminal with few amenities the
thought of half-billion people milling about was not a comforting message.
The disconnect between message and environment is not
unique. As consultant I am privileged to visit a number of work environments.
How a facility looks says a great deal about how employees feel about it.
When a facility is run down–that is, lighting is dim,
carpets are worn, walls are in need of new paint, cubicles are sagging, and
conference rooms unkempt–it sends a signal that management does not care how
people feel when they come to work. On the other hand when the facility is up
to date–bright, clean, and spacious–it radiates a sense of energy. People
know that management cares how the place looks and is willing to invest in its
In fairness older facilities are harder to maintain and many
organizations lack the funding to keep them in tiptop shape. Yet there are some
things management can do to communicate to employees that they care enough to
create a pleasant work environment.
One, provide adequate
light. Natural light is best; newer buildings have huge panels of glass
that create atrium like effects in their offices. The light seems to breathe
life into the building, and in winter this can be comforting. In summer it
makes working inside more tolerable. Older facilities can improve light by
creating more open spaces and installing lighting systems that provide healthy
amounts of illumination.
Two, put a shine on
the place. One office facility adjacent a factory painted the hallways and
put art on the walls. It was not a huge investment but it made a difference
with employees. They liked it. It made employees feel that management was
thinking of them.
Three, create commons
areas where people can gather. Recently I visited a financial services
company located in a high rise. One of the middle floors of the building was
dedicated as a central meeting area complete with meeting rooms as well as a
coffee bar. It was airy and open, and popular place for employees to gather.
Four, make the
cafeteria inviting. Years ago cafeteria food was like prison food–bland,
overcooked and to be avoided. Now in some places I go out of my way to eat in
the cafeteria because the choices are healthy, savory and affordable. They also
offer great variety from entrees to salads as well as choices of Asian,
continental and traditional. When the cafeteria is an inviting place people
want to congregate; this builds a sense of community informally.
True enough not every company can transform itself overnight
but it can make an effort to make facilities more amenable. One facility that
impressed me recently was the headquarters of the National Parks and Recreation
Association headquarters in Ashburn, Virginia. The office building is styled
like park visitors center with a tasteful combination of stone, wood and glass.
Its grounds are landscaped and include walking trails as well as a couple of
ball fields. You know in an instant that management understands the impact of
environment on employees.
Inside the lobby you will find an inscription that reads:
“Leave it better than you found it.” This mantra of the Boy Scouts applies to
campgrounds but it also should resonate with leaders. Do what you can to make
the work environment better and your employees will help you make the place
achieve more than what you expected.
Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant,
executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John
one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. John’s newest book is 12
Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead. (Amacom 2010). Readers are welcome to
visit John’s website, www.johnbaldoni.com