Career Advice

Forget the Free Lunch: Seek a Culture of Respect Instead

In our complicated workplace, there have been many articles written about the perks that help retain good employees including free lunches, on site gyms, and concierge services, to name just a few. I train and speak with administrative professionals and managers all over the world and no matter what state or country they are in, the feedback is consistent. Staffers are craving and starved for cultures of respect. These are strong words but intentionally used and very true.

If you are a job seeker, you may be tempted by a free lunch perk. But be sure to take a closer look and make sure that your new company has a culture where you can thrive and receive nourishment for your long-term growth.

Here are six things that matter more to job satisfaction than free food, a place to work out, and yes, even compensation. Many of them don’t cost one penny and they are precisely the things that inspire staff to be loyal and to go above and beyond in the most difficult of situations.

1. Respect. Hands down, the number one thing that employees want is to feel respected and appreciated. Easily said, not so easily done. Here are some very specific ways respect is demonstrated:

  • Managers say “Good Morning, Staffer’s First Name” on most if not every day. This acknowledgement is vitally important because otherwise, you run the risk of feeling like a number and merely a chair filler.
  • Names are pronounced and spelled correctly. There is nothing more personal than someone’s name.
  • The words “please” and “thank you” are commonly used words. What takes a few extra seconds is the difference between a feeling of partnership and a dictatorship.
  • Management is transparent and lead “town hall” type meetings to keep the staff updated about the latest news. Google does this every Friday.
  • Fairness about rules and policies. If you doubt this, ask them.
  • Staffers have the opportunity for regular feedback about their performance. You will be asked questions from managers such as, “What can I do better to support you in your work?”  It is not a matter of if but when problems and conflicts are going to arise. Regularly scheduled one-on-ones are the surest way to solve problems right away before they escalate.
  • Birthdays and work anniversaries are acknowledged and celebrated in some way which communicates “you matter.”

2. A Voice in your own destiny.  You have a say in what projects you work on.

3. Flexibility. On a recent Virgin America flight, I asked the flight attendant about working at Virgin. He shared that it was the flexibility of schedule and routes that motivates him to not seek employment elsewhere – even though Virgin pays less than other airlines.

4. Belief in the company’s values and mission  I asked the same Virgin flight attendant, “What is the number one reason you are so loyal to Virgin?” He didn’t hesitate. He stood up taller and said,“Pride. I love what our company stands for. This is my home and these people are my family.” Wow. You cannot force anyone to feel like that.

5. Zero-Tolerance for Workplace Bullying. Workplace bullying is an epidemic problem around the world and tolerating it is the fastest way to chase good people away in droves. It is easier for demoralized staff to quit than to confront a yeller or a manager who leads by intimidation and uses public humiliation as a management strategy. Fear has created a suffering in silence mentality so when a staffer quits, they will rarely say the true reasons why at their exit interview.

I have lost count of the staffers who report, “The executives at our company either have no clue what is going on or they look the other way because it is too difficult to take the bully on.” Companies with strong cultures of respect set a clear expectation that destructive and toxic behaviors will not be tolerated and when they exist, and that swift action will be taken by management. For example, Campbell Soup has all staffers sign and re-commit to their “Code of Ethics” on an annual basis which is a key component to their Culture of Respect. Bullies cannot survive in an authentic Culture of Respect.

6. Company Culture. Is company culture advertised on the company’s website, employee manual, office walls, and all hiring materials? Go on Glassdoor to see what employees are saying about what it means to work at the company. A company that proudly announces their values is critical for employee morale. At the Facebook offices, one sign on the wall encourages staffers with, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Companies with strong cultures of respect that are backed up with consistent and clear action have the highest employee retention and are also the most profitable. Do your homework. The bottom line is that it is important for prospective employees to explore what a company stands for because only you know what kind of culture works best with your work style and personality. Free lunches are short term perks. Cultures of respect sustain staffers for the long-term.