Workplace Environments (Neuro-Surgeon Wanted: Must Like People)
In the past few weeks, I’ve worked at a vineyard, at a luxury hotel and inside a water tank. Admittedly, it was one of the larger watertanks available on the market but it was underground and accessible only via a narrow manhole. I have to say each work environment had a significant impact on my attitude, engagement levels and productivity. I guess when you’re reading a magazine themed around the work environment, perhaps your mind’s eye envisions an office, a factory, a warehouse or a shop. I’d be fascinated to see what the research says is the ranking of the most worked-in workplaces. These days, with so many people starting their own internet companies, or plying their trade as a hacker, or storming the international stage as a professional player of video games, that high up the list of contemporary workplaces might be your mum’s basement. (Seriously, Sky Sports now features video game playing. I saw them show darts, ten-pin bowling and hot-dog eating and I said nothing…)
I’m a trainer, speaker / MC and comedian so I travel and I’m not locked into one particular geographic location as my workplace. For a lot of years, I was. I’m in a reasonable position to assess the relative merits of each. It’s pretty subjective. I reckon when we’re trying to nudge young people into making smarter career choices, this is a conversation worth having early on. Forget the money, status or promotion prospects, what physical environments do they like being in and doing stuff in? The first choice is indoors versus outdoors. That’ll filter out a lot of options that could make them very unhappy on a daily basis. The second choice would be stationary versus moving. The prospect of being desk-bound would be soul-destroying for some whereas it might be a welcome anchor of security for others. The third choice is with others or solo. I think it was John Paul Sartre who said, “Hell is other people”. (I think he said it, therefore he did).
So, I’ll let others argue over work environment meaning the intangible workplace cultural aspects, or the stapling up of cartoons by the water cooler. For me, it’s a bit more visceral. Workplace environment to me is that set of triage filters we apply when thinking about where we want to work. I’m pretty relaxed on indoors versus outdoors. Generally, I’m more indoors. After my watertank experience, I definitely prefer above ground, but after my rope course experience, not too much above ground.
This concept isn’t foolproof nor can it exist in isolation. Just because I like working indoors, I generally like being stationery and I like people doesn’t mean I should apply to be a neuro surgeon. You should probably also ask for references. (And check them out).
I was MCing an event recently and ended up engrossed in conversation with a group of people who worked for a health insurer. (I’m not sure what the collective noun is for a group of people who work for a health insurer – an ‘excess’?) They were waxing lyrical and positively about their workplace environment. One had turned down a much better deal to stay because he so liked the workplace environment. Much of this loyalty seemed to stem from being given a free fitbit. Further questioning from me drew out more reasoning. A ‘sticky’ employer that talent becomes attracted and loyal to needs to have a physical and cultural environment that is consistent with its supposed values. It took us a while to get to this supposition but it makes sense.
A health insurer should promote health and be consistent in that with its employees. The free fitbit is a symbol of that. The opposite is jarring. When my son was much younger we were in a sports store – one of a large well-known chain. The décor was very sporting themed. TVs played sports channels. Basketball hoops hung from the walls. A scale replica of an actual running track painted out with lanes formed a circuit around the entire interior of the store. My son, being of an age where logic and habit took precedence over social conformity, saw an exact facsimile of a running track and ran! A employee, who job title I can only presume to have been ‘team member’ stopped him and told him off. I’m not the greatest parent in the world. I may be a better watertank cleaner than I am a parent, but I don’t think he or I did anything wrong in this scenario. Unlike in that supermarket with the child-sized trolleys and the unwisely located pyramid of cab sav bottles.