This article originally appeared in the Experts Exchange Newsletter, and is republished here by request.
It never ceases to amaze me the lengths to which people will go.
I've been a member of the workforce since I was about 12. I didn't have to dig ditches, and it wasn't because I had to keep, while shoeless, a family of thirteen from starving in some godforsaken part of the world where "running water" meant a stream about a quarter of a mile away. I did have to learn to load and run a printing press, use a linotype, handle a Speed Graphic
and write halfway decently, and my bosses were the same people who took me to Little League practice -- but it was still work.
Since then, I've had a few jobs I couldn't stand -- so I did the best thing I could think of: I quit and found some other way to earn a living. A portion of the past 40+ years was spent in a cubicle; I can't call it a "cube farm", because while almost everyone was in a cubicle, nobody was really expected to spend all day sitting in it. Fortunately, most of my working life has not been in a cubicle; I have actually spent more time managing one kind of business or another, and one of the perks has usually been being allowed to prohibit cubicles.
So while I appreciate a good laugh, I was a little disturbed at an article about staying sane in a cubicle
. It's not that I would be all that upset if someone occasionally did some of the things on the list. But neither I nor my bosses pay my employees to respond to the Tweets posted by Ashton Kutcher or their great-aunt Susie in Des Moines, or to wander around the room aimlessly
, interrupting the people who are trying to get something constructive done.
What bothers me even more, though, is that the author would feel compelled to write such an article in the first place. I don't blame him -- although perhaps his career choices haven't been particularly wise if he has that many bad experiences -- but I do blame the people who have made the idea of going into the office so miserable that he has to devise ways to keep from -- oh, I don't know -- destroying the coffee machine because someone didn't make a fresh pot. I blame the people he's worked for.
I enjoy management; I've run restaurants, newspapers, construction companies, and half a dozen other different operations involving getting other people to do what someone else wanted done in the manner that was most effective. So, by way of response to my esteemed colleagues at that other site, here are ten ways (with a couple of bonus ones) to keep your employees from having to resort to finding ways to keep their sanity at work.
1. Outwork your employees
. If you're not being productive, they're not going to be productive. That doesn't mean, if you're managing the local Denny's, that you have to wait on more tables than your waitresses do; it means that you are always doing something to make their work easier. Making up next week's schedule will wait an hour or two; the line at the front door won't. Robert Heinlein once noted that "progress isn't made by early risers. It's made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something." If you help your employees do their jobs more easily, they will do them better too.
2. Talk with your customers
. Find out from them what you, your employees, and your organization are doing right, and what you could be doing better. They'll keep paying you if they think you actually care about what they need. (It's not a bad idea to talk with your employees too; you'll be surprised what the people who talk to customers all day can tell you about what your customers really think.)
3. Never give an order
. People will generally respond to them reasonably quickly -- but the next time a similar situation comes up, they're going to wait for you to give orders again. When someone asks me what to do, I tell them what I would do -- and then tell them to use their best judgment. If I've done my job as a manager, and hired the best people I can find, the best thing I can do is stay out of their way. I'm supposed to "manage;" I'm not supposed to be an impediment.
4. Admit you screwed up
. No one has ever been right every time, and the odds are against you being the first. But you look a lot worse to your employees if you try to make excuses than you do if you say "okay, I goofed -- now, how do we fix it?" Even worse than that is saying "we're doing it my way anyway;" that's like bobbling the ground ball and then throwing it over the first baseman's head.
5. Check your ego at the door
. The job isn't about you. It isn't about your employees. It's about the people who keep the money flowing through the cash register. You can't force your employees to think about that all the time, but you'll go a long way toward getting people who work for you to think about it if you do.
6. Pay attention
. You shouldn't need a scorebook to know who your best people are. You also don't need a scorebook to tell you what their flaws are. If you know what someone's job is (you should -- after all, you're the manager), you don't need to watch his or her every move to tell whether they're doing it or not. Frankly, unless their job requires that they update their Facebook page every day, then either they don't know what their job is (your fault for not telling them) or they do know but don't consider it a priority (your fault for letting them get away with it).
7. Meetings where you're not closing a sale are a waste of time
. That doesn't mean they should all be done away with; it does mean that they should be minimized. Results are what matters. If your employees are doing their jobs, then tasks get done on time and under budget. Having a meeting to find out where everyone is takes them away from doing what they're supposed to be doing. Remember -- your employees are looking for you to make decisions, and their job is to provide you with the information you need to make one. You don't need their approval; you just need to make sure you've heard what they have told you.
8. Trust your employees
. I wish I had a dime for every time a boss told me he had a great team, but who then spent every waking moment either reading reports from them on what they're doing (or worse, holding meetings to find out) or checking over everything they did. If they're so great, why are you double-checking all their work? If they're not so great, why aren't you teaching them so they're better? Or finding better employees? And how much time have they spent preparing reports on what they've been doing, instead of actually doing it?
9. Respect your employees
. You can't say you respect them and then treat them like red-headed stepchildren; for one thing, no one is going to believe you, and if no one believes you, they certainly don't respect you. Nobody gets respect just because they're the boss; they earn it because they respect the people who are supposed to be showing them respect.
. That's usually a code word for telling your employees what you think they need to know -- which is a crock. Communication is a two-way street, which means letting your people have their say, and allowing for the possibility that they might know what they're talking about. So sit back and listen; you don't even have to get in the last word (but saying "thank you" goes a long way).
Bonus 1: Your employees are not your friends
. You're their boss. Sooner or later, in every manager's career, there is going to be a time when a decision that is a positive move for the organization is a negative one for a person -- and you're the one who has to make that decision. That doesn't mean you have to be a ruthless cutthroat who can't stand anyone; it does mean that you're not always going to be the most popular kid in school. If you're not up to it, you're in the wrong job.
Bonus 2: Chill
. The only time you need to be a "take charge kinda guy (or gal)" is when the situation demands that someone take charge. That's YOUR job. The rest of the time, you can just be yourself. To paraphrase Kipling, take everything you like seriously -- except yourself.