The American workplace is a thriving, bustling space where the water cooler buffalos congregate during short breaks of the increasingly long work day. Many are confined to cubicles where interaction is minimal and optimization is ideal. Being put into a limited space does indeed promote working, but not much else.
The lines between personal and professional life are increasingly blurred as the typical employee loses grip on their work and home identities until they are essentially one being. Stress continues to ravage the work force as job security remains at a low point. In an era where many are feeling like cogs more than humans, some offices are beginning to realize that a change could be beneficial for their companies on various fronts.
The expansion of new ideas and approaches has been generally slow to nonexistent in the typical American workplace. Some countries in Europe, mainly the U.K., are beginning to adopt more American styles of work. Yet countries like France are still holding strong to laws capping work hours (although most French workers insist that they work more than that). However, with companies such as Google, Microsoft, and other forward thinking brands applying foreign, employee-friendly strategies to their offices across the globe, the times might be changing. Companies are beginning to promote healthy lifestyles and happiness in and out of the office to create a more positive life for their employees.
Consequently, companies that promote health, trust, and individual work ethics over the bottom dollar are starting to see increases in employee happiness and their brand’s profit. While there are countless features the U.S. should adopt, gender equality being of the utmost importance, today we focus on what can produce a happier employee and office.
1. Stress-Reducing Measures
In America, stress tends to go hand in hand with most workplaces. Whether it be stress from overworking, never knowing when you may lose your job, or countless other issues, many are left walking on egg shells in the office. While workplace stress is far from exclusive to U.S. workplaces, the growing amount of stress on American workers is startling. In a post-recession era when many are just happy to have a job, some companies are mandating or heavily suggesting that going beyond the “required” hours is what makes a person a part of the team. While the company may fare better from their employees’ extra work, where does that leave the individual?
This, partnered with issues such as income protection, make many feel the only way to succeed is to trudge through it all. As the years go by many Americans are living to work rather than working to live. One country we can take an example from is the Netherlands, where an employee is guaranteed 70% of their wage for two years if they are sick. Wouldn’t you be more inclined to stay with a company that took care of you when you were in need?
2. An Ability To Balance Work With Home Life
A main cause of stress in the U.S. workplace is a lack of blurring work and personal lives. In the era of social media and longer working days the desire to get away from work life is ideal to countless members of the work force. In many American workplaces, employees have to earn their vacation days. In most European countries, employees are given four to six weeks paid vacation per year by their employer, including some countries where taking a month-long vacation in the summer is an annual occurrence. In the U.S. some jobs start employees with zero to seven days a year of paid vacation.
Pair this with most companies doing little to nothing in promoting work/personal life balance and it should come as no surprise why some of the employees are burning out. One example to consider is Microsoft’s Working Parent Policy that insures the entire family up to age 14 while actively promoting a balance in personal and professional life.
3. Open Office Layouts
A mainstay in most European offices is growing in the U.S. While there are some detractors, the trend is catching on in America as large companies like Google are on board with the plan. The idea of no offices or assigned desks may make the lifelong American employee feel uncomfortable at first. However, proponents of open offices swear by its benefits outweighing the potential drawbacks.
With easier access to superiors, many employees cite transparency as one of the strongest points of open office life. Furthermore, one American now working in Denmark praises its equality:
The equality here is something I have never experienced. Even in the open offices I have worked in before, the Boss would sit behind their personal heavy desk, looking out on their employees. This new way of coming to work allows for a free flow of creativity and strategy I’ve never experienced before, and makes us all feel more involved with the company.
4. Flexible Hours And Telecommuting
Let’s face it; many of us are not 9 to 5ers, or its similar working hours, by nature. In compliance with most offices we adjust and eventually adapt it into our lives. A concrete time for arrival might work for many companies, but have they tried other approaches? Why do certain departments need to be at 9am when their business doesn’t pick up until noon when their west coast counterparts are just getting in to work? Many are starting to see that flexible hours allow employees to come in at when they think is best while enhancing their business.
Another feature to consider is telecommuting. On a day when an employee isn’t feeling at their optimal health, or maybe they just put in an incredibly long couple of work days, some companies believe the employee deserves a working day at home. Like flexible hours, these features only succeed with trustworthy employees and a company that won’t frown upon an employee for taking a working day off from the office.
5. Emphasize Healthy Lifestyles Over Killing Pain
In most U.S. workplaces you will find an assortment of Tylenol, Ibuprofen and other over the counter medicines aimed to take the pain away. Yet, our offices are usually devoid of anything promoting healthier lifestyles besides the mandated workplace safety signs. In many foreign office spaces you are more likely to find healthy snacks, a workplace that encourages short breaks from work, and sometimes even paid lunches.
Sure, killing the pain is great to get through the work day, but does it help in the long term? While it’s not guaranteed to work, these measures can lead to an improved physical and mental state for employees. Imagine how productive a person can be with a free healthy meal provided to them every day, as opposed to what they go through now on most usual days.
6. Praise More Than the Workaholics
Hard workers should never be penalized, but they should not be praised for working to death either. As employees are dying from overworking in many Asian countries, the U.S. needs to be aware of its similar work culture. While the workaholic mentality is becoming synonymous with the American worker, the idea should be questioned immediately. It is possible that this is just an American way or work life, but it could very well be another result of our job security fears.
This isn’t to suggest that the hard working shouldn’t receive credit, but sometimes the best worker is the smartest, not the hardest, worker. A manager that can step back and recognize that each worker has a different approach to work could be the most successful. Recognizing and utilizing your workers at an optimal efficiency will most likely ensure a happier employee and a more productive output from everyone on the team.
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