The 1 company perk that all employees crave (and it's completely free)

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How to Create an Inclusive Company Culture

The topic of what makes up a great company culture is complex, but it really begins with this single action.

It was the summer of 2000, and I was living my dream.

I was still in my early 20s, working for a large nonprofit in the heart of New York City, and I'd been appointed to lead a small team. I loved my job; I loved New York. Life was good.

But suddenly, everything changed.

Here are 6 work perks you should always negotiate:

6 job perks you should negotiate
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The 1 company perk that all employees crave (and it's completely free)

1. More vacation time 

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2. Flex time (ability to work from home and at different hours)

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3. A better official title for your position 

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4. Commuting reimbursement 

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5. A severance package

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6. Designated office space

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7. Continued education tuition reimbursement

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My department manager, who had become a great mentor, suddenly left. He was replaced by "Jack," the assistant. Jack was the complete opposite of our old boss: He seemed to always focus on the negative, and was extremely difficult to please.

I don't think Jack hated us, but we felt that way sometimes--as he constantly pointed out our mistakes, never commending us for what we did right.

Morale sank.

Many years later, I moved to Europe and began work as a consultant with a number of international companies. While conducting research on employee satisfaction and company culture, I surveyed dozens of professionals working in various fields, and I noticed one complaint repeated over and over:

I just don't feel appreciated.

Many of the employees I interviewed said that their superiors were quick to let them know what they were doing wrong, but were almost never inclined to tell them what they were doing right.

What Every Employee Craves

Throughout the years, I've consulted with many companies, large and small. The topic of what makes up a great organizational culture is complex. But I strongly believe it begins with a single action:

Sincerely commending your people.

Praise. Giving credit where credit is due. Telling someone: "Job well done." Whatever you want to call it, people crave it--and they respond to it.

Think about it. How would you react if your superior said something like the following to you:

"Hey, _____________, do you have a minute? I've been meaning to tell you something. I know I don't say this enough, but I really appreciate what you're doing here. The way you handled that (project, client, problem)--it was great. I could really see your (specific quality you possess) in action, and how much it benefits the company.

Keep up the good work."

Sound motivating?

Don't mistake my point: My goal isn't to encourage flattery, or praise just for the sake of praising. We all know what it's like to be on the receiving end of a shallow or superficial compliment--it just leaves us wondering: What are they trying to get out of me?

But everybody deserves praise for something. All of your people are talented in different ways; it's your job to see those talents, and to bring out the best in them.

The Benefits of Praising Employees

If you take the time to give employees realistic and positive reinforcement, i.e., sincere and authentic commendation for their efforts, you'll experience the following benefits:

1. Your people will feel important and needed.

In contrast to Jack was Jack's boss, Mr. Larson.

Mr. Larson ("Call me John," he would say) was the managing director--and he had a much different reputation. Despite overseeing the work of about 300 people, he would come around to see each of us on our yearly "work anniversary." He usually stuck around and chatted for about five to 10 minutes, amazing us with the personal interest he showed.

Somehow, he even managed to learn all of our names--greeting us by first name as we passed each other in the hallways. "How's it going, Shelly?" "Great job on your presentation, Micah!"

Mr. Larson, um, John, also made himself available if we felt the need to speak with him. These "little things" meant a lot. He made us feel that our work was important to him.

We were important to him.

Takeaway: Do you want your team to jump through hoops of fire? It might mean a matter of just a few minutes a day, but I promise it will be time well spent.

2. It makes giving correction easier.

Jack may have had a brash management style, but many managers suffer from the opposite problem:

They cringe at the thought of giving corrective feedback.

Erika Andersen, author of Growing Great Employees, put it this way in an article she penned for Forbes:

"Most often," she writes, "we're worried about the other person's reaction: What if she gets angry? What if he cries? What if she tells me I'm an idiot? What if he gets super defensive and starts blaming me?"

The thing is, everyone needs correction. When your people don't receive constructive criticism, they never reach their full potential. Even worse, they may end up losing their jobs without ever having an idea of what they were doing wrong.

But when we are in the habit of telling our employees how much we appreciate the good things they do, it becomes much easier to correct the bad things they do.

Takeaway: When you praise authentically and regularly, it gives you confidence to give corrective feedback when necessary.

You'll know that your direction is balanced and reasonable--and in the best interests of both employee and company.

3. It makes receiving correction easier.

In contrast with fearing to give corrective feedback, I've witnessed a great number of "Jacks" running the show. Additionally, a number of employees I interviewed said that it was common for their team leaders and managers to spew out correction (even in a public setting), without ever giving commendation.

Morale, and productivity, naturally decline.

The fact is, no one wants to make mistakes or underperform. But when that's the only message we hear, we begin to lose motivation.

On the other hand, when we are confident that our leaders have "got our backs," we're much more ready and willing to receive constructive criticism.

Takeaway: Regular and sincere commendation helps employees see that you're on their side. They'll begin to see you as a mentor, instead of someone whose job is to come down on them.

Putting It Into Practice

So give some thought to your own style of leadership. When was the last time you told your team--as a group and the individuals themselves--that you appreciated them? Or told them specifically what you appreciate?

A few moments of sincere praise will pay rich dividends for you, your team, and your company.

By the way, my story has a happy ending. Remember Jack? He actually improved dramatically over the years we worked together. In the end, he became a great manager.

Want to know why? Because he learned from the great example that others set, others like Mr. Larson.

That's the power of sincere and authentic praise: It makes everybody better.

Here are 9 ways the workplace will change in the future:

9 ways the workplace will change in the future
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The 1 company perk that all employees crave (and it's completely free)

In the past 25 years, one-quarter of companies have reduced the number of layers of management they have, moving toward a flatter, more grid-like management structure.

We've already seen it in companies like Vegas-based e-commerce site Zappos, which eliminated employee titles just over two years ago in favor of a manager-free "holacracy."

"Traditional roles are going to disappear because many workplaces are going to disappear, so the whole structural hierarchical system is going to disappear," said James Canton, PhD, chairman and CEO of the Institute for Global Futures and author of "Future Smart: Managing the Game-Changing Trends that Will Transform Your World." "You'll end up with a system, a network of humans and artificial intelligence, crowd-based intelligence — they're all going to get mashed up."

In May, NPR created a digital tool to calculate how likely it is that certain jobs will be taken over by robots 20 years from now.

Manual-labor jobs appear to be most at risk, while jobs that require empathy, like social workers and caretakers, are least at risk.

A University of Oxford report predicts that "by 2030, let alone by 2050, we'll have lost almost 50% of the workforce to artificial intelligence," said David Price, co-founder of cultural-change practice We Do Things Differently and author of "OPEN: How We'll Work, Live and Learn in the Future."

The Oxford report, which examined sectors most likely to lose jobs, noted that the transportation and logistics industry was particularly susceptible to upheaval thanks to the development of driverless cars by companies like Google.

Even jobs that seemingly require the human touch, like the classroom teacher, are at risk. 

"We're already seeing experiments with this robot in the classroom, and when you ask kids with autism which one they'd rather be taught by, the teacher or the robot, they pick the robot," Price said.

New technology doesn't always mean the loss of jobs. The invention of the printing press actually created a lot of jobs back in the day, said Price, "and we're going to gain jobs as well, but it's guesswork which jobs we'll gain."

Canton predicts a scenario in which humans and robots work side-by-side in the future, where new jobs could include operating artificial intelligence-based technology and old jobs could be augmented by it.

"We're going to need to train people — whether on the factory floor or in a call center — how to use A.I. smarter," Canton said. "So right now the era of using these knowledge bases is kind of cumbersome, but over the next decades artificial intelligence will sense what somebody is asking a customer and will help the human operator provide better service."

It's cheaper for employers, who have an entire world of workers at their fingertips, to hire freelancers as needed rather than full-time employees, as it doesn't involve a lengthy hiring process or require them to offer benefits like health insurance or social security.

Many workers are also starting to opt for freelance employment over full-time employment, giving them more jurisdiction over the hours they work and the jobs they take on.

But Price cautioned that this dynamic has the potential to exploit the labor force. Are workers choosing this route because "they want to freelance, or because they can't find a job?" Price wondered. "When companies are outsourcing so many jobs, people say, 'Well, I might as well become freelance because I can't get a job.'"

If the only reason people will freelance is because companies don't want to hire and pay full-time workers,"What kind of a society are we going to be getting?'" Price asked. "Are corporations going to employ a living wage, or are governments going to have to force that?"

People are living longer, and the cost of living keeps going up, requiring many to keep working much later in life. Younger generations also aren't saving money for retirement the way their parents' generation did, because they can't afford it.

"I think people will live and work as long as they're capable," Price said.

But advancements in medical treatments and remedies to the negative health effects of aging could mean people are more energized and suited to working at older ages, according to a report on the future of work by financial-insurance provider UNUM.

A "future of work" report from PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that people will continue shifting away from the one life, one career mentality — an already observable trend among millennials. Workers will follow their passions as they change, and for many that also means changing careers.

But another driving force behind the phenomenon is a demand for social consciousness: Are companies ethically minded? Do they care about their customers, their environment, their employees?

Corporations "have to have more of a social purpose," said Price, "because people are much more ethically aware now, and people won't invest in companies that don't have a strong ethics." Companies have to prove that they're worth the time of their workers — that they have missions, values that they're invested in, and goals for becoming socially responsible in order to attract and retain employees.

The PwC report also envisions a world in which employers can monitor and screen their employees at a much more advanced level: "Sensors check their location, performance and health," the report states. "The monitoring may even stretch into their private lives in an extension of today’s drug tests."

The Daily Telegraph learned such measures will likely be met with resistance. The British newspaper installed motion detectors in early January to track their reporters but quickly abandoned them after incurring angry blowback. 

"Will companies develop a kind of 'Big Brother' approach to checking on their employees? Possibly, but I think more of them will think they need to be engaged in supporting [their employees]," Price said.

He pointed out how many Silicon Valley tech executives are setting up schools for their kids and their employees' kids in order to provide a better, more tech-focused brand of education.

"These paternalistic philanthropists who want to give their workers housing, keep them out of the pubs, [and] look after their health" may seem intruding or controlling, Price said, but "it will be in companies' best economic interest ... to play a much more active role in that."

Coworking spaces are becoming more and more popular, not just among freelancers and entrepreneurs but also corporations that can use them to relocate employees. Dissolving the traditional office headquarters would enable companies to hire the best candidates all over the world regardless of proximity to a central company hub.

Social media engagement platform Buffer announced in October that it's getting rid of its office and instead letting employees work remotely or from coworking spaces, which Buffer will pay for.

“With an office, if team members are in San Francisco it can be easy to delay meetings until all team members are in the office. The conclusion we came to is that we should always do the thing we can do immediately," said Buffer co-founder and CEO Joel Gascoigne, adding that digital advances like Google Hangouts or HipChat help Buffer survive by facilitating instant meetings, messages, and face-to-face conversations regardless of employees' locations.

Both Price and Dr. Canton imagine a world in which driverless vehicles could eliminate mass transit and transportation jobs, but on the positive side, these cars could potentially eliminate daily commuter traffic, not to mention crashes and fender benders.

"Cars are going to have V2V, a vehicle-to-vehicle capability, and self-driving cars could be preventing a lot of accidents and saving a lot of lives," Dr. Canton said — perhaps as many as 30,000 a year.

This vehicle-to-vehicle capability, technology that lets cars monitor and communicate with each other, would track the speed of each car and facilitate and ease road congestion, making commutes more efficient and headache-free.

But these technological advancements aren't an excuse for humans to grow complacent and expect computers or artificial intelligence to do all the work — on the road, or in the office.

"The preferred future is not one where machines run everything and we just go on vacation," said Dr. Canton, but rather one where human lives and jobs are made easier by the aid and advance of technology. "Our jobs are being changed because computers and networks can do [some] jobs more efficiently than humans can. That doesn't mean eliminating humans, but it means retraining humans to keep pace with it all."


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