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That playground has to be fenced

In a previous column I wrote about super-installers, and all the things you can do to become one. One thing I didn’t mention – because it really should go without saying – is the importance of a pleasant, healthy working atmosphere.

It’s something that’s easily forgotten amid the hustle and bustle of daily life. The council’s amenities manager wants that playground fenced tomorrow because the day after tomorrow it’s going to be officially opened by the mayor, and on top of that Mrs Johnson has assured us most emphatically that she’s going to give us a bad review on Google if that stupid blue fence of hers isn’t installed tomorrow.

On top of that, a healthy working environment is a bit of a vague concept. It's not something you can measure. It doesn’t boost your Google rating, and the accountant isn’t bothered about it either. These factors mean that improving the work environment is never at the top of your to-do list. But that’s the danger right there.

Because a healthy working atmosphere is a bit like a flower bed full of bright and fragrant blooms. You have to tend them carefully as they grow, over time, bit by bit, and give them a little water every day. If you don't water them for a few days, they’ll start to droop. Leave them for a few weeks, you’ll end up with a whole lot of weeds. Because weeds will grow no matter what.

And weeds choke out all the flowers. It’s incredibly demotivating. Everyone in the company becomes more unproductive, slowly but surely, until eventually no one really cares about how many metres are put in the ground or how many Google stars you get from Mrs Johnson.

There are hundreds of things you can do to create a good working atmosphere in your company, if you don’t have one already – and to make sure it stays that way. Most of them are only small; things that you can fairly easily introduce into the way you manage your business.

For example, as the boss, make sure that you’re always approachable. Be there on the job when your installers arrive. Ask questions, and show interest in the answers. ‘How did the job go?’ But also: ‘Got anything nice planned for the weekend?’

This makes your people feel like you take them seriously. That they can share things with you, can trust you. And when you know what’s going on behind the scenes, you can take action accordingly.

Always set a good example, and never make jokes at other people’s expense. Fencing installers are not overly sensitive souls and can put up with a fair amount of banter (certainly from each other). But if you, the boss, join in, then you’re giving it the OK and the gloves are off. Then the jokes can get out of hand, which in turn leads to unhappy colleagues.

Another important point: be clear about your expectations. The clearer, the better. It makes it easier for your staff to meet those expectations. On top of that, it means there’s less discussion afterwards – and therefore less dissatisfaction.

The list is endless – just take a look on Google. You’ll find a hundred sites full of tips, and those tips are different on every site. Most of them can be implemented in your business right away without much effort or expense; all you need to do is take a moment or two to think about it.

There is one, though, that takes a bit of time and effort: throw a party for your staff now and then. Take everyone out to dinner or to the pub, or get a few crates of beer and some sausages and fire up the barbecue.

Now, as we head towards the end of the year, is an especially good moment. Even if you don't actually have time for it, because you’ve just had another call from Mrs Johnson. Her stupid blue fence can always be installed next week. If the restaurants are all fully booked for Christmas already, then make it a party to celebrate the New Year. Just organise something.

It’s important to celebrate together now and then. Not only does it send the message that you appreciate everyone’s hard work, but it also gives colleagues the opportunity to relax and have a laugh together without having to think about work. Without feeling stressed about that playground, which has to be fenced today.

People place more value on it than you might think. Sometimes they look forward to Christmas all year. The lights and decorations come out sometime in mid-November and the house is decorated, in the leadup to two or three days of enjoyment with the family. A time when everyone comes together. Laughs at each other's jokes, but also listens to each other's problems.

And if it’s important for families to spend time together, then it’s even more important for colleagues to spend time together. Your colleagues are your second family – you often spend more time with them than you do with your own family. You have a lot more experiences together, too. You have to solve more problems together and you’re constantly under time pressure, because that council playground has to be fenced this week. And all of that with no family bond with your colleagues to fall back on.

Enjoying a pleasant evening at the pub or in a restaurant gives you a chance to laugh together. Employees can whinge about that time (or times!) you pushed them too hard in the past year. And you yourself can complain about annoying customers and the invoices they haven’t paid. You can put all the irritations behind you and start again with a clean slate. And you can get to know your colleagues better, meaning that it will be even easier to get along with them next year.

So: if you haven't yet got together with your team: choose a date, and book somewhere now. If the boss doesn't do it, then go ahead and book it with your colleagues, simply because you’ve earned it. And then invite your boss as well, because he’s earned it too after a year of being your boss.

We on the editorial team wish you a very happy festive season – both with your colleagues and your family – and then a good start to a fresh new year. May 2024 be a year full of joy and happiness, with lots of super-straight fences, super-satisfied customers, and supersized tips. A year of good health, with no illness and, especially, no industrial accidents. Preferably also a year of financial prosperity, with more profit and with big bonuses for all colleagues.

Until next year!

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