Four Keys to a Happy Work Environment

I’ve been thinking about work, and what makes working at a company enjoyable. What any person might like or dislike about work can vary widely, of course, but I’ve worked at a lot of different companies, and across those various companies I’ve found four main factors that determine how pleasant work at a company might be:

  1. The wind is at your back
  2. Things work smoothly
  3. Common commitment to a mission
  4. Strong management team

Wind at your back means that the market is moving your way and revenues are coming easily (as easily as they ever do). Like you’re Instagram and everybody wants your app. Or you’re Caterpillar during a construction boom, when people are clamoring for your tractors. When the wind is at your back, everything is easier. Your decisions all seem right, and if you happen to make a mistake, it just doesn’t matter that much. Your colleagues are in good moods, your bosses are happy with your work, and bonuses are in your future. When the wind is at your back, work almost seems like play.

Having your company work smoothly is an internal state, rather than one dependent on the market. Processes are in place and lines of communication are established. Objectives are set, each group is executing on those objectives, and everybody is in synch. When your organization is firing on all cylinders you feel productive, even if the wind isn’t at your back. Sure, maybe you could be growing faster, but you are getting things done, and that feels great.

Even if you aren’t all in synch, you can all be committed to the same mission. And this doesn’t need to be a feel-good, change the world sort of mission. Going back to Caterpillar, if everyone is committed to the mission of making great tractors and selling the heck out of them, then you are all on the same team, heading toward the same goal, and that is fun. You might be facing a headwind (housing crisis!) and your company may not be very organized, but at least you are all in it together, pulling in the same direction.

If you’ve got good management, everything is a little better. A good boss makes you feel appreciated, like your contributions actually matter. And if your contributions matter, you will work harder on those contributions, and feel better about that work. Good management can make work more rewarding, and more fun. Bad management, on the other hand, makes you dread coming to work each day.

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