A spirit resonates among leaders who look after their workers. Theodora Manjo sums it up this way:
“Real leaders are in the trenches with their employees when times get tough. They celebrate small victories and don’t overpower them with their titles. Where there is respect, there is gratitude and reciprocacy.”
Manjo is a digital media enthusiast. She fell in love with digital media — from social media to website development, SEO, programming and analytics. She assesses brands and businesses from a consumer point of view. This entails getting the best out of staff as employers and giving the best of themselves as employees.
Manjo dove deeply into employer and employee relationships with entrepreneur and events organizer Ciru Edith; data scientist and business analyst Grad Zimunya; and entrepreneur and partner at HOS Media Luka Cremisini.
During an Africa Tweet Chat, they looked at how employers create a positive and productive work environment for their employees.
“Employers must allow their teams to be adults and not baby them, not be clock watchers,” Manjo said. “Maintain respect. If people feel valued, they bring value.”
Relationships work best when everything is out in the open.
“Employers can create a positive work environment for their employees by making sure there is transparency in the way the company runs its programs,” Edith said. “This will make employees understand the goal of the business better and see their contributions.”
She said employers should have these concerns:
- Employees’ growth and well-being.
- Training and education.
- Out-of-office activities.
- Medical as well as mental healthcare.
- Giving better and reasonable remuneration. This is a topic that people shy away from talking about.
“Employers ought to work all possible ways to ensure there is no ‘negative energy’ in the workplace,” Edith said. “The employer should be the go-to person for the employee. Sadly, some employees can’t even have their bosses as a referee when writing about their life experiences and accomplishments.”
Incentives inspire productivity
Workers will thrive when given the opportunity.
“Empower the employees, and give them some control and responsibility in decision making,” Zimunya said. “With this, employees work harder and happier. They have satisfaction. This creates a positive working environment.
“Employees need recognition for their efforts,” he said. “Learn to reward or recognize them when they have done well or excelled in an assignment. That brings a sense of importance to employees and motivates them.”
Zimunya contends that respect, trust and belief in employees are keys for a great, happy environment.
“Employers need to give their employees something to believe in,” he said. “People want to associate with an organization that stands for something important.”
That starts with written and unwritten words.
“One of the many ways to create a positive environment for your workforce is to encourage bilateral communication,” Cremisini said. “When your employees feel they can communicate openly with you, it is easier to stay in touch with their needs.”
Those needs include regular, genuine recognition of worth.
“We forget that we are creatures that need validation,” Manjo said. “A simple ‘You are doing so well’ could go a long way. Slaving away every day, 16 hours a day with no recognition or acknowledgement is soul destroying. I have been there. Not cool.”
Meaningful words keep teams on course.
“Without that, workers don’t know whether they are doing the right thing, and they don’t know what to do different,” Edith said. “They tend to keep things to themselves. They are not sure who to share with. This makes them hurt silently, which interferes with their productivity.”
Drawing a line between work and outside life makes for good theory that fails in the light of reality.
“Most of the time people associate their work and their identity,” Zimunya said. “If their work is ignored, they may feel useless and not important. This might lead to mental health issues.
“Unfortunately, instead of not just ignoring the employees, at times it is only the wrongs that are spoken of,” he said. “This gets stressing. Amplifying employees’ wrongs and silencing their achievements will cause stress to the entire workplace.”
Reflections on water
Cremisini drew on a parable to make his point:
“Masaru Emoto, author of “Hidden Messages in Water,” conducted an experiment with three grains of rice and three bottles of water. He put one grain of rice in each water bottle, and his family spoke a specific set of words to each bottle of water. To the first they said ‘Thank you’ every day for a month. To the second they said ‘You fool.’ The third, they put away and ignored without speaking any words to it.
“The grain of rice in the first bottle did not rot.
“The grain inside the ‘You fool’ bottle rotted last.
“But the grain of rice that was ignored rotted quickest of all.”
“Even negative energy is better than no energy at all,” Cremisini said.
Much of that energy is generated when work and personal lives are simpatico.
“Employers need to encourage more flexibility,” Edith said. “The ability to work from home — or flexi hours — is crucial. Have more outings as a team and treat that as ‘down time.’ We spend more time at work than we do at home. So, at least make it a happy place.
“Consider working time,” she said. “Some employers keep their employees at work from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. or late at night. The employees end up not having a social life, no family time, no leisure, and the mind is not creative but used to a certain routine. Make the working hours flexible.”
That means raising the emphasis on precious homelife.
“As an employer, one should be concerned about the employee’s family and have programs open for family members,” Edith said. “A happy family means happy parents, and a happy employee means a good job will be done.
“Have wellness activities such as visiting workmates or having activities that require people to be escorted by their family members like fun days or family afternoon or dinner,” she said.
It’s a revelation when employers really care about their people.
“The first thing employers should endeavor to know is what is very important to the employee,” Zimunya said. “This will reveal what the employee values. Then try to help the employee achieve that.
“Flexible hours are important to allow the employee time with family,” he said. “Personal time should not be taken as competing with work, but complementing because this is time to refuel. When companies make functions open to key people in the employee’s life, their family will feel part of the company. That is important to the employee.”
Equally important, brands grow through great employee-employer relationships.
“Encourage training, conferences and talks,” Manjo said. “The more we learn together about a common subject, the greater the relationship. Birds of a feather flock together. Do brand brainstorms and find associations within the company so you know where to pick brains.”
Rewards will come as workers get more involved.
“Make employees own the business idea and involvement in decision making,” Edith said. “Have flexibility and be open minded as an employer. Incubate ideas from employers, and implement them if they are relevant.”
This will build commitment from both sides.
“In a startup where the shareholders are the initial employees, there is not much of a big problem because people are both the employee and employer,” Zimunya said. “They might sacrifice their personal time for business time.
“The problem comes when they get the first employee who they want to make sacrifices as much as they do,” he said. “Usually, getting an expert in areas such as human resources early will help manage employer-employee differences early.”
Motivation scales up from inception.
“It is most often the case that a successful startup has a charismatic leader who inspires employees to achieve their maximum potential,” Cremisini said. “If you are at the helm of a startup with a budding team, remember that you inspire people to serve you by your willingness to serve others.”
Peace and quiet
Employee recognition is important throughout the year, especially around major holidays.
“Allow workers to take time off to rest,” Manjo said. “As things quiet down, allow half days off. Year-end functions are a great way to say thank you. Small appreciation gifts go a long way, even if it’s a mug with a name printed on it. Small things make the biggest difference.
“Spotlight promotions that come with a salary raise,” she said. “Titles mean nothing if more work doesn’t come with a reward. This includes bonuses, 13th month checks and paying for studies. Money talks.”
Happiness comes through in greater output.
“Give employees a holiday package such as a year-end party, vacation or award the best performance with an offer to higher education, promotion or education to the kids,” Edith said. “A happy family maximizes production.
“I saw one employer who always invites his employees and their families to his place when they are closing the year,” she said. “They celebrate, eat together, have drinks and a good time. Employees get to see the other side of the boss, and it’s so exciting.”
That excitement can bring fulfillment.
“A good employer will know the dream thing that an employee wants in life,” Zimunya said. “Offering that as a present can be a great way of appreciating a worker.
“The family is usually the most important part of an employee,” he said. “A holiday with family is a good way to appreciate an employee. Financial bonuses will also assist.”
These rewards should be more than tokens.
“An increase that beats inflation is a standard necessity and should be compulsory for all businesses that employ anyone,” Cremisini said. “If their prices increase with inflation, so should cost for human capital.”
Any sort of appreciation should be given with tact.
“If it’s open rewards such as awards, let it be known from the get go that this is how we celebrate people,” Manjo said. “Work hard, get seen. Sometimes it’s best to do platonic rewards, perhaps vouchers for birthdays or appreciation gifts at the end of the year.”
Consensus makes presentations even more valuable.
“Make the other employees participate in the evaluation process,” Edith said. “Have an external person do the evaluation. Make everyone present their achievements. Come up with figures or numbers on the return on investment or customer feedback.
“Group workers into teams, then reward the best team,” she said. “This won’t be personal and will encourage teamwork.”
Well chosen numbers will bring people together.
“In coming up with the metrics to measure hard work, include collaboration,” Zimunya said. “The employees will feel connected as they work hard.”
Unified vision opens up the big picture.
“If you set up a clear and well-structured remuneration system, your employees will see the direct correlation between effort and reward,” Cremisini said. “This is one of the keys to a working incentive plan.
“If your employees know exactly what it takes to attain certain rewards — and they feel these requirements are fair — they will always be motivated to aim for those incentives,” he said.
Manjo has found that most employees distance themselves from representing the brands they work for on social media.
“We like to believe that social media is our ‘safe space,’ whatever we say doesn’t reflect the stance of the company I work for,” she said. “They believe being online is their personal life, not work. Yet, when they add their name and say something, they get in trouble because people are petty.”
Edith sees employee reluctance because “they feel they don’t have a share of the business. They don’t own up the business idea. They are not satisfied. There is a gap.”
Lack of connection also discourages workers from promoting their companies on social media.
“In some cases, they are not involved in the decision making in the organization,” Zimunya said. “They might not be in agreement with the messages they are to share. Plus, a small mistake on social media might lead into serious backlash at work.
“Employers and business leaders need to realize that before customers buy into their brands, their employees — who are key stakeholders — should have bought in by contributing,” he said.
Worker’s social reluctance can stem from their perception as unequal partners in their company.
“Many employees might be embarrassed to endorse their employer on social media,” Cremisini said. “Maybe they see their employers as people who pay the bills instead of partners in life that they are proud to represent.
“Company culture has a lot to do with this,” he said. “When your employees feel more like family than colleagues, they tend to be readier to endorse. Perhaps the issue also lies in the fact that employees feel they already get paid for their job description. They don’t want to provide free marketing.”
Employee openness should not go unrewarded.
“The greatest reward is an actual response,” Manjo said. “If I feel that cables on the floor aren’t safe, my employer doing something about that is the reward I want. Just being present, acknowledging the feedback and doing something about it works.”
Edith advocates rewards depending on the situation, which Zimunya believes will solidify corporate bonds.
“Employees should feel like they are part of the organization,” he said. “Then when feedback is given from any level, companies need to openly acknowledge who gave the feedback as part of the reward.”
Inquisitiveness can benefit anyone and should not be ignored.
“The best way to encourage feedback from anyone is to ask questions,” Cremisini said. “When you ask for feedback, the persons you ask feel that you value them and their opinions. They will be more open to sharing truthful and useful feedback with you.
“That really can be as simple as making the effort to engage your staff and ask questions that matter,” he said.
Employee longevity builds corporate knowledge, which makes retention imperative.
“Seeing how people get promoted for good work and learning opportunities is always great,” Manjo said. “Knowing I can study further and be an expert in my field while my company subsidizes or pays fully for my studies is great motivation.”
Integral to success
Zimunya said active — and appreciated — participation will help keep employees for many years.
“Employees should feel that they are part of the organization,” he said. “The company needs to infuse the employee’s personal vision and plans in the company’s plans. Employees then will feel satisfaction at work.
“The employee should also see room for growth in the company,” Zimunya said. “For that to happen, the company should create opportunities for employees to move up.”
Being human, Cremisini said workers will follow the money.
“Give wage increases above inflation and good incentive structures that clearly outline targets to be met to receive ‘incentive remuneration,’” he said. “If your employees feel appreciated and well used, they will want to stay with you for longer time periods.”
Besides loyalty to their companies, workers should feel a bond with each other.
“Celebrate one another,” Manjo said. “We don’t always need to wait for leadership to recognize each other. Sometimes we need to lead from the bottom and show our employers what we like and want. Giving shout outs to good work during meetings is a start.”
Freely working together builds teamwork.
“Employees appreciate each other by collaboration,” Zimunya said. “When you work together, you appreciate that others are better than you in certain areas.
“Team-building exercises and parties help people know each other, which leads to mutual respect and appreciation,” he said.
Beyond deep thoughts and complex financial arrangements, Cremisini urged employers and employees alike to remember the simple basics.
“A good way to instill appreciation in the workplace is to make two words compulsory after every interaction: Thank you,” he said, “Merely saying these two words to each other in the office often enough will make people cheerier and easier to work with.”