What Makes a Great Workplace?

Is it every day “perks” like free coffee and snacks? Is it a “hands-off” attitude by management where people are free to do what they want? Is it when a company pays its employees more than anyone else in town?

Part of the answer depends on what matters most to the person answering the question and what they expect out of their company.

Perks, pay and people
It might be tempting to look at the perks offered by a company as an indication that they care about their employees. But those perks might be a superficial attempt to cover up deeper issues. A “cool” workspace might look impressive to clients or new hires, but high-end office furniture and shiny technology only impress for so long; eventually they fade into the background of everyday work life.

If you’ve worked at a place where you suffered from overly intrusive micromanagement before, the idea that management might not be paying attention could be tempting, but what happens if you have a problem with a co-worker or you see a project going south? Who can you turn to?

While aspects of company life like compensation and work-life balance are important, does higher pay equal greater job satisfaction? Not necessarily, according to an article in the that looked at the relationship between pay and job satisfaction.

After looking at a number of studies, the conclusion was that, yes, money matters…but only to a point. According to professor emeritus Daniel Khaneman from Princeton University, “It’s not so much that money buys you happiness but that lack of money buys you misery.” Pay is important, but it’s not going to compensate for things that are making you miserable.

The same goes for work-life balance: according to a by management expert Erika Anderson, what makes for good balance isn’t something that can be defined by any specific rule. Instead, it really depends on your own definition of what makes for good work/life balance. For example, if you’re someone who lives to work, “If you go to work for a company where people like to play by the rules, enjoy working together during the day and going home at night, and tend to keep their work and private lives pretty separate,” she writes, “…it could be a great company, but you still probably wouldn’t be happy there.”

What makes a company a great place to work has a lot more to do with people rather than place or perks. No matter what a place looks like or how many perks they throw at you, in the end, none of that matters if you have to go to a place every day where you don’t like the people you work with and you have to contend with management that doesn’t care.

Community: the sixth sense
But why are the people we work with so important? Simply put, it’s because a workplace is a community, a social unit that shares common values and principles. We like hanging out with people who think like us and working towards a common goal. It produces a “sense of community,” a term coined in 1986 by social psychologists David McMillan and David Chavis. According to McMillan and Chavis, sense of community comes from four things:

1. Membership: a feeling of belonging to a group or a sense that you can relate to others in the group
2. Influence: a feeling that what you do as a member of the community matters, both for yourself and for the group
3. Integration and Fulfillment of Needs: the feeling that you’re getting what you hoped to get out of joining the group
4. Shared Emotional Connection: the feeling that you’re all in it together for the long haul and ready to face the challenges of the future

Even if you haven’t experienced a sense of community at work before, chances are you’ve felt it through some other activity. Maybe you remember the camaraderie you felt belonging to a sports team. Maybe it’s the warm glow you remember from your school years. Or maybe it’s just what you feel when you’re with your family during the holidays. Whatever it is, feeling that sense of community is a powerful, positive feeling that makes us want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

To be a great place to work, a company must be as committed to its people as it is to itself, its products and its services. It must be a place where everyone feels that his or her efforts contribute to the greater good. And when those efforts pay off, they are rewarded. It must be a place where responsibility runs both ways. It must be a place where everyone strives to be their best and, in doing so, makes everyone else better. In other words, to succeed, a company must also be a community.

And that’s what makes a great workplace!