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To Make Laborers' Day, Treat Them Well


Most people like to think of their jobs as more than a paycheck. Employees want to feel they are integral to their company's success. They like an opportunity to grow professionally . Plus, it doesn't hurt to have a little fun with colleagues while getting all that work done.

This Labor Day, BusinessNewsDaily takes a look at ways business owners can ensure the prosperity of their operations by treating their employees well.

Creating a positive workplace is a priority at Geneca, a custom software developer in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill. "We consider employees more than part of a business organization. We think of them as a family by choice," explained chief executive Joel Basgall. "By keeping everyone aligned with the company goals and vision, we have a culture of collaboration and loyalty rather than obedience."

Geneca has won a number of workplace awards, including finishing in the top 10 of its division in the "Best Places to Work in Illinois" competition for the second year in a row.

The company employs social media to communicate its core values to its staff and business partners. "With social media, the culture has a life of its own and is more of a groundswell within the company," Basgall said.

Geneca uses Twitter, Facebook and Yammer, an enterprise social network tool. "Yammer discussion groups are run by anyone with a passion for something," he said. "We also have quarterly in-person town hall company meetings via WebEx every other month."

To engage employees, the company supports what Basgall calls "personal-brand building." Geneca provides workshops and other guidance for employees who wish to engage in public speaking, blog or publish articles.

There are also camaraderie events to foster teamwork. In addition to the standard holiday parties and picnics, the company holds game nights, movie nights, chili cook-offs and special-interest activities such as a writers workshop. "These activities help create a foundation for team building and enable employees to 'own ' a piece of the culture," Basgall said.

He added that consistently working long hours is not encouraged, "Success is based on performance and results," Basgall said. "Human Resources monitors hours to make sure people aren't putting in too many 45-plus-hour weeks." The company also offers flexible work hours.

Employers can offer career- or life-enhancing benefits other than a raise, said Stefanie Smith, who leads Stratex, a New York-based executive consulting firm.  "Rewards go way beyond money," Smith said. They can include upgraded technology, improved surroundings, tuition reimbursement and inclusion in important meetings or events.

Engage employees in brainstorming about their future so that they feel a connection to the company, she said. "Ask them, 'What professional development opportunities excite you?'  You might spend regular time mentoring them, or provide an external mentor or coach to build their technical or leadership skills. Explain that their future returns on the skills, recognition and pride they gain will continue for the rest of their careers."

Smith said business owners also can offer an employee the chance to lead or participate in a high-profile project or initiative that will increase his or her prestige and provide valuable experience or a new credential.

Many small-business owners struggle with motivation, appreciation and feedback. If you ask your employees for their opinions, a workplace consultant says, be prepared to react.

"Among my small-business clients, the single most important thing employers do to take care of them is also the most simple and costs the least amount of money: Listen," said Steve Langerud, DePauw University director of professional opportunities. "When in doubt about how to treat your employees well , ask them."

Treating employees well doesn’t mean treating them all the same. "Remember, everyone is different," Langerud said. "But we operate as if everyone wants what we want. In working with employees, the Golden Rule simply does not work. Treating everyone as we want to be treated can lead to disaster."

It takes discipline and good will to ask for employee concerns and to respond. "If you don't care about what your employees want, then don't ask," he said. "It is far worse to ask and ignore than to never ask at all."