In August, the Conference Board, a business research group, published the results of its annual survey of worker satisfaction in the U.S. The headline, “Job Satisfaction Climbs to Highest Levels in over Two Decades,” implies sunny news, but the group’s findings point to clouds on the horizon. Fifty-four percent of Americans say they’re satisfied with their jobs—not exactly a super-majority. In addition, “over 60 percent feel dissatisfied with their organization’s recognition practices, performance review process, and communication channels,” according to the report, and “men generally feel better than women about multiple financial components of their work, including wages and bonus plans.” Clearly, when it comes to job satisfaction, there’s still work to be done.
The coming season’s titles offer a variety of road maps to an improved workplace. Amid the diverse approaches, a few key themes emerge: leaders can do more to care for their employees, workers can do more to advocate for themselves and one another, and workplaces can make myriad changes to improve morale.
Take the Lead
Those in the C suite may be uniquely positioned to create more supportive environments, according to forthcoming books, but improving a workplace is a collective effort.
In Lunch with Lucy (Greenleaf, Mar. 2020), Sherry Stewart Deutschmann recounts her time as CEO of LetterLogic, a patient communications service for health-care providers. In an effort to get to know her workforce better, Deutschmann made herself available for one-on-one lunches. The overture was well received: each of her 51 employees invited her out for a meal.
The idea behind the initiative, says Sally Garland, an editor at Greenleaf, is that “if you treat your employees well they will give you everything you need to know in order to make your business the best it can be.” During the lunches, Deutschmann heard about personal and business-related issues, and the information she gathered helped her to solve company problems.
The benefits and challenges of communicating with employees also factor into Rapid Growth, Done Right (Kogan Page, Apr. 2020) by leadership consultant Val Wright. The book, aimed at CEOs seeking to make their companies more innovative, urges leaders to ensure that their business, creative, and technical teams work in harmony and offers advice on collaborating with talent; one chapter is titled “How Not to Act Like an Idiot When Working with a Genius.”
In an effort to improve the workplace, those in charge may want to reconsider who and what a leader can be. In Leading Without Authority (Currency, June 2020), Keith Ferrazzi, CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a management training and consulting company, writes that even those without a leadership title can, and do, provide critical guidance to fellow employees and that managers should recognize and embrace this.
“Every one of us can take a leadership role” regardless of rank, says Roger Scholl, v-p and executive editor at Crown. Ferrazzi advises a strategy he calls co-elevating, which involves “looking for an opportunity to learn, develop, and grow together,” Scholl says. When “companies use the full talents and resources of all their people,” he adds, “everybody benefits.”
Be an Advocate
One way in which employees can act as leaders is by ensuring that workplace culture benefits everyone: that workers feel safe, seen, and valued for their unique talents.
Berrett-Koehler has several titles on deck that pursue this idea. Creating Introvert-Friendly Workplaces (May 2020) by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, who gives frequent talks on the topic of introversion, suggests that professional life is geared toward extroverts to the detriment of introverts. “Extroverts are very good at sales, they’re very good at making connections, they’re great at being the face of the company,” says Anna Leinberger, acquisitions editor at Berrett-Koehler. But introverts, too, bring value to corporate culture. “Their strength is in doing a lot of the deep thinking,” she notes. “If you can leverage the strengths of your introverts and your extroverts, you’re doubling your brain trust capacity.”
Companies also thrive by safeguarding the mental well-being of their employees, specifically by ensuring that employees feel secure about taking risks. In The 4 Stages of Psychological Safety (Berrett-Koehler, Mar. 2020), Timothy R. Clark, a social scientist and leadership consultant, offers a guide to creating an environment in which people feel confident about asking questions and are not afraid to make mistakes. “When you feel unsafe, you don’t feel like you can take risks,” Leinberger says. “Creativity and innovation require risk-taking.”
Prioritizing a safe workplace also means looking out for those on the receiving end of prejudice, regardless of whether it’s overt or intentional. Subtle Acts of Exclusion (Berrett-Koehler, Mar. 2020) by Tiffany Jana, founder of diversity and inclusion management consulting firm TMI Consulting, and Michael Baran, a social scientist, details how to recognize and address workplace microaggressions. The book, Leinberger says, is less a “solidarity book” for those harmed by the attitudes of others than a guide for corporate leaders and HR personnel on creating “a better working environment for people who’ve been excluded.”
Leinberger points out that as interest in fostering diversity and equity in the workplace has grown in recent years, the approach to ensuring inclusion has matured. “Just hiring people from backgrounds that you have not traditionally hired from before isn’t enough,” she says. “It’s critical that you also do this interior culture work to make the workplace a safer place.”
A forthcoming title from Atria, The Fix (Mar. 2020), makes a similar case with regard to gender inequity in the workplace. Michelle P. King, head of the UN Women’s Global Innovation Coalition for Change, pushes back against the idea that women must change themselves in order to thrive in the workplace, asserting that the adversity women experience is systemic, rooted in gender stereotypes, and in some sense intrinsic to corporate culture.
Sarah Pelz, executive editor at Atria, describes the book as a guide for women to navigating “invisible barriers” and improving the workplace from within. She adds that while the book is aimed at women, its insights apply to all workers. “Workplace culture is very detrimental unless you fit that quote-unquote idea of an ideal worker,” she says. “Bringing about the changes she argues for in the book would be good for all of us.”
Find Your Happy (Work)place
All the chair massages and foosball tables in the world won’t change the fact that work is, after all, still work. Even if workplace bliss is a tall order, leaders and employees can take concrete steps to improve office morale, according to the authors of several forthcoming titles.
New books from Red Wheel and Career Press, both imprints of Red Wheel/Weiser, focus on conflict and communication. Creating a Drama-Free Workplace (Red Wheel, Jan. 2020) by Anna Maravelas, president of Thera Rising International, which offers seminars on workplace conflicts, draws on the author’s experience resolving more than 300 such situations to identify the gaps in trust and communication that lead to discord and lower morale. How to Listen and How to Be Heard (Career Press, May 2020) by Alissa Carpenter, a consultant who focuses on communication, offers advice on how to navigate differences through inclusive conversations.
“We have five generations that are currently working,” says Michael Pye, associate publisher at Career Press. “When you multiply that by race, gender, culture, and religion, it’s one of the most diverse workplaces that’s ever existed.” Too many people, he adds, “feel like they aren’t able to get their ideas across,” and Carpenter’s book is aimed specifically at a younger generation of workers who want to develop their careers by “getting more involved” with their companies and teams.
Creating a comfortable workplace also means ensuring employees feel fulfilled, both at work and in their lives more generally. Get a Life! (Kogan Page, Mar. 2020) by Rick Hughes, a workplace counselor and head of the Student Counselling Service at the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland, offers suggestions for righting one’s work-life balance. Delegating is key, he says, as is letting go of perfectionism.
And Eat Sleep Work Repeat (HarperOne, Mar. 2020) by Bruce Daisley, European v-p for Twitter, enumerates what he calls 30 “hacks” that increase workplace productivity and joy. For instance, positioning the office coffee machine between two teams can increase collaboration between the departments, he suggests, and “establishing the norm of a ‘no-fly zone’ for emails over the weekend” can allow workers to recharge their creative energies.
Michael Maudlin, senior v-p and executive editor at HarperOne, says Daisley seeks to give workers a sense of agency. “The idea that we have the power to determine how we approach our work, and what we get out of it, is a fresh message."
Below, more on business books.