What makes an office a good place to work, honestly?

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Feel like this is a pretty important question that we seem to have a lot of articles and ideas (“thought leadership”) on, but potentially not much consensus. And to be clear, I doubt we’re going to truly get consensus. Everyone is obviously different, and most of the world doesn’t even work full-time, if we’re being honest.

We know this: in white-collar, North American, enterprise-style work — think offices, cubicles, hierarchy — the average employee tenure is somewhere between 3.6 and 4.2 years. Hysterically, the tenure of execs, especially CMOs, is often even less. We criticized LeBron for his “taking my talents to South Beach” moment — and rightfully so to an extent — but at a certain level, we’re all target-hitting assassins looking for the next big thing.

Let’s say you stay at most jobs about four years. Between 22 and 55, then (33 years), you might change jobs eight times.

The problem with changing jobs is that you absolutely positively never know the culture of a place until you start working there. Sure, the job description talks about innovation, collaboration, free tacos, and all that bullshit. In reality it’s undercutting, people avoid eye contact, some managers are collecting $115K a year and haven’t been seen since 2007, etc. We all know the drill. “Employer branding” is a campaign. It’s not the reality of what it’s like to work there.

So if you’re changing jobs, what actually matters?


This one is hard to argue. Compensation determines your quality of life in a capitalism to a large extent. Most people job-hop for money,and that makes perfect sense. Internally at most places, a raise is about 2–3%. When you hop to another company, you can sometimes make 5–10% depending on how badly they need your skill set at that time (and if the CFO just got back from Aruba and is a bit detached, naw mean?). There is no math that supports employee loyalty like that.

Good culture

The problem with this one is, absolutely no one knows what it really means. I’ve tried to define it.

In all likelihood, I probably failed. Now here’s a dude smarter than me — looks to be a Chief Economist or something at Glassdoor, writing in Harvard Business Review about how, where, and why people move for jobs.

This part stands out:

If you click into their research, it’s all about good management and a clear career path. LOL. Neither of those is even remotely normative in most organizations. The problem is that “good management” means “make more money” to management itself, so they have no incentive to actually, well, be good managers. Clear career path? Business models pivot on a dime if additional money can be had somewhere, and bosses value “team players” (read: slaves to their email), so you get further for yourself by pivoting 92 times in a year and hoping someone recognizes you. That’s not a good culture in my estimation, but it works well for some people.

Benefits and flexibility

This should increasingly be mattering more, especially if you think about it logically. Most people in their 20s/30s make decisions on housing and kids relative to where they’re at now and how they think their career could evolve. In 1970, that made sense. Now, we have literally no idea.

Because of that, people will increasingly find themselves in situations where they need more flexibility — kids, aging parents, etc. — and companies that “get it” and say “Yes, the work can be done when the work is done, seat time is a relic anyway”might get the “A-Players” as a result. Most companies are still trying to apply Industrial Era-thinking to a Knowledge Economy, so we’re not at scale with this idea, but maybe someday.

More and better training

This has been show in a bunch of studiesto be a driver of “this is a good place to work,” but we all know the deal with execs. They are usually very cost-averse, and training/development is a cost. It’s an avoidable cost, since most of their rivals probably aren’t training either — and since most execs really just copy what their rivals do and claim they’re “forward-thinking,” it’s something to get off the balance sheet. The theory for 40 years+ has been “Well, what if we train them and they leave?”

Easiest counter: What if you don’t train them, and they stay?

People don’t think that way, though. Sad but true. And when training does happen, it’s usually warmed-over HR bullshit with everyone on their phone the entire time. I’m just speaking truth to power over here. It’s a question of how far you want to bury your head in the sand, ya know?

The actual bottom line would be…

Well, we can take this two ways. If you get a job with a place like Apple, the actual bottom line (i.e. the money they make) is pretty good. You yourself might lose a job someday, sure, but Apple isn’t about to end as a company tomorrow. So bottom-line-wise, there’s some stability. Your grandparents probably like to discuss that, right?

But my bottom line on a job would be respect. Respect in the workplace is a massively dying art, to the point that 60% of managers claim they “lack the time”to respect their employees, as if “respect” is something you schedule in Outlook. Odd.

Working at a place with no respect is a giant cluster-mess. You’re always being run in circles on different projects or deliverables, but no one ever says “Thank You” and if you ever ask for clarification on anything, you either get ignored or treated like a six year-old (“That’s a mommy and daddy decision, son.”) It’s fucking pathetic. It happens at a lot of places.

The problem is, unless you have tons of friends/former colleagues at a place, you’d never know what the internal culture of respect is like before you started working there. And psychology isn’t on your side here — as people get more power, which is what hierarchy basically is, they lose empathy and the desire/need to respect others. So most places, which are admittedly deeply hierarchical, won’t be very respect-driven. Sadly that’s just a fact.

What other factors would you add on “these make work more than bearable and perhaps even exciting?”

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Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money: http://thecontextofthings.com/hire-freelance-writer-ted-bauer/

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