Many company leaders want their staff to feel like a family, and their office to feel more like a second home to employees.
This isn’t just because they want to be kind (although that may be part of the motivation). Savvy bosses understand that when employees feel comfortable, welcomed, and cared for at work, companies are likely to get great returns: better teamwork, retention, and productivity, to name a few.
But a welcoming work environment doesn’t just happen on its own. It takes conscious effort.
Unfortunately, that effort — including tasks like recognizing birthdays and making the physical office a pleasant place to spend time — is often subtle. And especially for medium-sized or small companies, it tends to fly under the radar, absorbed by various employees.
When this unrecognized work ends up on the plates of the same employees too consistently, it can lead to resentment and even poison your culture.
Types of Typically Overlooked Office Work
Take a look at some of the areas where the work of creating a pleasant office environment tends to become “invisible.” See if any resonate. Then, you can figure out how to recognize and delegate that work before it has a toxic effect on your culture.
Assessing Emotional Situations
Who in your office tends to deal with upset customers? Who comforts struggling colleagues and asks about what’s going on with them personally that is affecting their work life?
Is anyone in particular at your work always expected to keep a smile on their face throughout the day, even when things get tough for them?
Finally, does anyone unofficially take the pulse of the office as a whole, ferreting out and reporting on discontentment?
If so, consider the “emotional labor” that they’re doing for the good of the whole organization. It’s real work, and it’s really valuable to any company.
Doing Office “Housework”
It’s much easier to get work done in an office that’s clean and clutter-free. Work required to keep your work environment that way may include putting away dishes, tidying up common areas, and getting in touch with the cleaning service or landscaper when they’re not getting the job done well.
Other office “housework” includes maintaining or troubleshooting shared equipment. For example, who keeps your printers stocked with paper and ink?
Finally, is someone on your staff unofficially in charge of making sure everyone has the food, drinks, and snacks that can keep them working productively? Making coffee, maintaining the vending machines, even physically going to pick up lunch for the group — these tasks can add up to be a big chore.
Planning Social Events and Celebrations
Staff camaraderie is a big part of what makes teams work well. So, who on your staff tends to suggest that everyone meet for happy hour? Does someone consistently make reservations for lunch and call in the head counts?
When the holidays come around, is one person always in charge of party planning? Who displays the greeting cards that get sent to the company? Does someone consistently bring in treats for the office on special days?
Along those lines, many offices can feel a lot more festive with seasonal decor, such as a tree for the holidays or bright flowers for the springtime. These kinds of gestures benefit the whole office.
Recognizing Staff Milestones
Many companies choose to recognize employee birthdays. They may even have a spreadsheet or calendar tracking them. Someone has to remember to add new hires to this list and buy and collect signatures on the cards.
Of course, there are many more milestones to celebrate other than birthdays. The best offices recognize events like bereavements with cards and flowers, and celebrate new babies with gift cards and even office showers. Some offices also recognize retirements and work anniversaries.
Although these tasks may seem like voluntary things that people do for their friends, failing to make it an official company task means that benefits could be inconsistent (you don’t want some employees getting official cards while others get skipped).
Welcoming and Helping Others
When a new hire joins the team, they need more than just official job training.
Someone needs to introduce them to the rest of the staff, let them in on the best places to grab lunch in the area, and explain how to set up their email account. Without inside info on the office and its culture, new hires are likely to struggle — and productivity and retention will suffer as a result. That’s why the often unrecognized onboarding and orientation tasks are so important.
Do you find that certain staff members always step in to fill this role without being asked to or thanked appropriately? Are some employees more likely to stay late or go out of their way to help others when they need it, professionally and personally? If this continues without being recognized, it may be a cause for resentment over time. After all, becoming the unofficial go-to or mentor for new hires can lead to a lot of time-consuming interruptions.
How to Compensate for Hidden Labor
Maybe after reading the descriptions of the type of “invisible” labor that often happens in an office, you’ve realized that a lot of these tasks are being quietly and thanklessly taken care of by your employees — or likely, a few specific individuals.
If so, it’s time to make it right. This work is important, and officially assigning it to specific people makes it more likely to be done consistently and done well.
You can add the work to job descriptions and set goals for it just like you would for any other professional responsibilities. There’s no reason why some of this work shouldn’t be mentioned in evaluations and career planning, as well.
Besides adding “invisible” work to official job descriptions, another great strategy is to make it visible: Call out and thank your employees for doing this work, either privately or in meetings.
Some of you still may not be convinced.
“Hey,” you might say. “Nobody asks Martha to bring in cupcakes for every office birthday. She just likes baking.”
However, what you assume is voluntary may seem more like an obligation to your employee. Consider that perhaps the task in question started out as voluntary or was expected to be temporary but has somehow become permanent. It’s always better to clarify.
The Role of the Receptionist
For better or worse, the people in any given office who tend to be saddled with these types of tasks the most are the ones who sit behind the front desk.
Whether their title is “Receptionist” or “Office Administrator,” these employees often have their fingers on the pulse of the office. Although they may not work directly with the rest of the staff, they probably have a relationship with each employee because of their responsibilities for office-wide clerical tasks like benefits tracking and payroll. Plus, they probably see the whole staff every morning and afternoon as they come and go.If your receptionist handles the subtle work that makes your office pleasant, recognize her for it. #receptionistapp Click To Tweet
This often puts receptionists in the perfect position to take ownership of the many factors that affect overall office morale and operations. That’s fine — it’s an important job. Just make sure that the work is not being taken for granted by other employees.
For more on the importance of the role of the receptionist, check out these related articles:
Does Your Office Need a Director of First Impressions?
8 Ways to Structure Your Front Desk Staff
The History and Future of the Office Receptionist
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