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What are the Best Workplaces Like?

By Joseph Cueto on March 3, 2015

Think of a happy place. Ok, let’s change it up a bit. Think of a happy workplace. Want to take a stab at identifying the characteristics of the world’s best places to work for? Take a guess or three. Now prepare to be enlightened.

What we may learn from ignite80 founder and author of “The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace” Ron Friedman about the subject at hand may surprise you. Friedman discusses his findings in an article for the Harvard Business Review, suggesting that everything we know about what an amazing workplace looks like is off the mark.

Friedman goes into myth-busting and perspective-altering mode:

Myth 1: Everyone is incessantly happy

The best organizations should have the feel of being the happiest place in the planet where everyone is happy and engaged. Or is it? Friedman explains that workplace happiness may not be the great factor it is perceived to be. Happiness also has its downside while negative emotions, which include shame and anger, among others, can also be instrumental towards getting critical office concerns to be addressed and solved. A great workplace embraces a good mixture of both positive and negative emotions harnessed to deliver the intended output.

Myth 2: Conflict is rare

Common belief dictates that everyone gets along in a topnotch company and that friction of any kind has to be absent. Friedman’s research begs to differ, stressing that the presence of disagreements can be helpful as long as members agree to disagree agreeably on task conflicts (a conflict that centers on how a task is carried out). Makes sense? Or to paraphrase, as long as the discussions are constructive, issue-/task-centered, and aimed at producing a well thought out solution, it’s fine. The not-so-good type of conflict is relationship conflict, which pertain to personality and/or philosophical differences.

Myth 3: Mistakes are few

Great workplaces do not commit a surplus of errors - true or false? You may be surprised to learn that the great ones commit more mistakes not only as part of the process to achieving high-caliber results but also because employees belong to an environment that fosters openness and honesty in reporting any errors made.

Myth 4: They hire for cultural fit

Is hiring an applicant who fits in seamlessly with the established company culture a routine practice by the companies we admire? Beware of the perils of similarity, which may promote groupthink and a “this-is-how-our-way-has-always-been” belief system, aside from giving rise to complacency and overconfidence. Organizations that welcome diversity by sifting through a wide range of opinions and experiences are able to thrive more.

Myth 5 – Their offices are full of fun things

A Starbucks on the premises? A Kinect-designated play area? Your company’s version of a sprawling Googleplex? Do the best organizations make their employees feel like they are walking to a Six Flags or Enchanted Kingdom-like environment littered with fun and amusing facilities and services? In the end, it is substance, not style, that matters. Prioritizing that employees are placed in the best position to carry out their work and to succeed is important. Employees feel valued when they are given ample room for personal and career growth.

Can these traits become evident in companies in the Philippines? Perhaps the more progressive ones but overall, it remains to be seen. Filipinos give a lot of value on social relationships, where work is seen as an opportunity for socialization, according to this study. The study also points out Filipinos’ non-confrontational stance in dealing with conflict while also resorting to tactics such as “dodging the bullet”, taking sides in a dispute, and tapping into their personal alliances. Mistakes may also be seen as an occasion to be reprimanded, making a good number of Filipino employees averse to making decisions.

In general, Friedman’s research gives a wake-up call to our previously held assumptions. Are the characteristics presented by Friedman evident in your current company? Has your workplace negotiables and non-negotiables been revised? We’d love to hear your comments below. However, for all that was said, remember that we all have a hand in shaping the company to be the best workplace it can be.


Photo by Slovenia Coworking