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Are you being a nice boss?

Nov 12, 2016 | Human Resources

Ever had a boss you hated?

Okay, maybe that’s a little strong. But most people have at some time endured an unpleasant experience working for a particular manager.

But what if you are that person? What if in your growing startup there’s an equally strong growing belief that you – the boss – are not ‘nice.’

This stuff matters – and for almost every aspect of your business. In a paper titled Happiness and Productivity from the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick it was found that happiness made people around 12% more productive. This was based on studying over 700 participants. It concluded: ‘Companies like Google have invested more in employee support, and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37%.’

There is an important message in this for founders running startups when defining their style of leadership. If you truly want the best out of your team, you need to care about them, make them happy, give them a good life. In return, they invest themselves in your dream.

So here are six key tips to engage with your team.

Research shows that happiness makes people around 12% more productive.

1. Everyone should greet everyone, every day

People often spend more time with their work colleagues than with their family and friends – so make your business environment a genuinely enjoyable place to be.

Set the tone for each day with a smile and a warm greeting. Encourage people to engage with each other at the start of the day. Good natured greetings are not throwaway inconsequential gestures but have an important social function, making people acknowledge each other.

A big smile, a wave of the hand, a pat on the shoulder, a hearty ‘good morning’ from the boss or a colleague can be highly meaningful and encourage geniality. Communication styles are mirrored from the boss and can set the tone of the day moving forward. In a paper titled Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership in the Harvard Business Review, it was shown that leading effectively is ‘about developing a genuine interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.’

2. Thank people for their time and work

‘Saying thank you makes all the difference,’ observed Richard Branson. He thanked an airport security guard who was actually quite shocked at receiving kind words from anyone. The guard explained to the Virgin boss that no one had thanked him in three years of doing his job.

It’s important to let people know you appreciate their work, especially when they go the extra mile. If you want people to work like they love their job, give them a reason to love it. There is real evidence that saying ‘thank you’ is a building block in developing good relationships – in fact, a study by Monica Bartlett and Lisa Williams, published in the journal Emotion, found that gratitude was a way of making interpersonal relationships bloom.


Bartlett said in an interview: ‘Our study shows just how important it is to say thank you to someone. A simple thank you leads people to view you as a warmer human being and, consequently, to be more interested in socially engaging with you and continuing to get to know you to build a relationship with you.’

3. Be careful with criticism

By ‘criticism’ we are talking specifically here about shining the spotlight only on a person’s faults. According to Dr Steven Stosny writing in Psychology Today, ‘Criticism fails because it embodies two of the things that humans hate the most. It calls for submission and we hate to submit. And it devalues, and we hate to feel devalued.’

In contrast, constructive feedback is a way of making something better, while not tearing apart a person’s work in a demoralising way.

One method of critique that works well without offending people is starting and ending your appraisal with something positive about the work – then putting the problem that needs addressing in the middle. Call it a praise sandwich.

For example: ‘The report is wonderfully thorough, although the second clause would benefit if you could add a graph, but I really do like the way this is presented and can see the work that has gone into it.’ Think about how much better that is when compared to: ‘You forgot to put the graph in.’

One method of critique that works well without offending people is starting and ending your appraisal with something positive about the work.

4. Create a comfortable office

It’s the job of the company owner to ensure that there is a nice working environment. If it is messy, run down, or with people sitting ten to a room where only five fit comfortably, it will be unpleasant and take a toll on worker retention, worker health and ultimately the quality of the work itself.

Make sure the air conditioning, heat and lighting are all at a comfortable level. High-backed chairs won’t cause backache and are a welcomed plus given people sit for long periods during the day. If you are creating work groups, think about how employees can best complement each other for good interaction – who sits next to whom might make a real difference to team performance.

Potted plants, art and objects of interest are good for sparking creativity and good for the soul as well. Is there excessive noise pollution? If so, try and find a way to cut it out. Is there a breakout area? What about a kitchen? These are all points worth considering when aiming to create an office that helps people relax and be creative. It can become a place that people actually enjoy walking into each morning.


A study in the Netherlands titled The Effect of Healthy Workplaces on the Well-Being and Productivity of Office Workers was triggered by a high percentage of office workers expressing dissatisfaction with their working environment. The report came to the conclusion that ‘it should come as no surprise that a poor quality workplace causing health and comfort complaints reduces productivity.’

5. Keep aware of the hours people are working

A nice boss goes out of his or her way to be mindful of the number of hours team members are contributing. If someone chooses to work hard and those extra hours are making a real difference to your company then it’s fine to encourage – but it must be rewarded.

This is a very different situation than having many employees lingering around the office after dark due to the relentless workload you are piling up.

Managing your workers’ hours and workload is your responsibility as much as it is the employees’. If they need to work that hard then you probably should look at expanding your team or finding better efficiencies in methods.

Be aware of their work-life balance – it will help you with both staff retention and quality of work. A paper published by the Institute for the Study of Labor showed that productivity falls when you are pulling 50 hour weeks – and it really plummets once you’re past 55 hours. In fact, it was shown to make little difference whether you worked 56 hours or 70 hours – this level of excess kills genuine productivity. Less is more.

A paper published by the Institute for the Study of Labor showed that productivity falls when you are pulling 50 hour weeks – and it really plummets once you’re past 55 hours.

6. Be the person you would want as a boss

There is no law that says you have to be a nice boss. However, by making your startup a meaningful, happy environment, the daily routines of your business will become more pleasure than pain. People make the business, so take care of your people and they will take care of your business.

By following these rules, you can create an environment where people who visit are instantly impressed with the work culture, and your staff sees their time at work as important and worthwhile. You just need to be open, approachable, spread positivity and smile once in awhile.

So think to yourself: What kind of person would I like to work for? Then become that person.

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