A Workplace Observation
I am lucky because I have been on the board of directors at On With Life for a long, long time. If you are not familiar with On With Life, it is a not-for-profit organization and a Midwest leader in brain injury rehabilitation. Since opening in 1991, On With Life has served more than 4,000 individuals and their families who have sustained a traumatic brain injury, stroke, tumor, aneurysm or other brain injury. For the first time ever, last week I had a chance to sit back, relax and watch people interact in that environment.
Last Friday I was early for an appointment with one of the administrators so I decided to have lunch in their small cafeteria. I decided to try the homemade chili (delicious) with french fries and the salad bar. I took my bowl of chili from the friendly worker on the other side of the window and sat down to eat and watch. My first thought was that people in that environment, dealing with brain injuries and their caregivers would be a somewhat depressed group. Their lives had been changed forever in an instant, and not like winning the lottery changed.
I saw a group of four men eating together. Judging from the various medical apparatus attached to each, I deduced that they were not employees. Watching their actions they could have been sitting in any restaurant in Ankeny. They were laughing and joking with each other. Frankly if it had been summer, I might have guessed that those four had just finished a round of golf together. I saw a young woman who worked there (I figured that out when noticed her On With Life badge), who was working with several others and had a huge smile on her face every time she spoke with someone new.
I saw a family eating lunch with a loved one that was being served at On With Life. They had to help him eat the food spoonful by spoonful. Because of the smiles on their faces and the looks in their eyes, they obviously didn’t see this as a chore. I saw workers who came to eat lunch or take lunch back to their work spaces were all smiling and engaged with their environment.
What I saw were people with attitudes that showed they care. Their actions, both verbal and non-verbal told me that they wanted to be there. As a relative outsider to this group, I was fascinated and inspired. As small business owners and managers, we are so close to our environments that it is difficult to judge the atmosphere in our work places. The TV show Undercover Boss gave high ranking management a chance to see how front line workers performed without the threat that the boss was watching. So how can we figure out if our work place is a place where workers and customers want to be?
One easy way is to ask your employees and customers what they like and dislike about coming to work or shop. That approach assumes the employees can be honest and you will make quality changes with the feedback. Or you can ask an outsider to spend some time observing. Most people can tell a lot about a work place in a few minutes by observing the interactions between coworkers and employees and customers. Based on what you find out you either need to celebrate or work hard on making changes.
I always knew On With Life was a special place where lives were changed for the better. But until that lunch, I wasn’t exactly sure how. It is because of the caring, positive environment that permeates every wall, every action and every employee. Like I said, I am lucky to be a small part of it.