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Common 'Decencies' Humanize a Workplace

Americans may or may not be the hardest-working people on earth. But for sure, we obsess over the subject of work and how to do it better, faster, and more profitably.

It's the reason Steve Harrison, chairman of Lee Hecht Harrison, the world's largest management-consulting company, has written a little volume called The Manager's Book of Decencies. Decencies: how archaic the word sounds with the nation awash in massive layoffs, outsourcing of jobs to other countries, declining pension and insurance benefits, and ever-stiffer performance demands. Is there room for a human touch at work any longer?

Harrison says there is, at a surprising number of successful companies. In these places, big and small, what builds morale are classy gestures — not contrived awards or showy slaps on the back, and certainly not steely indifference or bullying threats. Harrison says those who feel appreciated work harder and contribute to a healthy dollar-and-cents bottom line.

In people-sensitive workplaces, he says, meetings are short. The boss talks for no more than a minute at a time, listens, and takes notes. He or she not only knows every employee by name, but also gets out of the cozy corner office to stop and chat with different rank-and-file staff members about sports or families, the weather — not work — each day. If an employee must be laid off or fired, Harrison writes, it is handled sensitively after thorough preparation, in person, on a mid-week day, and never before Christmas or other important family holidays. Why not a Friday? Because over a weekend, there's no counselor on hand to help the devastated employee.

Something as simple as a passing compliment can define a successful workplace, Steve Harrison writes: a handshake in the elevator, a quick note of thanks on the back of the boss's business card. Decencies.

The Manager's Book of Decencies is published by McGraw-Hill.