Building a Non-Asshole Workplace

8 tips for fostering a nicer and better business

For decades, the attitude of "the work at all costs" has transcended modern Western work culture. In more recent years, this unsustainable philosophy has been exasperated by an "always-on" culture enabled by personal technology, and most recently, the little matter of a global pandemic. The net result: A workforce that is more burned out, with fewer boundaries between work and life than ever. However, dear reader, it's not all doom and gloom. As we move into an era of increased accountability and transparency in our overall culture, it is clear that it's time to change the industry culture. 

That said, old habits die hard. The question at hand: How can the creative industry—or indeed, any business—go about changing their workplaces to be more sustainable, productive and profitable?

Here are some starting points:

Ban weekend work.

There is an attitude in Western countries, across various industries, that the more hours you work, the better you are at your job. This is bullshit. The average human is productive for three hours per day. Realizing this, Northern European countries have a different attitude to work-life balance: Working long hours doesn't make you better or more committed; it just means that somewhere along the line, someone sucks at managing time.

Stop meetings that waste people's time.

The reality of the modern workplace is that most meetings are unnecessary, and exist only to fuck productivity, waste people's time, or discuss the new episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Before opening the calendar app, ask yourself, "Do I really need to gather 10 people to discuss this, or is an email OK?" If you do decide a meeting is needed, keep it as short as humanly possible. Outline clear purpose, expectations and next steps.

Don't be an asshole about working late.

Occasionally, working late for a deadline is inevitable. However, it is amazing how far a simple "Sorry to have to ask, but would you mind working a couple of hours extra tonight?" will go. And while buying your team pizza and a cab home is great, you really should be offering them time in lieu, perhaps the next day or extending their upcoming weekend.

Don't answer emails after 6 p.m.

Unless you're a doctor or a fireman, chances are nothing in your day-to-day work is a real emergency. For example, in the creative industry, it's quite common practice to get a frantic, "emergency" call from a client at 11 p.m. about the logo on their website being dark blue instead of very dark blue. Reality check: This is not an actual emergency. In today's "always-on" workplace, it's more important than ever to set boundaries for yourself to prevent burnout. More importantly, if you are a manager, set an example by not sending or replying to emails after 6 p.m. or the weekend.

Remove the bad eggs, no matter how talented they are.

What happens if the asshole is your most prized employee, burning out their team with a bad attitude, egomania and unreasonable workloads? Creative directors often are the prime suspects here. Seeing themselves as some sort of modern-day Christ, they parade around the studio with a flagrant disregard for other people's time, project budgets or, indeed reality, all in pursuit of their artistic "vision." The reality is that these individuals, regardless of how qualified they are, burn out teams and cost the business money. No matter how talented your prized "Mystical Christ" is, if they can't leave their ego at the door, it's time for them to go.

Give credit where credit is due.

Be humble and correct people when the efforts of others are wrongly attributed to you. If you are a creative director or any team lead, you should always deflect personal praise from clients away from yourself and insist it be directed to your team. As a manager, you don't need the platitudes—your job is to grow your team, not your ego.

Take a vacation.

This may seem like an obvious one, and yet, all too often the idea of taking time off is frowned upon. Burned-out staff are not going to produce great work. As a manager, it's your responsibility to ensure your staff are taking sufficient time off and a culture where this is supported.

Pay your interns.

Let's be clear here. Interns are not there to walk your dog. They are not there to make your tea. They are not there to walk your dog, pick up your laundry, or purchase your hemorrhoid cream from the pharmacy. They are at your company to learn. Give them a mentor, an opportunity to do real work, and above all, pay them.

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Paul Woods
Paul Woods is CEO/COO of design consultancy Edenspiekermann in Los Angeles.

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