Image [cc] Bryoz

I had a friend tell me a story about showing up to work one day and having this conversation with a co-worker:

Friend: Do you ever feel like a little tiny piece of you dies every time you walk in here?
Co-Worker: Not a tiny piece.

We’ve probably all had jobs (or at least days) where we feel like we are simply spinning our wheels, or worse, going backward. The reason for that feeling usually lands quite squarely on the shoulders of one person: your immediate supervisor. In fact, a Forbes article earlier this year nailed the effects that bad managers have on the work environment:

A bad manager is a big factor in employee performance. A good manager, no matter the salary, will inspire loyalty. … Managers who don’t create the right opportunities for their employees, don’t communicate with them, and don’t appreciate them often find themselves dealing with a high turnover rate. Good managers are people you keep in touch with even after you leave a position. Bad managers are people you keep track of so you can avoid them in future. (emphasis added.)

If you are reading this blog, chances are you work in the legal industry. Your co-workers, supervisors and subordinates are probably well educated with a minimum of a High School education, and many (probably the majority) of them with advanced degrees. You work for, with and supervise extremely smart people. That’s both good and bad. Smart people need to be challenged and felt appreciated. When they come into work, they need to feel like they are there to do something that matters. When they leave work, they need to feel like they’ve actually accomplished something that day.

How do you do that? Well, first of all, simply ask you them a simple question: “What are you doing that excites you?” I actually had someone ask me that this week in a meeting (a meeting that I planned to go in and discuss something that didn’t excite me at all!) This type of open-ended question does a couple of things. First, it gives someone the power to discuss the type of work that they like to do. Plus, it puts the person in control of the conversation… it tells them that their opinion matters and that you (hopefully, as a “good” manager) are willing to listen to them and that you want them to have a good work environment. Of course, as a manager, if the conversation about what excites your workers is all about things you do not provide them, then you should see those red flags popping up and understand that you have a big problem on your hands that needs to be solved quickly.

One of the best jobs I ever had was also one of the worst paying jobs I ever had. However, at the end of the day, I felt good about what I was doing, because I felt that I was actually accomplishing something that mattered, that I was contributing as part of a team to the overall mission of the workplace, and that I felt appreciated for my contributions by my peers, supervisors and subordinates. It didn’t mean that we all sat around a campfire and sang songs… far from it. We had numerous challenges, I got chewed out for failing to meet expectations, and I had to fire employees who would not meet the expectations I had given them. But the one thing that made it all worthwhile was the fact that at the end of most days we all felt like we were accomplishing something and that we weren’t simply showing up to a place that sucked a little bit of life out of you each day.