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10 Rules for a Kinder Workplace

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Oct 14, 2015


Nearly 30 years ago, Andy Burness, MBA ’81, created a self-manned public relations firm, launching campaigns to bring awareness little-known, world-changing ideas. The firm, Burness, has helped its clients protect the Amazon rainforest, fight hunger and childhood obesity, promote agricultural research for African families, and showcase innovation in community colleges.

From a one-man-show to a company with more than 60 employees, Burness has built up his firm with virtually no turnover in the senior ranks. Part of the reason is the emphasis placed on fostering an exceptional work environment. On four occasions, the firm was been named one of the “best places to work” in the Washington, D.C., region by either The Washington Post or Washingtonian.

Borrowing from the recently retired David Letterman, here is Burness’ top-10 list for how to build employee engagement while retaining and growing satisfied clients:

10. It starts and ends with values. Few people at Burness would see themselves as “working in PR.” They are driven instead by a higher purpose, which the firm defines as “empowering people with information to improve the human condition and advance social change.”

9.  It’s not about the money. Fair pay is important, but people also need to feel valued, challenged and appreciated.

8. Anticipate. Pay attention to employees’ needs and initiate appropriate action. Don’t wait to be asked.

7. Follow the Golden Rule. If an employee wants something, first consider, “What would I rightfully expect if I were the employee and not the boss?”

6. Be a family. The workplace is not home, and colleagues have boundaries. But, to the extent possible, workplaces should reflect a functional family environment.

5. Share ownership. Culture belongs to everyone. Good things happen when people view their jobs as more than just a source of income.

4. Be present. Technology allows flexibility to work remotely. But there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction.

3. Share credit. When people are appreciated and fairly paid, they stop worrying about personal recognition. Humility rules.

2. Throw a good party. The last thing we want is for a company event to be seen as a bummer or obligation.

1. Demand high standards. We ask only three things of our employees: Work hard, do great work and be a team player.

Andy Burness, MBA ’81, is founder and president of global communications firm Burness. A longer version of this article appeared March 25, 2015, in Smith Brain Trust