In 2012, business news giant Forbes partnered with Nextdoor.com to compile a list of the top 15 friendliest towns in America. With thousands of locales in the United States, there’s a pretty solid chance that you don’t live in one of the 15 friendliest towns, and maybe not even in the top 1,000. So, what sets these 15 places apart from the rest of the country? What do they have that your town doesn’t? Maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, the cashier at Starbucks smiled at me one time. How come we’re not on the list?” Or perhaps something more along the lines of, “I can’t believe our town isn’t on there. Makes me want to hurt someone.” Right there. That’s why your town isn’t on the list.
Surely, some of the happiest places in the US had some knowledge they could impart to small businesses. We read all about those 15 magical metropolises, got the scoop on their greatness, and then applied those concepts to our work environment. After all, we spend more hours working than we do on any other task; therefore, it behooves us to make it as enjoyable as possible! We invite you to take a tour of the top 10 traits that we think make the top 15 towns so fantabulous – and how they can be applied to corporate America.
Downers Grove, Illinois boasts over 600 acres of parks and green spaces, much to its residents’ delight. Being confined to small spaces all day long just plain stinks (unless you’re a spelunker or an astronaut). And what’s a cubicle? A small space – really, really small… So try to set aside an area where employees can lounge on their lunch or coffee breaks. We’re not talking about a room that’s just big enough for one table, one chair, a microwave, and a coffee pot. We’re talking about a lounge area. Comfy chairs, non-fluorescent lighting, maybe a few computer kiosks for employees to check personal email (so they are less inclined to log on at their desks), vending machines, a stocked snack area, whatever it takes. Be creative. Have some Sudoku books or crossword puzzles lying around. Popular magazines. The local paper. If extra space is sparse, see if it’s possible to set up a picnic area outside of the building. Employees need downtime, so if it isn’t already built into their schedules, then make room for it. If you want your employees to stay sane, give them a little breathing room. Literally!
What does one do in Utah? Ski? Yes. If you are visiting Tooele, Utah, you also give. Thanks to an abundance of neighborhood fundraisers, this mountain town ranked very high in the world of charitable giving. So why is this important in the workplace? For one, it allows employees to give back to the community on a large scale. When people donate to charity on an individual basis, it can be difficult to see how their contribution made a tangible difference. (Ya know, because not everyone can afford to start a school like Oprah, or donate a cool $1M on the regs like the Jolie-Pitts.) But when an entire office or corporation is involved in supporting a non-profit, the impact is clear. For example, the charity SmileTrain raises funds to repair cleft lips and palates for children worldwide. While a donation of $10 may not be appreciable, a donation of $1,000 covers four cleft surgeries. That’s a tangible difference! Additionally, being a “good neighbor” by volunteering or donating to local or national charities can improve your standing in the community, leading to new client acquisition and increased profit. People love to support businesses that support the community. Think about it!
In Alpharetta, Georgia, Huntington Woods, Michigan, and Fishers, Indiana, being invited to a neighborhood event is the norm, and in a sense, your place of business is a “neighborhood.” Regular company outings or in-house events will give staff a chance to unwind and share a joke or two. And as they say, laughter is the best medicine! So, consider forming a retention collaborative committee, designed to plan and implement team-building activities that will keep employees happy and looking forward to going to work every day. Host a holiday party. Go to a ballgame. Have a department-wide or company-wide potluck. When you place importance on camaraderie in the workplace, you’ll benefit from more productive employees!
What do they love in Frisco, Texas? Sports. From hockey to basketball, and everything in between, Frisco is centered around athletics. So what should your office be centered around? The Keurig? Wrong-o. Just like those Texans, staying active should be an important aspect of the workday. Research suggests that a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to the development of chronic disease. Who would have thought that being glued to your office chair could cause such considerable damage (bet you’re fidgeting now, aren’t you…)? The moral of the story here, quite obviously, is to keep it moving. Encourage employees to stand up and stretch regularly. Heck, you could even have a company-wide 5-minute stretch at the same time every day, like when you’re falling asleep at the desk around 3 p.m. Offer incentives for joining a gym, or better yet, have exercise equipment available on-site. Place printers and copy machines a little ways from workstations, forcing staff to take a stroll every now and then. Energize your employees, and make staying active an integral part of your office environment.
Pride. It’s one thing that residents of Seal Beach, California have in common. They take pride in their community. What makes you proud of where you work? Is it your colleagues? The people you help? Maybe you are proud because you brought in a record number of new clients last month. Maybe you are outsourcing to an amazing small business telephone answering service? That makes us happy! Whatever the reason, taking pride in what you do is a feeling that must be fostered on a daily basis. Key leadership might consider sending out bi-weekly email updates, highlighting particular individuals who regularly exceed their sales quotas. Create a monthly newsletter with a “getting to know you” section for new employees. Maybe the company has received praise regarding excellence in customer care; share it with everyone from the CEO to the mailroom. People want to feel good about what they do. So, tell them how proud you are of their accomplishments. A little goes a long way!
The majority of the friendliest towns apparently tout a significant percentage of residents holding college degrees. How does education translate into friendlier communities? Well, readers, that’s a blog for another day. But the fact is, the more time spent educating employees on everything from best sales practices to how to work the paper shredder, the more superior their quality of work. Never underestimate the power that a workshop or training webinar can have to boosting your employees’ self-assurance and ability to do their job. Not only will you see results, but your clients or customers will also experience a difference in their interactions with your business. Knowledgeable employees maintain confidence in their roles within the company, work smarter (pun intended), and will consciously represent the polished image that can make any business a success.
There is another common theme among the top 15 – homeowners, and lots of them. We know what you’re thinking. What in the world does home ownership have to do with corporate America? Maybe nothing. But owning your work has everything to do with individual achievement as well as company-wide accomplishments. You don’t live at your job (or at least, we really hope not), and yet in many ways, your job is a second home. In other words, own it. Own every piece of its success, from the minute you walk in the door ‘til the minute you clock out. Take ownership of your responsibilities and work diligently, putting your best foot forward in everything you do. You have that job for a reason – because you are great at what you do. So prove it every chance you get!
And yet one more of these all-encompassing concepts: low crime rates. Communities that are the friendliest arguably have the lowest crime rates. No matter how you slice it, crime makes the world a scary place sometimes. Yet, crime isn’t just bank robbers and purse thieves. Nope. It’s everything from white collar to the ole smash and grab. Regardless of how savvy your hiring process is, businesses are not immune to internal crime. Imagine how unsettling it would be to take note of unsavory activity in the workplace, but not have a safe avenue wherein one could report said activity. That’s why it is imperative for every business to employ whistleblower hotline services, allowing staff to report fraud or misconduct without fear of retaliation. We can all agree – it’s much easier to tell the truth when no one knows who is doing the telling.
This isn’t so much an identified friendliness trait, but it holds true for every person in every community in the world. Help. We all need it sometimes, and there is no shame in asking for it. Small and large businesses alike should have hotline services in place for employee assistance. Whether it’s a smoking cessation resource, collaborating with a law firm to provide free consultations, assistance with arranging elder or childcare, mental health counseling, work-life balance seminars, or a meeting with the nutritionist, creating a convenient way for workers to ask for help can relieve stress and improve well-being across the board. We highly recommend it!
Last but not least, take a cue from Sammamish, Washington, number one on Forbes’ list. The location for such headquarters as Costco, Starbucks, and Microsoft, neighbors in this neck of the woods actually go out of their way to greet new residents and make them feel welcome. And what could be friendlier than a smile! That simple act is known the world over, and it actually contributes to making us happier people. So give the receptionist a smile when you walk into the office. Smile at the colleague who just brewed a fresh pot of coffee. Going into a tense meeting? Practice your smile in the bathroom beforehand and give yourself an instant confidence boost! And most importantly, smile on every single phone call, whether inbound or outbound. The rumors are true – you really can “hear” a smile through the phone.