Life is about choices, both personally and professionally. When it comes to the workplace, you have the choice of just going through the motions or trying to become a better boss or employee. Ultimately, the second choice will lead to a better working environment for you and your co-workers.

"In many of the operations that struggle with maintaining employees, the responsibility needs to be shared between the employer and the employees," says Don Tyler, management consultant, Clarks Hill, Ind.

"In most situations, the employer can have a significant impact on the overall working environment, but only limited impact on individual employees and attitudes," he continues. "If employees make it a priority, they can have the greatest impact on teamwork, camaraderie, communication and developing a positive work atmosphere. Then it becomes a win/win for everyone." So, how can you help improve the work environment within your operation? For starters, maintain open communication with your fellow employees. One of the big problems, says Tyler, is that employees run to the boss if they don't get along with a co-worker. Other times they don't inform managers about major problems, and simply keep the conflict to themselves. "Employees are good at keeping managers out of the loop," he adds. "It's always people problems that keep management awake at night." Another idea is to check preconceived notions about management at the door. Employees may have the perception that they shouldn't interact with management. This isn't always the case. Employees should work to develop a solid relationship with their employer, it doesn't just happen. Employees want the manager to fix problems, but they also tend to blame management for the atmosphere thaemployees create, notes Dorothy Lecher, human resources director, Prema-Lean Pork, Greensburg, Ind.

To avoid some of these pitfalls, employees need to develop a rapport with their co-workers. Be more accepting of people that are different, and don't let personal biases get in the way.

Self-confidence issues tend to be at the core of many workplace problems. Employees with strong self-confidence are easier to work with than those without. "If you're convinced that you can perform your job correctly, it will give you confidence," says Lecher. "If you lack confidence, we need to figure out why." (See sidebar for additional tips on improving in the workplace.) To help employees get started on the right foot, Lecher instructs them on how to handle problems. For instance, she illustrates what types of situations the employee should take to his manager, and which ones the employee can handle on his own.
Training includes how to deal with conflicts, especially between employees and supervisors. A good way to avoid conflict is to have the manager outline decision-making expectations for an employee. This way, each party knows the others' expectations and there shouldn't be any surprises.

"If the employee's parents handled everything, or the employee had a previous supervisor that didn't delegate responsibility, the employee will assume that he needs to wait for an order," Lecher notes. If the manager is looking for a decision-maker, then weak communication is a recipe for conflict.

In all, Lecher conducts an eight-day training program for all new employees. "We stress education from the beginning," she says. "You need to determine how much responsibility to give an employee, and whether he or she has a long-term goal of becoming a manager." In this early stage of training, she has all employees fill out a personality profile. It helps Lecher make sure she has the right person in the right job, and whether the employees and managers are compatible. This test also helps employees learn more about themselves and the type of people they work with best. The personality profile can be found at www.agricareersinc.com.

Another compatibility measure that Tyler has started using focuses on evaluating a person's character. "My point in using this test is to define character in the workplace," he says. "It helps determine what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior." He notes that some people exhibit certain behaviors that make the workplace more negative. For instance, they start talking about a person as soon as he leaves the room. That of course is negative, and it's legitimate for an employer to expect his or her employees to reflect a certain character standard, but you have to make your expectations clear.

The character test also points out positive behaviors. Here's a sample of the character assessment Tyler uses: 1. What do you say about other people when they're not around? 2. What do you do when you find out a secret or some sort of personal information about another person? Do you tell others or keep it to yourself? 3. Will you help someone even if they can't return the favor? For example, would you take some of your personal time to help a new co-worker become familiar with the community or to meet people outside of the workplace? The key to these tests is for the individual to examine and learn more about his or her character. This provides the opportunity to work on negative areas while promoting positive ones.

"If employees encourage each other, praise each other regularly and appreciate each other's talents and abilities, they will build each other's self-confidence and eliminate the need for conflict," contends Tyler. "It's hard to stay mad at someone who tells you they like working with you and they appreciate your abilities." Management can play a key role in employee development. Here's a glimpse at how Lecher helps train her managers on employee issues:

  • She provides every manager with a copy of the book, The One Minute Manager .
  • Lecher teaches a nine-month course showing managers how to delegate and supervise.
  • Each manager is given a day planner and shown how to use it and how to develop daily plans.
  • All managers watch and discuss a video tape on delegating responsibility. - Lecher gives all managers a supervising workbook and teaches them how to use it. You can buy these at your local bookstores.

Overall, she believes a good manager who has well-trained people, shouldn't be giving too many orders. "A manager who says, 'I don't really have a job' is a good manager," contends Lecher. "That's what gives employees confidence, a boss who trusts them to do their jobs," she says.

Still, the bottom line lies with the employees. They need to take responsibility for the kinds of choices they make in the workplace. A manager can assist, but the ultimate decision of how to perform on the job and interact with co-workers is up to each employee.

How to Improve Your Workplace and Yourself According to management consultant, Don Tyler, there are many things you can do to help improve your work experience. Here are some of Tyler's elements for all employees to keep in mind:

1. If you have a complaint or a problem, present some solutions along with the problem.

2. If you have an idea, think it through before you suggest it to others.

3. Try to work out problems with other employees on your own before you take it to your employer.

4. Remember that you have more control over the workplace atmosphere than the employer does.

5. Communication is a two-way street. Do your part. Don't withhold valuable information.

6. If your employer is asking for input – be frank, honest and tactful.

7. Try to keep your personal problems out of the workplace. Don't expect your employer to solve your personal problems.

8. If you are unhappy or dissatisfied with your work, try to determine why you are dissatisfied and discuss it with your employer.

9. If you honestly want to make a good impression – go the extra mile, be loyal, don't participate in negative comments, and show your employer that you care about the business.

10. Praise your fellow co-workers. It's not just the boss' job to encourage and praise.