The Awesome Boss
The Dutch language has a precise word for the kind of employers most employees would like to have. Werkgeverschap. Don’t try to pronounce the word, just appreciate what it means. A werkgeverschap is an “awesome boss,” the kind of boss who creates and sustains a work environment marked by transparency, strong communication, and an empathetic touch. When one works for a werkgeverschap, the workplace is hospitable, and the work is fulfilling. Are you werkgeverschap? Don’t answer this question based on your own self-assessment, ask your employees.
Long before Covid arrived, workplace attitudes were changing, fueled by the arrival of the newer generations in the workforce. In developed economies, younger generations of workers seek employment that brings meaning to their lives, not just steady income. What does this mean for you as their leader? While you may not have any control over whether your organization’s vision and purpose align with a potential employee’s, you have substantial influence over the kind of workplace environment your potential employee walks into after signing their employment contract.
Werkgeverschap cultivate autonomy in the workplace. No, this doesn’t mean your employees work in silos; it does mean your office leadership must be less about micromanagement and more about trust. If you’ve done a good job in hiring, then the people on your team are capable, curious, and conscientious employees. Articulate the organizational ethos, delineate how the worker’s position fits within the larger organization, and then trust your employee to get the work done. Sometimes you will need to offer feedback and model the kind of work product you desire, but most of time you need to get out of the way. Nothing will aggravate and demoralize an employee faster than having a leader who is always looking over their shoulder and/or micro-managing.
Werkgeverschap preach and practice work-life balance. Will your employees put in a 60-hour week when a crisis or deadline demands it? Absolutely? Will they accept 60+ hours as the norm instead of the exception? Not a chance. Awesome bosses model work-life choices to achieve the balance appropriate for each employee, giving permission to the members of the team to do the same. Give your team the flexibility to work when and where they choose when the contours of the job allow for it. Let your people invest some of their “productive time” on volunteerism. Celebrate the big events in your team members’ lives like births, marriages, educational milestones, and public recognition.
Perhaps the most important things awesome bosses do for their teams is ensure workplace safety, which always implies far more than working smoke detectors and evacuation plans (or masks and hand sanitizer in our current environment). A safe workplace curtails politics and bullying, provides empathy when and where it is needed, and critically, creates an environment that is diverse and inclusive and creates a sense of belonging. Werkgeverschap who prioritize safety, give their teams license to report harassment, abuse, or other trouble. In a safe workplace, all employees know that they are appreciated and heard. Great bosses who cultivate safe workplaces espouse an “open door” policy for the airing of concerns and the exploration of solutions.
Werkgeverschap… While it doesn’t roll off the tongue, it succinctly describes the kind of leader we all aspire to be, and our employees hope that we already are. Cultivate autonomy, practice work-life balance, and ensure workplace safety to care for your team and nourish a strong organization. All the above are more important than the title, “Awesome boss.”