The Art Of Creating Positive Relationships At Work
Women want a transparent environment where there’s clarity on expectations, policies and opportunities for advancement.
Jamie Lynn Sigler prefers to be called an advisor, not a boss.
At her company, J Public Relations, she champions “Fit Fridays,” team hikes and constant mentoring. Once a week, she even likes to invite a young employee out to coffee, a spin class or a Pilates training session for one-on-one bonding and conversation.
In an industry known for hustle and where turnover is notoriously high, it may not be the most conventional approach. But for Sigler, who oversees a bi-coastal team of 50 women, a focus on positive, healthy relationships is the absolute key to her company’s success.
“People always say to me ‘Aren’t your clients number one’?” Sigler says. “But without my people being happy, and without open communication, we cannot make our clients or the media happy.”
As the demands of the modern workplace continue to grow and the nation is embroiled in conversations about topics from equal pay to family leave, JPR may serve as a model for the future. With offices in San Diego, New York and Arizona, the all-women company has become one of the top hospitality, luxury lifestyle and social media firms in the country over the past 11 years.
“We work really hard but we have very low turnover compared to most of our competitors,” Sigler says. “We talk through issues and people truly feel cared about and loved here. And it all trickles down from there.”
While JPR’s model may be far from the norm, the good news is that most companies want to improve the experience women are having at work, says Romy Newman, the co-founder of Fairy Godboss, a “Yelp-like” site that allows women to review their workplaces. The bad news is that they often don’t know how.
“Normally, it’s very difficult for employers to get objective feedback even from employee surveys,” Newman says. “Because people are reluctant to speak up.”
An ideal environment is one in which women are promoted, encouraged and incorporated in the dialogue, Newman says. Women want to feel comfortable and accepted, no matter their rank. And they want to feel that workplace demands are manageable and family friendly.
Most of all, women want to exist in a transparent environment, she says. They want to be clear about their company’s maternity leave policies, day-to-day expectations and prospects for leadership.
“When we talk to women, we’ve heard over and over how isolated they feel,” Newman says. “It’s clear they are very eager to share, but employers have to meet them halfway.”
For Sigler, fostering connection and trust also has to happen outside the daily routine of the office. While it’s easy to get stuck in the normal “let’s grab a drink” plan, she likes to think outside of the box when it comes to team building and “unexpected fun.” So it can be activities like Great Room Escape, and others that similar facilities can offer in order to increase employee morale and happiness.
“Think about it like a marriage,” she laughs. “You need to have a strong enough foundation to have open conversations and feel confident, whether positive or negative feedback.”
When she sees someone is overwhelmed, she might suggest that person sit down with a mentor and look together at the employee’s to-do list, to make sure she’s working on the tasks that matter most. Similarly, if someone is being pulled away by family obligations, they’ll need to talk about her ability to travel or take on new clients, and make changes where needed.
“Sure, emotions flare in the office and we do get crazy busy,” Sigler says. “But because we have such open conversation and communication, it doesn’t ever have to get so bad. When you know you have somewhere to go to talk, you can deal with a problem before it becomes a serious issue.”
Jessica Weiss is a Miami-based writer. She spent the last four years traveling through South America, writing for publications including The New York Times, Fast Company and Ms. Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @jessweiss1.