HR Expert, Barry Ackerman, On Making Your Office More “Human”

By Fingercheck
December 6, 2018

Mentioning “Human Resources” might make much think of sour-faced Toby from the TV sitcom “The Office”…a joy-killer whose only mission was to get various employees (and the boss) in trouble.

But Supportive HR’s Barry Ackerman wants to change that perception. Transitioning from accounting to HR several years ago, Barry now focuses on bringing his expertise in human resources to organizations of all sizes. He helps provide companies with the guidance they need to navigate the sticky interpersonal issues that often arise in the workplace.

Referring to himself as the human Advil, his mission is to alleviate workplace headaches… “A lot of people think of HR is the fun police,” Ackerman explains, “and it’s a shame because there’s a lot more to HR…such as maintaining a positive work environment!”

Of course, what business owner doesn’t want to promote a positive work environment for themselves and their employees? Well, according to a recent global study, 79% of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving, and 65% of North American workers report that they weren’t recognized even once last year. Ouch!

Failure to encourage a workplace where everyone feels counted, heard, and motivated can lead to a loss in productivity and the shedding of key employees. Additionally, in this age of instant grousing on social media for literally the entire world to see…a disgruntled and unappreciated worker can seriously damage a company’s reputation.

But how to stem worker dissatisfaction? Does it involve spending a lot of money on perks? And is this a seemingly insurmountable challenge for larger companies with many employees and departments?

We recently chatted about the topic with Ackerman, and he assured us that a happy office is achievable by businesses and organizations big and small…without breaking the bank!

It Starts At The Top

Ackerman explained that while an HR manager might have the formal education to work with employees, it’s the head of the company who sets the tone. “To a degree, Human Resources can be the agent of change, but ultimately the CEO leads the company. HR can provide guidance to the CEO as to how to foster a positive work environment.”

And the ideal business leader, according to Ackerman, is one who takes the time to listen to his or her employees: “The CEO is available for people to speak to…open to hearing other people’s opinions and trying new things. It’s key to allow employees to open up and be creative. They need to feel that they are not just being hired follow orders, but for their brains; to contribute as much as they can.”

Have a big company with lots of employees? Maintaining this level of communication is still doable. “I wouldn’t say it’s harder for a larger company to connect with their employees–all it takes is a different kind of approach. I’ve seen a company with thousands of employees where the CEO would have breakfast with 20 different employees from various departments and levels. It was their chance to chat with the CEO directly–something they would rarely have a chance to do normally.”

The Importance Of Getting “Real”

But let’s face it…” talk” can be cheap. If a company head makes a call for suggestions but doesn’t implement any of them, that could almost be as bad as never asking at all! “If the company asks for feedback but never acts on anything, the employees could rightfully say: ‘why should we trust you?” That brings us to another of Ackerman’s points…being sincere is super important!

“Some companies already have a reputation of not valuing their employees, seemingly wanting people to follow orders and pick up their paycheck. Those companies might be trying to come around and improve their work environment…but it has to feel genuine. The employees won’t open up in the beginning; just like in any relationship where there is a lack of trust.”

And if at first, you don’t succeed, suggests Ackerman…try, try again!

“It won’t happen the first time…but if they plug away at it and stick with it, and they show that they’re genuine…they can overcome that bad rep. And how does that happen? Listening to suggestions and acting on them.”

Perks Can Be Expensive…But Listening Is Free!

One potential concern some companies might have–especially if they are small or a start-up–is exactly how much $ implementing a positive work environment plan may cost them. They might have intimidating visions of doling out cash for pricey team-building activities and spa treatment gift-certificates. Not to worry, says Ackerman: the most effective form of employee encouragement is free.

“Employees like perks such as gym memberships–but it all doesn’t matter if their boss is nasty or they’re getting criticized and are not feeling appreciated. Fostering communication and being open to new ideas–none of that costs a penny. And I think that’s what really does it for employees more than a fancy lunch.”

In addition, one particular demographic seems to require feedback the most…millennials. “There have been studies that show millennials crave regular feedback. It used to be that there was the annual review–once a year, your manager spoke to you about your performance. That really doesn’t work anymore. For a lot of people, especially millennials, they want constant feedback: what they are doing well, and what they can be doing better.”

A Word About Company Culture

As an employer or HR manager, you might be very enthusiastic about putting into place and executing fun morale-boosting activities for your workers. That excitement is great…but Ackerman provides a word of warning to think about.

“Company culture and events: some people love them, some people hate them. Some people like them because they crave the attention. For other people it’s torture; they don’t want to see their name on the bulletin board for employee of the month, and they certainly don’t want to be thrown into a team-building activity.”

And there are other considerations to be made when planning out these company culture events. “Culturally it just might not be acceptable to them,” notes Ackerman. “Team-building activities can be very good, but they can also be very uncomfortable, especially with employees from different cultures and different backgrounds. CEOs and HR managers always need to be mindful as to what type of events they’re thinking about doing.”

Ackerman cites the example of one employee who had a good work record…but received a negative evaluation on his annual review for not being adequately “social.” “I’ve heard of an employee who had it written on their end-of-the-year annual report that he didn’t go out to lunch enough with his co-workers…and was thus “not a team-player.” But culturally, it was just not something this employee was comfortable with. And seeing that noted in his annual review was the red flag he needed to start looking for another job.”

Fewer Exit Interviews, And More “Stay” Interviews

In closing, Ackerman suggests that company leaders who are interested in retaining the best employees think more in terms of “Stay” interviews, and less on “Exit” interviews:

“Basically, we all interview people before we hire them. And there is also the exit interview: when someone leaves the company, they’ll be asked how their experience was and how things could have been improved. But that’s too late, in my estimation. Interview the employees that you want to keep now…and find out what will make them stay. The point is to show employees that you value and care about them.”

Whether you are the #1 Boss or (heaven help you) Michael Scott, those are some useful words to live by!

Our hearty thanks to Barry Ackerman for taking the time to speak to us. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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