Commentary / Sean Doughtie

A Happy Workplace is an Effective Workplace

Seven Secrets to Building and Sustaining Good Company Morale

Marketing, advertising and public relations regularly land on the annual “top 10 most stressful jobs” list. It’s a tough industry that demands much from the professionals who choose it. In our ninth year of operation, one of my greatest sources of pride comes from the longevity of our staff tenure and from the general happiness and good morale in our office environment. Having worked in and observed other agencies where that is not the case, we’ve been very deliberate in creating and maintaining an environment where people enjoy showing up each day.  Here’s how we do it.

Cultivate Passion

Passion is imperative to a productive and happy workplace. There are many skills and attributes that an individual can lack and still thrive in their career. Passion is not one of them. Remove it and the most talented individual can be rendered apathetic and ineffective.

To cultivate passion, you have to know your team. Take time to develop relationships with your associates and subordinates — their interests, dreams, aspirations, etc. Know their story, and what drives them. Next, give them a reason to invest emotionally in whatever they do. Set goals, assign responsibilities and empower them to succeed by giving them the authority to execute that which has been assigned to them. Passion is tied to purpose. Carefully articulate your vision for your organization, and help each member of your team understand their role in bringing it to fruition. This gives them a sense of ownership in the process and instills in them the passion necessary to take your organization to the next level.

Let People Be Who They Are

Without a doubt, there are times when folks need to suit up and be “professional.” However, when your team is simply toiling in the trenches, executing their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities, don’t sweat the small stuff. Give people room to be themselves when it comes to dress code and personal workspace environment. It goes a long way.

Over the years, Taproot Creative’s casual work environment has consistently been the number one thing our staff enjoy about working here. Folks are free to wear what they want — as long as it’s not offensive. Some people prefer jeans and t-shirts. Others prefer to be more put together. The bottom line is provide an atmosphere where people are comfortable. Of course, it’s understood that there are exceptions for when clients are in the office, so keep a jacket behind the door for unexpected meetings.

Provide Space

There’s a big push today for open, collaborative workspaces, especially in our industry. While this may sound appealing, there’s growing research to reflect that throwing everyone into a single, open environment is actually counter-productive for achieving effective collaboration. It can stifle creativity, jeopardize work efficiency and create stress and insecurity within your team. People need privacy and shelter — especially introverts, who probably make up at least 50% of your workforce. Provide your team the ability to retreat to solitude when necessary.

Encourage Exploration

Early in my career, I benefitted greatly from a creative mentor who all but refused to tell me how to do something. Instead, he would point out areas of my work that were weak, pose a series of questions to consider and then send me on my way to explore. At the time, this sometimes left me frustrated — I just wanted to know how to make it right, or at least why it was wrong. However, it taught me to think critically and to problem-solve, and it allowed me to develop my own personal style as a designer, instead of simply adopting his style. For this I am eternally grateful.

No one wants to be a robot, carrying out the rote commands of their supervisor. Sure, there are times when this is necessary and proper. But remember, as humans beings we are all naturally curious and creative creatures. Fostering an environment that encourages and embraces experimentation increases your employees’ sense of accomplishment, contributes to high workplace satisfaction and facilitates innovation.

Of course, you should allow your team to respectfully challenge and contest all ideas (even yours). This kind of creative exploration and collaboration in our office environment has resulted in some of our best work to date.

Protect Your People

Responsiveness and courtesy are unspoken requirements within our agency, as they are in most businesses. But what happens when a customer or client obviously takes inappropriate liberties with someone from your team? In this case, you have a moral responsibility to support them, stand by them, and even step in for them, if necessary. Your staff need to know that they can trust you to take their side, even if it means losing a contract. This kind of trust not only builds employee loyalty, but also strengthens personal bonds. .

Ask Questions

People need to have a voice. Check in on people regularly — not just about their projects and work duties, but about them as individuals. This is one way to show that you value them, both personally and professionally. I regularly ask my team how they are doing. How’s their family? Are they happy with their work? Is there anything new they’re wanting to try? Do they have the tools they need to do their job well? It’s pretty simple. Ask questions. Listen. When necessary, adjust.

Maintain Perspective

As a business owner, I constantly have to remind myself that this job is what I do, not who I am. I love my work and I’m passionate about it, but I must not allow it to define who I am. That perspective is critical to my personal sanity and well-being, not to mention to my family who kinda need me also. A business mentor of mine reminded me a few years ago that 80% of a person’s productivity comes from 20% of their time. As such, it’s important to recharge — to get away from all things pertaining to work and to just enjoy life and family. If you don’t do that, you have nothing to give when it’s needed.

This applies to your team, to an even greater extent. Encourage them to unplug and enjoy life. Evenings are not for working, nor are weekends. Sure, there are exceptions. But mark my word, if you treat your staff well and look out for them, when that extra work is needed, you won’t even have to ask. They will be there. Most of the time, the work will still be there tomorrow and no one will have died because they didn’t pull an all-nighter.


Culture is important to us at Taproot Creative. I’ve worked at places that suffered from poor morale and I’ve seen what it does to work product and efficiency, not to mention quality of life. I’m not saying that we’ve figured everything out in this regard. But these seven principles have gone a long way toward building a business that people enjoy showing up to every day. It’s reflected in our overall staff tenure and in the relationships that have been forged within our walls. We enjoy one another’s company. Our spouses and children are welcomed in our office. People feel free to be themselves and are secure in their roles and responsibilities.

Clearly, nothing in this list is particularly ground-breaking. Most of what’s needed to establish good morale is simply the outflow of treating others with respect and dignity. Invest time in getting to know the people you work with and what they need in order to thrive in your work environment. Take steps, when and as appropriate, to provide them with the freedom and flexibility (within a defined structure) needed to succeed. Doing so will create a happy, productive and loyal workforce.