The best books for making work a better place to be (when you aren’t the big boss)

Who am I?

The average person spends over 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime – that’s roughly one quarter to one third of a person’s life. I’m an academic researcher who studies work. I know how to design workplaces that are good for organizations (high productivity) and the people who work in them (high employee well-being). But if we leave it all up to senior management, we won’t generate positive changes fast enough. There’s a robust body of evidence that we can all use to make our local workplaces more supportive, inclusive, and fulfilling. I’m on a mission to make the world a better place, one workplace at a time. 

I wrote...

Human Resources for the Non-HR Manager

By Carol T. Kulik, Elissa L. Perry,

Book cover of Human Resources for the Non-HR Manager

What is my book about?

Human Resources for the Non-HR Manager gives every manager, regardless of their functional role, access to cutting-edge research and evidence-based recommendations so they can approach their people management responsibilities with confidence.

The book is designed for any reader currently working as a line manager, or aspiring to a managerial role, who wants to improve their people management skills. This book focuses on the special relationship that line managers have with their employees and describes managers’ responsibilities across the entire employee lifecycle – from front-end recruiting and hiring to long-term retention. Grounded in rigorous academic research, the book’s conversational tone conveys basic principles without technical jargon. Each chapter includes Manager’s Checkpoints to help readers apply the material to their own workplace and Manager’s Knots that address gray areas inherent in people management.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation

Why did I love this book?

Deborah Tannen has a unique ear for the different ways that men and women communicate.

The book resonated with my personal experiences, and helped me to understand why I was having different kinds of conversations with men than with women – particularly around work issues. Professor Tannen emphasizes that these communication styles are taught to us when we are very young (and they are reflected in the different games men and women play as children).

But that means we can change our communication styles too – we can communicate more clearly about our work-related needs, and adapt our communication patterns to better align with the listener. Professor Tannen inspired me to bring research evidence to the attention of people who can use it in their daily lives.  

By Deborah Tannen,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked You Just Don't Understand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This guide highlights problems of communication between men and women, who can interpret the same conversation completely differently, even when there is no apparent misunderstanding. It examines how the sexes can work through communication barriers and get to the heart of the matter.

CEO of Me: Creating a Life That Works in the Flexible Job Age

By Ellen Ernst Kossek, Brenda A. Lautsch,

Book cover of CEO of Me: Creating a Life That Works in the Flexible Job Age

Why did I love this book?

We hear so much about flexibility at work, but most of the academic research is directed at senior managers (as in: “managers need to offer employees more flexibility”).

Professors Kossek and Lautsch deliberately flip that thinking. Their book is designed to help any employee become more mindful about how they can achieve better work-life balance – and to identify the changes that they can make to get there (even without their boss’s support).

This book inspired me to think about the very small changes that any of us can make in a workplace; it helped me to recognize that it’s not all up to the boss!

By Ellen Ernst Kossek, Brenda A. Lautsch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked CEO of Me as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

You are the CEO of your life: you, and nobody else. You can establish the new rules that will help you achieve true balance between work and the rest of your life. And if you don't do it, nobody else will. Now is the time to take control, and this is the book that will get you there. CEO of Me is like no other "work-life balance" book you've ever seen: there are no cliches here, and no one-size-fits all solutions. Instead, Drs. Ellen Kossek and Brenda Lautsch help you identify which of six worklife "patterns" you fit into and…

Book cover of Toxic Emotions at Work: How Compassionate Managers Handle Pain and Conflict

Why did I love this book?

This book moved me at a very deep level, because Professor Frost makes the content very personal.

He wrote it when he was suffering (physically and emotionally), and his own pain made him acutely aware of ways that other people can alleviate pain (or conversely, make emotional pain become toxic). Many day-to-day workplace activities create emotional pain (e.g., a negative performance review, a downsizing decision) but people’s responses make all the difference.

Professor Frost’s focus is on managers who operate as “toxin handlers” in their workplaces, but any of us can be toxin handlers for our coworkers. The book helped me to be more mindful of workplace pain points and be more proactive in supporting my colleagues. 

By Peter J. Frost,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Toxic Emotions at Work as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Human interaction is never flawless. Even the best relationships produce tension and at times, unpleasant emotions. Since organizations are comprised of people, all organizations generate emotional pain as part of the process of doing business: producing new products on tight deadlines, setting benchmarks for performance, creating budgets, crafting company policies, and so on. Getting the job done is rarely painless. But when emotional pain goes unmanaged or is poorly handled, it can negatively affect both employees and the bottom line - in essence, it becomes toxic. In "Toxic Emotions at Work and What to Do About Them", Peter J. Frost…

Book cover of I-deals: Idiosyncratic Deals Employees Bargain for Themselves

Why did I love this book?

When I read this book for the first time, my reaction was “wow.”

Professor Rousseau helped me to appreciate that everything (really, everything!) related to work was malleable and negotiable. We can all be more proactive in co-designing our own work arrangements, so that we can be happier people and deliver better value to our families, employers, and communities.

I say “negotiable” but the book is not motivated by self-interest. The book focuses on idiosyncratic deals that help employees to leverage their unique strengths, so that everyone (including managers and coworkers) benefit from employee i-deals.

Professor Rousseau’s recommendations are firmly anchored in empirical evidence, so her advice to employees is spot-on.  

By Denise Rousseau,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I-deals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Employees with valuable skills and a sense of their own worth can make their jobs, pay, perks, and career opportunities different from those of their coworkers in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Work at home arrangements, flexible hours, special projects - personally negotiated arrangements like these can be a valuable source of flexibility and personal satisfaction, but at the risk of creating inequality and resentment by other employees. This book shows how such individual arrangements can be made fair and acceptable to coworkers, and beneficial to both the employee and the employer. Written by the world's leading expert on the subject,…

Book cover of Rocking the Boat: How Tempered Radicals Effect Change Without Making Trouble

Why did I love this book?

This book explains how any employee – not matter their role – can take action to make their workplaces better (without burning career bridges behind them).

I am inspired by Professor Meyerson’s insistence that any employee (not just managers, not just the CEO) can be an agent for positive change. What I particularly love about this book is her focus on small wins. Positive change in work environments is about accumulating small changes, not about huge transformational restructures.

I also love the fact that the book’s recommendations can be applied to any social issue. You can follow your passion to make your workplace more inclusive, more environmentally sustainable, or more socially responsible.

By Debra E. Meyerson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rocking the Boat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Most people feel at odds with their organizations at one time or another: Managers with families struggle to balance professional and personal responsibilities in often unsympathetic firms. Members of minority groups strive to make their organizations better for others like themselves without limiting their career paths. Socially or environmentally conscious workers seek to act on their values at firms more concerned with profits than global poverty or pollution. Yet many firms leave little room for differences, and people who don't "fit in" conclude that their only option is to assimilate or leave. In Rocking the Boat, Debra E. Meyerson presents…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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