If I had a top ten list of things I very much dislike, sitting with a group of people listening to them complain about their jobs would be on it. I’m not very good at hiding this particular displeasure, so I don’t last too long in these conversations. The last one I remember vividly. I was at a birthday party one of my son’s new classmates had invited him to. It was an indoor ninja warrior thing. We have four children so divvying up responsibilities is a survival skill in our home. On this fateful Saturday, it was me and my boy heading out to test our limits on questionably built indoor jungle gyms, slam some cake, and push through the small talk with other parents. What a joy.

One of my first jobs was as a waiter at Applebees. In the small town where I grew up, Applebees was the height of fine dining–so being a waiter there was the big show. I didn’t know it at the time, but that Applebees had one of the strongest workplace cultures I’ve experienced in over 20 years (okay, 25, but who’s counting?). People showed up to work with a good attitude. We helped each other out and didn’t just focus on our own tables. We worked really hard and had consistently good feedback from customers. We were open about issues and got them resolved.

As with any workplace, there were a variety of factors that came together to produce a healthy and strong culture, but there’s one that stands out in my mind to this day. Encouragement.