There are countless productivity tools, apps and hacks meant to keep employees focused and reduce the amount of time wasted throughout the week. One specific hack, though, that more people are discovering is a little different. It relates solely to positivity in the workplace, is free to implement and has tangible benefits that stretch across the company.
The power of positivity can’t be bought through a startup in Silicon Valley, but rather needs to be grown within your company.
Here’s why you should strive to create a positive professional environment for your team and how you can make everyone’s work life a little happier.
Why Should You Invest in a Positive Work Environment?
Psychologists are starting to realize the impact our emotions and mental health have on our well-being. Our relationships and outlook on life can predict our long-term health and ability to overcome challenges in life.
Working in a toxic work environment with high levels of stress and low emotional support can be just as deadly as smoking and excessive drinking. Sarah Pressman at the University of California, Irvine, analyzed various risk factors and analyzed how they contributed to overall health:
Obese people have a 20 percent higher risk of dying early.
Excessive drinkers have a 30 percent higher risk.
Smokers have a 50 percent higher risk.
People with poor social relationships have a 70 percent higher risk.
Most people spend more than 40 hours per week in their work environment, which means the social bonds formed there are just as important as those outside of work. This means a toxic office can severely impact your future health.
Pressman’s study isn’t the only one that connects workplace well-being with physical health. Darien Smartt at The Newsletter Pro (one of Idaho’s Best Places to Work) recently shared a study where first-year law students were asked about their levels of positivity and optimism, and then monitored for immune system health. Students reporting as more positive fought off infections more effectively and were able to return to class and continue studying sooner than those who were less positive. This means positivity can benefit employers in two ways:
Health insurance premiums can decrease as employees are healthier.
Employees take less sick days, saving employers money in terms of productivity.
The steps you take to create a positive work environment can have a ripple effect on your company’s performance and finances.
However, investing employee positivity doesn’t mean endless birthday parties and vacations. Positivity can be found in company values and the employees who live them. Here are a few ways you can create a more positive environment while improving employee productivity.
Take Steps to Create a Better Company Culture
You might not be in a position to revolutionize your company, but you can change the team you manage and how you interact with your coworkers. Every company culture is fluid. It can grow healthy over time or become toxic with the wrong people.
“Culture is something that is learned,” Andrew Wasyluk, founder of social media consulting firm Socialeyze, writes for Bambu. “Just like in everyday life, people learn certain behaviors through rewards or consequences that follow a particular behavior.”
This means creating a culture of workplace positivity means deciding how your company reacts to various behaviors.
Caitlin Hendee seconds this belief. She encourages people to make a difference in their companies even if they’re at the bottom of the organizational chart. Hendee says employees should choose one company value and become a champion of it. This might mean embracing communication or taking steps to improve the client experience.
By taking these steps you can lead by example and make change within your corner of the company.
Grow Autonomy Within Your Team
One of the first steps to creating a positive work environment is eliminating factors that create a negative one. A common step toward this includes reducing micromanagement practices and increasing employee autonomy.
“Employees need a happy medium of regulation and trust to perform well,” Rick Kiley, founder of gThankYou, an employee gift company, writes. Employees are happiest when they feel like they have a certain amount of control and can decide how to go about their work.
Kiley cites an interesting case in which a telecommunications company tried to mandate positivity, and how that backfired. T-Mobile’s employee handbook stated that workers should “maintain a positive work environment in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships.” While the motive might have been innocent, the wording created a stressful work environment where employees felt they couldn’t express themselves and constantly had to behave in a certain way.
When employees feel like they have choices and control over their environment, they can relax and focus on getting work done.
Netflix is a positive example to counter the negative one set by T-Mobile. Switch & Shift CEO Shawn Murphy explains that the video streaming services company treats its employees as “mature, fully functioning adults.” Its employee handbook is built on the belief that employees can take care of themselves and don’t need to be monitored constantly in order to make responsible choices.
“People rise to the level of expectations you set,” Murphy writes. If you challenge your team to be responsible and give them the tools to succeed, they’re likely to meet that challenge (or work somewhere else).
Engage and Recognize Your Employees
Employees thrive on recognition. Creating a positive workplace doesn’t mean everyone needs to be happy all the time, but rather everyone is involved in what other people are working in.
“You have to be able to just recognize the amount of work that goes into creating anything,” Doug Webster, The Dealio’s co-founder and lead developer, says. “Just putting something out there means a lot, so I like to build people up, even when they’re just on the right track. I might go over the top with it sometimes, but I really like it when there’s a culture of appreciation.”
Recognition creates a culture of wanting to succeed. It’s about taking the work that you’re acknowledged for and pushing it to hit an even higher bar. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything your employees do should receive praise. However, it does mean that you’re providing feedback to team members along the way.
“Employees who receive regular feedback immediately feel more engaged and as such are more productive,” Tommy Tonkins writes at Quinyx. “Regular, transparent and open communication is the first step for making an employee feel valued.”
Plus, as an employee, wouldn’t you rather get feedback that your project needs to be tweaked early on instead of after you’ve completed it?
Build Trust Within Your Team
The team at Adecco produced a helpful infographic that explains what companies need to create a positive work environment. Across the board, the answer was trust.
According to 90 percent of workers, the top three attributes most valued in the workplace are honest, trust and fairness. This also goes back to the example of Netflix. The company is honest with its employees and trusts them to act responsibly instead of hiding information because management doesn’t think the lower levels can handle it.
A company culture based on honesty and trust can also help your team become more resilient. Teams with strong support systems and emotionally confident employees, for instance, can acknowledge change and learn to approach uncertain times with feelings of security.
“It’s not that everyone likes change, but most have been through it so many times and have seen the leaders manage change with care and dignity that they no longer dread it,” Tim Stevens, author of Fairness is Overrated, writes.
Even if your company hits a rocky patch, secure employees can trust you to weather the storm.
Improve Your Communication Methods
In an article for Forbes, business advisor John Rampton noted one survey of 210,000 American employees which found less than half were satisfied with the information shared by management. Information was either communicated poorly or wasn’t shared at all (showcasing how honesty and trust are lacking in the workforce). To counter this, he highlighted Jeb Blount’s five rules for effective communication:
People won’t trust you until they feel connected to you.
Ask easy questions first.
People communicate with stories.
Follow emotional cues to understand when there is a problem.
Never make assumptions.
Not only are these guidelines effective for discussing information with team members, they also help managers and employees alike form stronger emotional bonds in the workplace, leading to higher job satisfaction and happiness.
Improving communication tactics by management is a nod to the old adage that “employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers.”
“If managers are not able to speak with their workers in a respectful way, if workers are afraid of asking questions and so on, then the culture of such companies is a weak one,” Pavel Aramyan writes at Easy Projects. “Communication forms the culture of the company.”
Positivity within a company often starts at the department level. If employees report to a supervisor who is disrespectful, they’re more likely to spread similar negativity across the organization.
Invest in Diverse Hiring Practices
There is a strong correlation between inclusion and workplace happiness. Office environments that are full of cliques can make workers feel isolated, while a lack of diversity prevents employees of different genders, races or religions from forming the necessary emotional bonds discussed earlier.
“Building trust and facing difficult diversity issues - especially for those in the tech industry - is a difficult and time-consuming feat,” Dan Harris of Quantum Workplace admits. “But it’s one that will encourage employees to grow and succeed within their current organization.”
Diversity and inclusion not only create a more positive workplace for your team, they also produce a stronger one. George Dickson at Bonusly writes that there are countless ways to solve problems, but employees need varied perspectives in order to see them. If you have a diverse team working on a problem, the odds that you come up with a brilliant solution increase.
Diversity isn’t just a buzzword thrown around startup circles. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management lists three tangible benefits to creating a more inclusive work environment, including increased innovation and an improved workforce. If inclusivity is a best practice in the federal government, it should also be prioritized throughout the private sector.
Embrace Positivity from Management Down
While anyone can work to create a positive environment, it’s up to management to make sure a culture of positivity is spread throughout the company.
“No matter how large an organization is, it’s hard to hide what senior leaders spend their time on, and everyone else in the company sees it,” Aileen Wilkins writes. “If there is backbiting and infighting among an organization’s leaders, others will behave similarly.”
Not only do employees turn to leaders in times of stress or uncertainty, they also often mimic their responses. Director of professional development at EDUCAUSE, Joan Cheverie writes that emotions are contagious and we as humans are wired to pick up subtle cues from each other. When management responds to problems harshly, emotionally or with passive aggression, employees will respond similarly.
Unfortunately, negative emotions are actually stronger than positive, which means a show of negative emotion by management can lead to stress and fear for employees that lasts longer than a positive show of support. This proves the importance of instilling positive reactions in the workplace culture, not just in specific situations.
Building a positive work environment doesn’t mean that everyone is happy all the time. Instead, it means employees trust each other to be honest and communicate. This makes team members comfortable around each other and with management, which increases work satisfaction, retention and productivity.
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