10 Ways To Provide A Positive Work Environment (Part II)

This is part II of a two-part series on how managers can create positive work environments for their employees. Part I (here) focused on leadership and engagement strategies, while part II focuses on communication norms. 

Positive work environments are not simply willed into existence. Stating an intention to create positive environments is not good enough. Since environments depend on the norms established by shared value systems in a company, their creation and maintenance require an ongoing commitment from managers and employees alike.

By dint of the mantle of leadership, though, managers need to take the lion’s share of the responsibility of sustaining efforts to minimise and deal with negativity in the workplace appropriately.

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Effective communication strategies, in particular, play a pivotal role in this regard. To create positive work environments, leaders need to spearhead initiatives that establish, normalise, and ingrain positive behavioural patterns; here are five ways to do that.

P.S. Learn what it takes to become the manager you wish you’d had; sign up for SSA Academy’s WSQ course on leading workplace communication and engagement today!

 

1. Keep reiterating core values

Company core values don’t just determine corporate identity. They give employees a concrete idea of the shared beliefs that serve to unite them and send a clear message about the kind of work culture and environment the company hopes to have.

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As HubSpot co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah writes, “the more we talk about culture, the more we can critically think about it… we have to not just build culture, but iterate on it over time.” To do that, managers need to look at how they can comprehensively shape each business process around the company’s core values, especially during the hiring and onboarding processes.

It pays off. Research from McKinsey & Company, for example, shows that companies with clearly defined identities are 60% to 200% more profitable.

 

2. Reward collaborative behaviour

Simon Sinek said it best: “[The military gives] medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain. In business, we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain. We have it backward.”

So many of the norms that powered corporate success in the past are no longer the modus operandi today. Self-serving behaviour, in particular, has been a long-standing part of the DNA of cut-throat corporate culture. Until now, corporate reward structures generally tend to reward people for being selfish.

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For positive work environments to flourish, though, there has to be a conscious commitment from the company to shift these norms by rewarding selflessness, collaboration, and effective teamwork.

According to Forbes, Fortune’s most profitable companies all link reward programs to corporate performance. Taking it one step further, HubSpot has a JEDI award–(a “Just Effing Do It” award)–for employees who “quietly and selflessly do the right thing and move [everyone] forward.”

 

3. Practice gratitude

Gratitude is one of the simplest yet most effective ways of practicing positivity at work and in life. While formal employee recognition schemes often come with financial compensation and considerable fanfare, it’s important to note that this may not be enough.

According to a 2016 Gallup analysis, most U.S. employees tend “to feel that their best efforts are routinely ignored.” Without the sense of accomplishment and being appreciated that employee recognition schemes confer, employees are also “twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.”

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However, recognising stellar performance is not just about awards and incentives. It’s just as much as about everyday communication and norms, which managers tend to sideline. Providing specific, sincere, and timely praise can have just as much, if not even more, impact on employee happiness and motivation.

While awards and incentives only occur a few times a year, everyday gratitude can have a much more pronounced effect if done consistently.

 

4. Emphasise empathy

It’s no secret that empathy is what differentiates good leaders from great leaders. Empathetic leaders are generally better listeners, provide better coaching, and crucially, are better equipped to provide psychological safety for their people.

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Likewise, managers need to guide their people on why and how to practice empathy in the workplace. An empathetic work environment creates a conducive setting for greater team resilience and collaboration. It also encourages team members to actively support one another’s successes instead of trying to bring one another down.

 

5. Encourage open communication

Malicious office gossip can severely debilitate even the happiest workplaces over time. It can create an unbearably negative atmosphere for its victims, while also feeding feelings of mutual distrust and enmity among everyone else.

Ultimately, it births an office that is a nightmare to work in, and a team characterised by over-defensiveness and a preference for politics over results. Needless to say, it destroys psychological safety, the most critical ingredient of team performance.

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Leaders need to prevent the destructive impact of office gossip by:

  • Refraining from gossip yourself
  • Leading by example: demonstrate transparency and open communication first so people can model your behaviour
  • Providing a safe space for employees to air their grievances with one another before it turns out to hurtful gossip

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