How to Build a Positive Workplace Culture
CEOs have historically focused on big-picture goals like profit, market share, and growth. Employee happiness? Not so much. Beyond offering a fair paycheck, bolstering their staff’s state of mind usually didn’t rank high on a leader’s list of priorities. But times are changing.
Today, many employers realize that making workers happy can help their businesses succeed. And the best way to cultivate a happy team is to build a positive workplace culture.
To reach this goal, some companies went the way of ping-pong tables and stocked refrigerators to appease their teams. But perks don’t improve organizational culture—they’re just icing on the cake. Instead, leaders must develop a plan and commit to a long-game effort to render a positive environment that doesn’t fade when the refrigerator’s empty.
Positive vs. Toxic Workplace Culture
The opposite of a positive workplace culture is a toxic one, and the costs of the latter are monumental.
For example, a recent MIT Sloan study concludes that toxic work culture is the primary reason behind the Great Resignation. And unfortunately for employers, the most talented staff members are usually the first to jump ship. Beyond the immediate drain on functionality, Gallup reports that the cost of replacing just one worker can be as high as twice the employee’s annual salary.
And the consequences are grim for those who stick it out in an unhealthy work environment. They’re much more susceptible to low morale, stress-related health issues, and poor self-esteem. Using research based on 1.4 million Glassdoor reviews, the MIT Sloan study cited the top five words employees use to describe toxic work culture:
It’s a pretty ugly list, and most employers probably think it doesn’t reflect their organization. However, even micro-versions of these characteristics can taint the workplace and limit a company’s potential.
Leaders who can honestly say none of these traits define their business should be proud. But merely having a non-toxic environment won’t create a positive culture—just a neutral one. A positive culture is one in which employees thrive.
8 Qualities of a Positive Workplace Culture
Many factors determine a company’s vibe, including its industry, geography, and the personalities of those who work there. But eight universal themes indicate a positive culture, regardless of the organization’s other characteristics.
- Values and purpose
- Clear goals
1. VALUES & PURPOSE
Employees want to align with companies that establish a clear set of core values. But leaders need to do more than insert these tenets in a mission statement or promotional material to make them meaningful. They must also outline the behaviors that show these values in action. Then they should model and teach them to form the framework of the company’s culture. Values alone aren’t enough.
Employees also crave a sense of purpose and want assurance that their daily efforts matter. One step leaders can take to craft a positive workplace culture is to help their staff feel fulfilled in their jobs. They can do this by clearly communicating the company’s significance and the impact it has on the public. Then they should continuously reinforce how each employee’s role helps actualize organizational goals.
CEOs who encourage collaboration and open communication go a long way toward establishing a positive workplace atmosphere. The nexus of effective collaboration is a team-first attitude, with people constantly looking at how the group can succeed as a whole.
Executives and managers must lead by example for this model to work. They should exemplify and coach how to contribute at a high level while keeping their egos in check. Doing this will build a team that helps one another succeed, shares information that will strengthen the unit, and maintains a solution focus rather than one steeped in blame.
As with core values, diversity, equity, and inclusion can’t just reside in policies. An actively inclusive workplace that welcomes and celebrates everyone’s contributions is foundational to creating a positive and compassionate culture.
Respect is at the core of an inclusive workplace where everyone’s input is valued, and people feel confident to speak up and share their ideas. It’s a psychologically safe arena void of bullying, ostracizing, and micro-aggressions. But to build trust, leaders must establish a zero-tolerance policy toward people who fail to live up to this standard.
4. CLEAR GOALS
Employees become frustrated if they’re uncertain about what’s expected of them. It’s difficult for people to stay positive without clear goals, methods, and timelines.
Leaders should teach their managers to set clear expectations to overcome this problem. For example, people in supervisory positions should know how to explain what they need from team members. They should also make staff feel comfortable asking questions to gain a full understanding of every deliverable.
When employees have insight about their responsibilities, they are positioned to take ownership and succeed with tasks. They’ll hold themselves accountable for results they can confidently deliver. Providing this level of clarity is critical to maintaining a positive work culture.
As Dale Carnegie noted, “People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.” Encouraging people to have fun at work greatly factors into establishing a positive environment. Having fun at work is vital to employee motivation, creativity, and team building. It also helps coworkers build relationships and bond together to weather setbacks.
And while performing at a high level is gratifying, doing it with a lighthearted attitude reduces stress. Leaders who model realistic optimism and demonstrate how to keep things in perspective help their staff to relax and enjoy their daily work.
People don’t need praise to feel good about their achievements. But being recognized for their work improves their self-esteem, motivates them to continue to excel, and increases their engagement with the company.
And people who are acknowledged for their accomplishments are more likely to applaud their teammates, which boosts positivity and productivity. So, in addition to meaningfully recognizing their staff members, leaders should provide a team-wide platform where employees can cheer each other on.
No one enjoys working for a boss they don’t trust. Employers who understand the value of a positive culture are pretty clear on that point. But some leaders who strive to be above board don’t realize that being straight with their team is more than being truthful. It also involves being transparent.
Employees function better when they can fully picture what’s happening in their organization. If changes are coming, they will adapt better if leaders inform them in a timely manner. Even when news is bad, leaders can build trust by sharing it and discussing options rather than concealing it. Employees who know they can count on their boss to level with them have a more positive outlook about their jobs.
Employees are happier and more energized when they have opportunities to grow and improve. Companies with a positive work environment provide their staff with avenues for advancement and the tools and training they need to increase their competencies.
Offering formal and informal on-the-job training programs can help people polish their careers. And people in supervisory positions should have a mentor mindset and be committed to helping their team members develop professionally. This dynamic strengthens relationships between managers and direct reports and builds a leadership pipeline.
Benefits of a Positive Workplace Culture
Employers that prioritize employee wellbeing and strive to make their work experience fulfilling and enjoyable should be commended. But the efforts made on their people’s behalf are reciprocated many times over.
People are motivated to do their best in a positive workplace culture because it fosters high morale. It’s an atmosphere where teamwork, productivity, quality, and efficiency soar. And happier employees automatically provide better customer service.
A positive environment also alleviates work-related stress, which is a major source of absenteeism and poor performance. Employees also become more vested in positive organizations. They’re proud to work there, so turnover becomes less problematic. And word gets around. In addition to offering competitive compensation and benefits, companies with a positive culture attract the best job candidates.
Developing a positive workplace culture is a win-win proposition for any organization. Schedule a call with a CultureWise specialist to learn more about creating a culture that can elevate employees and drive organizational success.