March 29, 2016

What is the best work environment?  Maybe lower level employees think something more along the lines of fun while upper level staff conjure up images of faces glued to monitors from 8-5. It ultimately comes down to what drives the organization and each of its constituents. At the end of the day, we are talking about a business on one side where productivity is all that matters and on the other, employees whose end goal is to be happy.

These needs are not mutually exclusive, however. Employees will bring their best when they love what they do, how they do it and where they do it at. In fact, a significant body of positive organizational psychology research shows it is actually work environments with lower stress and more consideration for the wellbeing of employees that enjoy the benefits of greater productivity rather than high stress, “cut-throat” environments where employees are pushed too hard to perform. More than that, companies with a reputation for employee happiness will likely have a far better pool of applicants for their job opportunities.

The bottom line is that some of the most important features of a productive work culture are the ones that yield major improvements in employee happiness and satisfaction. Here are 5 ways to establish a positive work environment:

Build Trust

Satisfied employees feel secure, self-efficacious and respected in their work environments. They are also able to easily collaborate with others. This originates from trust at all levels and in both directions. In other words, the organization must trust each employee and vice versa. These forms of trust can be found through transparency and acceptance as well as the encouragement of confidence for each individual and the sustainability of the organization.

Promote Breaks

Although breaks are mandated, many work cultures can end up discouraging taking this time. Because this can lead to greater stress and increase the chances for burnout, periodic breaks should be considered acceptable or even incentivized.

Spur on Friendly Competition

Your best talent wants to be successful. Competition has always been understood as an excellent way to generate achievement and push talent to the next level. Fundamentally, competition is the facilitation of a stress, which is the main factor behind this phenomenon. But, this is where many organizations are getting it wrong as some research suggests. Consistent unfriendly challenge may lead to achievement but likely only in the short term since it induces significant and unsustainable stress. It can also destroy any type of collaborative, team environment. Thus, more friendly and controlled competition will ensure a healthier environment while still maintaining the benefits of challenge over the long term.

Recognize Success

Great work by an individual or group should be recognized whether in the form of simple acknowledgement, awards or even additional compensation. A company culture that celebrates high achievers in different ways and by the organization as a whole, incentivizes productivity and ownership. Additionally, it targets the basic need of most people to be noticed for doing “good”.

Set Realistic Goals

Unrealistic goals and timelines put excessive pressure on employees. This may be unintentional due to a misunderstanding or intentional where a manager believes high stress will push the individual to greater achievement. As stated previously, an employee may produce in the short term but given these stress levels, productivity will likely fall off. The key is to deeply understand employee limitations and the tasks themselves through active, honest communication.

Final Remarks…

Culture defines organizations since it is the underlying force that determines behavior and the manner in which work is completed. This makes it critical for success. One of the most important understandings for creating a great culture, however, is that a positive work environment breeds dramatically better results in regard to productivity. In turn, cultural features that aim to enhance overall well being and satisfaction are quite powerful for improving any company’s bottom line.

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