Does your company have a positive work environment? Are your employees happy and proud to work for you?
If the answer is “no” or if you’re not sure, then read on to discover what makes a positive work environment, why it’s important, and how you can go about creating a more positive environment for your employees, whether in an office, retail or industrial workplace.
Doing so will have tangible outcomes for your business, such as higher productivity, lower turnover, and even lower healthcare costs.
But it’s not as easy as it sounds. As a manager, you can’t cajole people into smiling or just tell them to be more positive. You need to employ a whole set of different approaches that, when put together, will help to create a positive work environment. In this tutorial, you’ll learn exactly how to do that.
Why a Positive Work Environment Is Important
Before we get into the specifics of creating a positive work environment, let’s look at the benefits.
The science is clear on this: a more positive work environment leads to greater productivity. As a Harvard Business Review article concludes:
“A large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology demonstrates that not only is a cut-throat environment harmful to productivity over time, but that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line.”
Those benefits come in several forms:
- Happy employees who work in a positive environment tend to be more engaged and to do a better job.
- Positive workplaces have lower rates of absenteeism.
- People are less likely to leave when they work somewhere with a good working environment, meaning lower turnover costs for the business.
- In positive workplaces, people are less stressed, meaning lower healthcare costs if you provide health insurance for your employees.
- Positive employees provide a much better experience for your customers, leading to higher levels of customer satisfaction and repeat business.
As well as the bottom-line benefits, of course, there are the less tangible rewards. When you create or manage a business, you're responsible for creating the environment in which dozens or perhaps hundreds of people will spend a big chunk of their lives.
You can choose what that experience will be like. Do you want it to be fearful and mistrustful, with a culture of blame and passing the buck? I doubt it. You probably want people to enjoy coming to work, to feel a sense of pride and loyalty in working for you, and to form close relationships with their colleagues.
How do you achieve that? We’ll look at 12 tried and tested techniques in the next section.
What Makes a Positive Work Environment
Now that we’ve seen why creating a positive work environment is important, let’s look at how to achieve that. In this section, you’ll discover 12 techniques for fostering a positive work environment in which your employees feel happy, valued, and fully engaged.
1. Improve the Physical Workspace
What colour temperature is your office lighting? It’s OK if you don’t know—it’s not something that most business owners think about. But research has shown that cooler light makes people more productive, while warmer light makes them feel more comfortable and relaxed.
So consider having cooler light in the main workspace, and warmer light in breakout rooms or cafeterias. You can achieve cooler light either by increasing the amount of natural light or by installing special “blue-enriched” light bulbs, while warmer light comes from orange or yellow bulbs.
Also consider things like air quality—are your air conditioning or heating systems regularly checked, and are the filters cleaned? Poor air quality can affect concentration and reduce energy levels.
2. Provide Employee-Friendly Facilities
As well as fixing the main working environment, also consider providing facilities aimed at improving wellbeing. For example, you could offer childcare, a gym, yoga classes, healthy food and drink, etc.
You may be thinking that those things sound expensive, but you can implement some of them even on small budgets. Even if you can’t stretch to a fully equipped gym, for instance, you could take a meeting room and fit it with exercise mats and some basic equipment at low cost. You may even have someone on staff who can lead yoga or meditation classes at lunchtime, or you could hire someone without breaking the bank. And even if you can’t build a full cafeteria, you could order in fruit and healthy snacks from a local provider.
A little goes a long way here. What’s important isn't having state-of-the-art equipment, but showing that you care about your employees as human beings, not just instruments of production, and doing your best to provide facilities that promote their wellbeing.
3. Grant Autonomy
One of the best ways to create a positive working environment is to give your workers autonomy. Avoid micromanaging them, and instead allow them some space and freedom to make decisions, contribute ideas, manage their own workload, and work without constant supervision. The result will be happier, more engaged employees who contribute to a more positive workplace.
Want some evidence for that? A study of 20,000 workers over two years found that those with more autonomy experienced greater job satisfaction and wellbeing.
You may need to make this change gradually. If people have become accustomed to close supervision, a sudden shift to complete autonomy could cause confusion and a loss of morale. But if you gradually loosen the reins and allow people to take more responsibility for how they do their own jobs, you’ll see a positive impact on the workplace culture.
4. Improve Communication
Bad communication is at the root of so many problems for businesses both small and large. One survey found that 86% of respondents blamed lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures.
When people don’t know what’s expected of them or what the company’s direction is, they flounder and disengage. When they don’t communicate well with each other, misunderstandings ensue, and the workplace environment won't be very positive.
Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do to improve communication, from using technological tools to establishing feedback mechanisms and practising conflict resolution. To learn about all of those techniques, read this tutorial:
5. Create Training & Development Opportunities
Guess what? Your employees aren't going to be very positive about working for you if they're starved of opportunities to learn and develop their skills. Show them that you value them and want to help them improve and move forward in their careers, on the other hand, and you’ll have a much happier workforce.
Training needn’t be expensive either. Sure, you could hire expensive training companies or sponsor employees’ college tuition if you've got the budget for it. But if you don’t, you can pursue lower-cost options like in-house training, mentoring, and affordable online training programs like Envato Tuts+.
To learn more about all of these options, as well as the steps involved in creating individual skills inventories and training plans for each employee, see the following tutorial:
6. Recognise Achievements
When people do a good job, they want to be recognised for it. A workplace culture in which both managers and coworkers regularly recognise people’s achievements is likely to be a positive place to work.
Be careful how you do it, though. An interesting Harvard Business School study found that an award program for good attendance at an industrial firm led to an overall 1.4% drop in productivity. Some employees found ways to game the system and win the awards, while employees who already had perfect attendance were demotivated by seeing others winning awards for what they considered normal behaviour.
The lesson: be careful how you design recognition programs, and consider the effect not only on the people being recognised but also on those who aren’t being recognised.
For more on this and other HR issues, see the following tutorial:
7. Give Tangible Rewards
Research has shown that many employees are not primarily motivated by money, but that doesn’t mean that money’s not important. Rewarding people properly for their work is a way of showing respect for what they do and communicating to them that they're valued as employees. And getting a raise or a bonus is pretty much guaranteed to put a smile on people’s faces!
As with recognition, the important thing is to do it the right way. If you just hand out blanket pay increases, you may send the message that performance isn't important and demotivate your top employees. It’s better to link pay to performance, using raises and bonuses as tools for rewarding good performance. You can also link it to the performance of the company as a whole, e.g. by starting a profit-share program so that employees benefit when the business does well.
For more on providing competitive pay, see the following tutorial:
8. Allow Flexible Working Arrangements
Work-life balance is a hot topic in business, and for good reason. When people have a good balance between work and the rest of their lives, they tend to perform better, to be in better physical shape, and to be more positive about their work.
There are many techniques to achieve better work-life balance, but allowing employees to take advantage of flexible working arrangements is one of the most effective. By letting people fit their work around other commitments, you can help them to lead fuller, richer lives, to do what matters to them, and to contribute to a positive work environment.
For more, see the following tutorial:
9. Encourage Stronger Relationships
We're social creatures (even those of us who are introverts!), and we thrive when we've got strong, healthy relationships with other members of whatever group we’re in. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that encouraging your employees to develop friendships will have a positive impact on the environment at work.
This isn’t easy to do, of course. You can’t force people to like each other. But you can create the opportunity for friendships to develop. You can arrange events and outings, for example, or encourage employees to meet in other informal settings outside of work. You can pay for the team to have lunch at a great local restaurant (maybe without the managers present or in smaller groups if that would help people to feel more relaxed).
Try to arrange a wide range of events to appeal to different people. For example, after-work drinks on a Friday are great, but also try to arrange events for people who don’t drink alcohol or who have family commitments that make it difficult to stay out late.
10. Foster Diversity & Inclusion
How can you have a positive work environment when certain types of people are excluded or made to feel unwelcome?
It’s important to ensure that your efforts at creating a better workplace take into account the needs of all your employees, regardless of age, race, gender, and the other dimensions of diversity.
It may not be easy at first, but it'll lead to a more positive, inclusive workplace in the long run. This is a big topic, but you can find out much more about it in our series on improving diversity in your business.
11. Tell Them Why
Research suggests that meaning and purpose are important in fostering a positive work environment. In work as in life, people are happier and more engaged when they've got a meaningful vision of the future and a sense of purpose.
So it’s important to make sure that employees know how their work fits in with the bigger picture. That means not just communicating with them about strategy, but also having their goals aligned to the larger goals of the company, so that everyone can see how they’re contributing. If they understand that, they’re likely to be more positive about their work.
For example, working on maintaining and updating a computer system could seem abstract and meaningless, but if the employee understands that the system’s health is vital for the company to meet its goals and that many employees and customers rely on it, then the work takes on more meaning and purpose, and the employee is more likely to approach it with a positive attitude.
In this tutorial, I’ve laid out some common techniques for creating a positive work environment. These techniques should work in a variety of different businesses and industries.
But there may also be some specific things that would improve the environment in your particular business. The best way of finding out what those things are is to listen to your own employees. Instead of giving them what you think they want, ask them what they want.
You can do this through regular employee surveys, informal feedback sessions, anonymous suggestions, and other techniques. Your employees are the ones who experience your workplace every day and know what would improve it, so listen to them and let their suggestions lead your efforts at improving the working environment.
In this tutorial, you’ve discovered 12 techniques for creating a positive work environment. You’ve seen what makes a positive work environment in the first place, and why having one in your business is so important.
The next step is to go ahead and implement some of these ideas in your own business. Most of them are quite easy to do at low cost, while others may take a little longer but can be started today.
So what are you waiting for? Try out some of these ideas and see if you can create a better, happier, more productive workplace.
Editorial Note: This content was originally published in 2018. We're sharing it again because our editors have determined that this information is still accurate and relevant.