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A positive work environment isn’t an optional perk—it affirms the dignity and value of your employees and also affects your ability to attract and retain top talent and help them do their best work. Does your organization have a healthy work environment? Most businesses, even the ones with award-winning cultures, have room to improve—and there are good reasons to do so.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines a positive work environment as “one in which workers and managers collaborate to use a continual improvement process to protect and promote the health, safety, and well-being of all workers and the sustainability of the workplace.” The WHO goes on to say that well-being depends on the physical work environment, the psychosocial dynamics on the job, and workplace resources supporting personal health.
Creating a positive work environment involves more than addressing physical hazards at the job site. It’s about making employees feel good about their work and career trajectory, promoting healthy relationships between co-workers, and supporting personal well-being. The U.S. Surgeon General recently laid out a framework for turning workplaces into “engines of well-being,” which includes protection from harm, opportunities for growth, connection and community, work-life harmony, and mattering at work.
Why should a positive working environment matter to your organization? First, treating people with fairness and respect is the right thing to do. It also pays dividends in the following ways:
How can you recognize a healthy work environment? Here are a few key features:
Organizations with positive workplace cultures are inclusive and welcoming to all team members. They’re committed to learning about and meeting the unique needs of employees from different demographics and backgrounds.
A positive workplace culture helps employees maintain work-life balance. Workers need time to rest and unplug, even from a workplace they love. They also need time and space to care for family and friends, do the daily tasks of running a household, and spend time enjoying hobbies. The best companies recognize that employees have multifaceted lives and will support their efforts to balance it all.
In good work environments, employees and management have opportunities to offer input, ask questions, deliver information, and give or receive feedback—and feel comfortable doing so. When communication is strong, management strives to be as transparent as possible and proactively provide company updates to employees. Team members receive clear and helpful direction in their work, including constructive criticism, and feel safe to share their ideas, insights, and feedback. The lines of communication should be open at all levels—between employees, between employees and management, and between leaders.
Healthy workplaces also provide opportunities for career development. Whether this takes the form of ongoing education, professional development, promotions, mentorship programs, or something else, a healthy work culture encourages employees to build upon their skills and make forward progress.
The quality of relationships between co-workers, and between team members and management, is a strong indicator of whether you have a positive work environment. Good working environments are less likely to attract gossip and backstabbing. Instead, they’re marked by collaboration and respect, encouraging everyone in the company to share thoughts and ideas without fear of being belittled. Workers have a voice, and management listens.
Positive work cultures reward effort and good work. Recognition for a job well done not only makes people feel good in the moment, but also boosts job satisfaction and motivates them to serve the company well.
Employees need to understand how their role contributes to their company’s mission, product, or service. This means being able to explain your organization’s mission statement clearly and identifying why people take pride in working there. When you know what your brand stands for, you can invite team members at every level of the organization to support it.
Healthy workplaces are as flexible as possible regarding schedules and working arrangements. Different industries will have varying capacities for this, but most employers can afford to offer some combination of remote or hybrid work, flexible schedules, and reasonable PTO. Organizations with good work environments do what they can to meet everyone’s needs.
Fair pay is, understandably, a top concern for job hunters. A healthy work environment offers salaries in line with industry and regional standards. Companies that cut corners on salaries are often less focused on employee well-being, and team members can sense it.
A solid benefits package is also a top priority for employees. Today’s workers expect benefits such as paid family leave, comprehensive health insurance, mental health coverage, and PTO. Companies with a positive work culture try to suss out which benefits their employees want, rather than what company leaders think they should want. For example, employees with young families might care more about paid parental leave and flexible schedules, while an older workforce might be more concerned with the medical coverage provided. Find out what your people want before you try to deliver.
These are just a few positive work environment examples. Each organization has to develop its own roadmap. Specialized assessments and tools can help you understand your workforce’s needs and preferences and build a plan for creating a positive work environment that supports employee mental health and well-being.
Whether there’s a dearth of positivity in the workplace or you want to guard against negativity creeping in over time, here are actionable tips for how to create a positive work environment.
Can your organization implement any of these positive work environment ideas? Change can be overwhelming, but help is available. Consider getting an expert assessment and guidance on how to create a positive work environment that promotes mental health and well-being at every level of your organization. By creating a positive work environment, you’re building a better quality of life for your employees and better outcomes for your business.