4 characteristics of a positive work environment

How do you know if you’re fostering a positive work environment?

As a manager or leader, we know that employee satisfaction is one of the most important things that we can focus on. If our employees are happy and satisfied at work, they will be more productive and loyal to the company. It’s that simple. The part that’s not simple is creating a truly positive and rewarding working culture. A positive work environment doesn’t just happen; it takes time and effort from everyone involved to make it succeed. And, of course, it takes constant nurturing. 

A positive work environment encourages employee satisfaction. 

A lot of companies are struggling with employee retention and loyalty right now. And unless you’re practicing your skills as an ostrich and walking around with your head buried in the sand all day, you know if this is happening to you and your company. Do you have what seems like a mass exodus going on? And, of course, all the people who are leaving aren’t going to be the ones you wish would leave. You’re losing your top talent. 

Do you have a sense of dissidence among your team? Are people just showing up and putting in their time without being truly engaged and productive? Are you stuck in meetings that just drag on and on for what seems like an eternity with no real consensus or driven action steps at the end? Are deadlines getting missed due to ongoing indecision, confusion, or indifference? If you answer yes to any of these, you’re in trouble. But you probably already know that.

So how do you stop the bleeding?

You need to take steps to turn the tide and create a positive work environment instead of a toxic one.

It starts with meaningful actions

We’ve really hammered home the concept of authenticity in a couple of our previous blog posts, and we’re going to point to that again. Your employees can smell a skunk. They know if you’re not being true to your values and walking your talk, turning around a toxic work environment has to start with you as the leader.

Many companies favor surprise one-off tokens of appreciation, like giving out random Amazon gift cards to boost morale. We are not big fans of this. Anyone can do this, and your team might welcome it, but it still feels impersonal and not very meaningful. And it is not leading to the lasting change you desire.

Another thing we’ve seen is that some companies like to offer extra vacation or “well-being” days (sometimes “well-being” weeks) to help prop up employee satisfaction. The problem with this is that, yes, that extra time off is great, but when your people get back to work, they often come back to more work because no one did their job while they were away. So, all the stress relief of that extra time off is already forgotten by the added stress of returning to work with even more stuff on their plates. And the merry-go-round just keeps spinning.

Create rituals

Regular and ritualistic meaningful shows of appreciation are more effective at fostering a positive work environment than surprise one-offs. Every. Time. 

Think about it like this: the concept of 4 x 7 is greater than 1 x 28. Yeah, we know they both are the same, but keep reading. 

As kids, we’re taught that we are supposed to brush our teeth for two minutes each morning and night. That’s a total of four minutes per day, seven days per week, which equals 28 minutes. We know that consistency is key to keeping our teeth healthy. You will have much better results by brushing your teeth four minutes per day than if you save all those minutes up and choose to brush your teeth one time per week for 28 minutes straight. You probably won’t have all your teeth for very long if you only brush them once a week for 28 minutes.

The same holds true for regular efforts to show your employees how much you value and appreciate them. Regular and consistent shows of appreciation, especially if they’re handwritten notes to praise them for a specific thing, go much farther than the occasional $50 Amazon gift card that you toss out as a “pleasant surprise.” The little things consistently being shown over time are what last.

This is just one thing you can do to start to turn a toxic work environment around. Carrying this forward to the concept of “well-being” days/weeks, you should find ways to promote well-being daily rather than a once or twice-yearly basis. These can take various forms, but all should be focused on small, deliberate actions that are meant to be sustained over time rather than “big bang” events.

Characteristics of a positive work environment

You’ll know you’re starting to turn the corner once a few key factors begin to show up regularly. 

1. Positive conflict

Many leaders think that a positive work environment has to be completely free of conflict, but that isn’t the case. You will never avoid challenges or conflict as you and your team work toward improvement and growth. 

Be equally wary of a work environment filled only with “yeses.” This is not a truly positive work environment when you have people who just say “yes” all over you and seem to just dismissively nod and smile to avoid conflict. Worse is a culture that awards the “yes” as a sign of an entrepreneurial spirit. This is not a positive culture. Rather it’s a sign of an inauthentic culture and is often called toxic positivity. Remember, a “yes” ends a conversation, and a “no” will start a conversation if you approach it with curiosity. Significant change cannot be accomplished with your team just following along.

What you want are engaged employees that bring up conflicts but also bring up possible resolutions. They listen to you and other team members and work to develop healthy, productive, and rewarding solutions. 

2. Open communication

In a positive work environment, employees feel confident enough to say what’s really on their minds. This ties back to the “yeses.” They don’t just nod and smile at your face and at the same time complain behind your back. Employees that feel valued feel safe enough to be truthful with you, even if it might not be what you want to hear. Furthermore, your team members are free to take risks, make mistakes, and, most importantly, express their true opinions. Everyone is open enough to explain their point of view without fear of embarrassment or reprimand.

3. Life balance NOT work-life blending

It used to be that people tried hard to keep their work separate from their personal or private lives. In a positive work culture, employees value their work and their teams enough that they have no problem bringing their whole selves to work. In fact, they look forward to going to work since it’s a fulfilling part of their lives and not just something they have to get through each day to pay the bills.

However, work should not become this all-consuming activity that is always running in the background at all hours of the day and night. Emails and messages can be responded to during work hours and not when you’re watching your kid’s soccer practice or walking your dog. Notifications can be turned off (*gasp*), and the world will not end. Keeping in balance all aspects of your life that, includes work, hobbies, home, and most importantly, SLEEP, and allowing each its focus time (not blended time) will lead to more positive and creative outcomes.

4. Compassion, respect, and understanding

As leaders, we value that, as human beings, we have ups and downs in our life, and there is an understanding that some days we’re not 100% there because other things are weighing on our minds. We aren’t expecting employees to be consumed with work 24/7/365. And in a positive working environment, our employees know that it’s ok to communicate that they need time, and other team members can support that and lift them up when needed. Who wouldn’t want to work in an environment like that?

So, how do you get there?

We will help you get there by coming in and assessing your particular situation in person and shadowing you and your company. We will begin to uncover the good, the bad, and the ugly about your leadership style and your company’s health. And this may take several rounds. 

Often, the initial assessment is like a discovery process. We may uncover the symptoms of a toxic culture but may need to dig deeper to get to the root cause of it. It’s a process that requires consistent effort and follow-up.

We will help you create an action plan to turn your culture around and improve employee satisfaction and morale. We will then follow up on those action steps to see what’s working, what’s not, and other necessary steps for continued improvement and growth. 

The faster we get started with this, the greater the chance you have of righting a sinking ship. You know you only have so much time to really turn things around, so stop stalling and reach out to us. We’re here to help!


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