How to Create a Positive Work Environment

Some of my business clients are struggling. The employees who worked through the pandemic are feeling overworked and underappreciated. No one remembers what a true vacation feels like. I know I don’t and as a business owner it feels I can’t take a vacation. After interviewing my client’s employees, they feel the same way.

Here are some small but effective ways to help create and keep a positive work environment. This goes for the business owner and our employees.

  1. Create a positive morning ritual for everyone – In most office environments, people file into the office at different times and some have already endured a stressful commute to get there. I have found for myself, a quiet ritual of organization and check in is essential to structuring my day for success. In contrast, the employees I surveyed said they would love a little time to eat breakfast. Is your kitchen stocked with coffee and a breakfast food? There doesn’t need to be a huge buffet laid out every day, but being offered a pastry, a donut, a variety of yogurts, granola, and of course, coffee and tea can smooth their transition into the work environment. Have specialty creamers (you can even hold a vote on what flavors to offer) or different tea flavors. But the most important factor is to allow a little time for socialization prior to starting on the heavy work. Schedule a half hour (max) as breakfast time and don’t hold any meetings or schedule calls during that time. Sure, some workers may never participate, and will slide in the door at 8:15. But maybe what the employee needs most… is 15 minutes flex time.
  2. Say smaller thank yous – Most managers know how to say thank you to staff for the hours of work they put into the huge report. Or that they worked overtime to finish month end calculations on time. But don’t forget to offer the smaller ‘thanks.’ “You did a great job handling that angry client yesterday, thank you for being so awesome.” “I really appreciate that you helped Sally out with that new quote. I realize that it wasn’t your job, but your help was invaluable.” For us business owners, I suggest celebrating everything – even what we consider a “small” win. Those add up too!
  3. Provide an outdoor space – Humans need sunlight, and studies have shown that being outside can provide a person with a sense of wellbeing. I know I am jealous of the “working by the pool” pictures. When was the last time you worked outside? Maybe not in July in Phoenix, but it is a nice change of scenery. Does your office have a courtyard with plants and tables where smoking isn’t allowed? Offer laptops for workers who want to go out and work in the sun. Just because they are outside, doesn’t mean that they aren’t working.
  4. Offer training opportunities – I am a firm believer in cross training staff. Small workshops that are provided by other employees can go a long way for counting as training as well as improving your staff. Employees that feel they are learning new things have a more positive attitude than workers who feel that they don’t have any growth opportunities. And leaders are always learning, so where can you, as a business owner, expand your knowledge? Watch that quick training video and count it as a win!
  5. Encourage small breaks – Historically, only smokers take small breaks throughout the day. But getting up from your desk and taking a 10-minute walk outside or spending a few minutes talking casually with another employee can help clear their head and disperse any lingering stress before they get back to work. If there are times that breaks should not be taken, don’t be afraid to create a schedule and employees will learn to work around their designated times. I wouldn’t encourage “popping” onto social media during your break – but listening to 10 minutes of your audio book isn’t a bad use of time. What helps you clear your mind and tackle that one issue that has you stumped?
  6. Allow decorations – When we moved into this suite, we found a gorgeous picture that we both love. It is the first thing I see every morning when I walk in. And I admit, after 2 years here, it still brings a smile to my face. Your employees also like their personal touches. Some employees may want plants in their space, others might consider it a waste of desk space. Allowing workers to decorate the space around their desk and add small personal items makes a person feel more relaxed and that they belong.
  7. Avoid negativity – Sometimes an employee needs a reminder to get some work done, maybe they were late for the 15th time and need a write up to help get them back on track. Things like this happen in HR. But remove those things from the immediate office environment, take the employee away from the general population to have the conversation. No one likes to be scolded in public. And for us business owners, don’t beat yourself up if you are late (I am stricter on my hours now than my corporate job was!). Quit beating yourself, and your employees up, over the little stuff.
  8. Celebrate small successes together – Pick a spot in the office, an unused white board, a blank wall – anywhere works – and encourage employees to attach sticky notes to the space to celebrate the small successes in life. Not every note may be work-related (but they should be work appropriate). It creates great workplace conversations and shows employees that there are small things in life that are positive. Add a note for that new client, add a note for the end of a difficult client relationship, add a note for birthdays, holidays, and small silly things like an employee’s child getting a soccer goal. It takes practice to be positive and celebrate small things but it makes a huge difference in attitude.

 Changes don’t happen overnight but be consistent and keep trying. Don’t be afraid to experiment. No work environment ever improved by someone giving up. Positivity, like exercise, is a habit that you can improve on with practice.