Creating a Positive, Productive Workplace
The old days of “nose to the grindstone — shoulder to the wheel” are gone. People go to work today with a changed expectation and a changed perception.
All of the research says we are working harder and we will work longer than the previous two generations — the 25-year job ending with retirement and a gold watch is a thing of the past. Given the changing situation, people are looking for work to provide more job satisfaction, enjoyment, interaction, challenge and opportunity to learn and grow. Indeed, people no longer talk about the “job” they want. They talk about the work they want to accomplish and the things they want to learn. They talk about contributions they make and the roles they play in their workplace. Today, we have workers who actively choose the places and times to work and the people to work with. Where people once talked about getting a job, keeping a job and having to work, they now want to talk about being part of a team, sharing responsibilities and accomplishing goals or achieving success. How do we build workplaces to meet these changing expectations?
There are five key elements involved in building a positive, productive workplace:
- Frequent, timely, specific feedback that balances positive and negative information
- Delegation of appropriate responsibility for tasks and outcomes
- Opportunities to work on teams with specific goals and adequate shared information
- Awareness of the big picture and input into the approaches and ways to address challenges, barriers and changes
- Laughter, humour, lightness and fun
Frequent, timely, specific feedback, which balances positive and negative information
The performance appraisal is the formal sharing of feedback based on systems for review and evaluation. It is neither often enough nor specific enough to create a positive, productive workplace. Indeed, many employees leave the performance appraisal interview with comments like:
- “It wouldn’t matter how hard you tried, you would never please her.”
- “I feel like I’ve been watched and every little error was recorded.”
- “You can try hard around here, but you never hear about anything until you mess up.”
The performance appraisal was meant to be a summary of accumulative feedback throughout the year. Instead, it is often the only feedback people receive. In a positive, productive workplace, feedback is given at every opportunity. It is important that feedback be given at an individual level as well as at the team level. Feedback should be balanced. In fact, positive feedback should outweigh negative feedback by a four-to-one ratio. In a positive, productive workplace, people ensure they build a positive foundation, which makes any negative information or criticism more acceptable and understandable. When positive feedback is shared frequently and readily, it opens discussion and creates a solution focus instead of resistance- and problem-focused behaviour. Correction or criticism are then received with the same attitude.
Feedback also needs to be specific and individualized. Lump-sum feedback or team feedback are nice to get; people nod and smile and even comment. However, specific, individualized feedback can motivate productivity and create positive change to a much greater degree. Comments should be directed and timely.
- “You did an excellent job editing the Johnson report. I was impressed with the format changes you made.”
- “Wow — you finished that documentation project two days earlier than anticipated. That must have taken a lot of work and effort.”
- “You really made a lot of progress on that policy manual. There are only six policies left to complete out of sixty. That is excellent work.”
When the feedback applies to specific tasks, people or projects, it is more meaningful and has more power to impact behaviour. Feedback is an essential element for a positive, productive workplace.
Delegation of appropriate responsibility for tasks and outcomes
The definition of delegation changes in a positive, productive workplace. Delegation has often been viewed as getting other people to do things; however, delegation of tasks is now accompanied by shared responsibility. Certainly, people will accept the delegation of a task. The responsibility for completing the task and carrying it through completely builds trust, self-esteem and positive teamwork. When these are in place we begin to see enhanced pride in work well done and increased creativity and innovation.
However, the delegation must be appropriate to the person’s skill development, training, and confidence. When delegation compromises a person’s ability to complete the task with effectiveness and efficiency, it can be overwhelming and frustrating.
Delegation must be accompanied by clear direction, instruction and specific expectations. In a positive, productive workplace, there is no room for assumption, surprises or mistrust. Delegation should always be viewed as a compatibility award for demonstrated capability. Accountability without responsibility places people in a no-win situation.
Opportunity to work on teams with specific goals and adequate shared information
When Abraham Maslow designed his hierarchy of needs, he placed social needs on the third layer of the hierarchy. It followed psychological needs and security needs and preceded ego and status needs. There is now some thought that in a positive, productive workplace, psychological and security needs are often cared for by the system, policies and structure.
Training and development, education and experience and our own personal and professional development support the ego and status needs. However, teamwork, positive interaction and socialization at work fill the gap in the middle, which addresses social needs.
Indeed, in a positive, productive workplace, this may be the area in which we can have the most impact. Some researchers say that this has become the foundation of job satisfaction and workplace balance.
When people have the opportunities to work on teams, they are able to address their need to belong and the desire to be in a social environment. Building teams in workplaces becomes an important element for creating a positive place to work.
When people work on teams they also experience the concept of synergy. Synergy is the ability of two or more people to accomplish more and achieve better results than one person working alone. In workplaces where teamwork is the culture, people have the senses of shared responsibility, enhanced communication, increased results and celebration of shared success. These are important to all of us in this fast-paced, dynamic, and challenging era of work.
We have also become aware that working with teams and being on teams is more fun and more interesting in a day-to-day working world.
Awareness of the big picture and input into the approaches and ways to address challenges, barriers and changes
This has been described as an era of inclusion. We used to operate on a basis of “need to know.” We have now added, “want to know.” When people come to work today they want to be informed, updated and aware, and have input on the activities and progress in their workplace. We have a more knowledgeable, curious and interested workforce today. They expect to be respected for their knowledge, experience, and ability to contribute. In a positive, productive workplace, we must make communication the foundation of how we work together. Two-way communication that connects people and their ideas is essential. We must listen, support, and encourage shared information. We have to provide open opportunities and forums for people to share new ideas and discuss ways to improve and enhance our workplaces.
Planning can no longer be done by upper management. Planning must include more people, more input and thus more commitment. Planning activities increase people’s awareness of where we are going, what we are doing, and how we can get there.
When people are aware of the big picture, they are often more interested, they demonstrate more initiative and they look for ways to improve and enhance what they are doing. Knowing how small, day-to-day activities contribute to the overall outcomes and results is empowering and inclusive. The difference is obvious.
Laughter, humour, lightness and fun
A fun-filled workplace is a workplace where people are dedicated and committed to produce quality results. Humour is essential to job satisfaction, teamwork, synergy and everyday involvement. Most people do not head for work in the morning and say, “I can hardly wait to get there — we never have any fun!”
What can you do to initiate laughter? How can you build a lighter, more positive perspective in your workplace? Are you laughing enough?
“You don’t stop laughing because you grow old —
You grow old because you stop laughing.”
— Brenda is a speaker, trainer, writer and consultant. She has been addressing groups for over twenty years on topics related to communications, humour, laughter, positive working skills and wellness in general.