How a Positive Workplace Culture Benefits Your Physical and Mental Health
In today’s competitive business environment, whistling while you work might feel more like something out of a Disney movie than actual workplace reality. But the truth is that a positive work environment is more than a fantasy. And it’s definitely not a luxury.
In fact, a positive workplace culture is good business sense. Not only will the office be a more pleasant place, but the employees will be healthier and happier. And that leads to higher productivity, better performance, and more satisfied customers.
Why It Matters
Of course, understanding why you want a positive workplace might seem like a no-brainer. No one wants to work, let alone do business, in a place where the people are just miserable.
But the benefits of a positive workplace culture run far deeper than a mere matter of comfort and ease. And there’s a mountain of research to prove it. The simple fact is the work environment links directly to the quality of employees’ physical and mental health.
When your employees are stressed out, for example, they’re going to be a significantly greater risk for a whole host of physical and psychological impacts. This can range from difficulty concentrating and low productivity to irritability and burnout. And when that stress becomes chronic, the mental health effects can be even more severe, giving rise to clinical depression, anxiety disorders, or even symptoms relating to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
And those are only the psychological impacts. The physical harms of a toxic work environment can be equally as significant. Employees who are experiencing severe stress are more at risk for workplace injuries, such as falls, muscle strains, and other worksite accidents. Systemically, chronic stress can undermine the immune system and put workers at greater risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke, to name only a few.
How to Identify a Toxic Work Environment
Whether you’re a manager trying to assess the “health” of your workplace, or an applicant trying to figure out if a job is right for you, knowing how to identify a toxic work environment is crucial. The good news is, it’s not that hard, once you know how to spot the signs.
Notice how people look and sound. Do they appear relaxed and at ease? Do they sound panicked or stressed? And how do they engage with each other? Are they interacting freely or does everyone appear guarded and withdrawn? Are there indications of distrust among the staff, such as people locking their stuff before they leave their desks?
Believe it or not, when you’re trying to spot the warning signs of a negative work environment, one of the best places to look is the bathroom. Is the bathroom clean? Do the employees seem to care about the conditions they leave for their coworkers? Are they considerate enough to take even a few seconds to change an empty toilet paper roll? Little things like that can say a whole lot about the culture — and how the employees are faring.
What Can Be Done?
The good news is that it’s not that difficult to create a positive workplace culture. The key is pretty simple. It’s all about putting your employees first. That may seem obvious, but what’s clear in theory may not be so clear in practice.
Putting your employees first is not about paying lip service to how much the staff means to you and your company. It is about the continuous and concerted effort to figure out how your employees are doing, what they want, and what they need. And then, it’s about going a step further and embracing the flexible leadership style you will need to keep your company employee-focused.
This could include everything from offering flex time for employees who are working parents or senior caregivers to offering professional enrichment and career planning for employees looking to advance in your company. You should also actively encourage employees to practice self-care, including providing opportunities for them to do this both inside the workplace and outside, such as providing a quiet room where employees can go to listen to music, rest, or simply decompress in the middle of a particularly stressful day. You can even offer discounted gym memberships or gift cards for a spa day after an especially difficult work week. And don’t forget to practice — and model — such self-care yourself!
Engagement and Empowerment
What it all boils down to, really, is engagement and empowerment. Employees aren’t automatons that can just be programmed to mindlessly carry out their employers’ edicts. They’re living, breathing, feeling human beings with motivations and aspirations all their own.
And aligning those motivations and aspirations with those of the company culture requires employee involvement. That includes inviting your employees into decision-making processes and collaborating with them to best determine how their goals and the goals of the company can be made to coincide. It means fostering an environment of trust, teamwork, individual, and collective progress. Above all, it means cultivating an atmosphere where every employee’s contributions are recognized, celebrated, and rewarded.
A positive work culture is more than a great idea. In an increasingly demanding global marketplace, preventing toxicity in the workplace is a necessity for cultivating a healthy, happy, high-performing workforce. It may take some effort and a bit of strategy, but your employees will reward you for it.
This guest post was authored by Brooke Faulkner
Brooke Faulkner is a writer, mom and adventurer in the Pacific Northwest. She spends her days pondering what makes a good leader. And then dreaming up ways to teach these virtues to her sons, without getting groans and eye rolls in response.