Building a Positive Work Environment
Cultivate a favorable culture for maximum ROI
In my early years as a laboratory owner, I learned the hard way how important a favorable business culture is. I had six employees and thought things were going well until I walked into the laboratory one Monday morning and could immediately tell something was wrong. I was totally floored to hear that four of my employees were planning to quit that day. How was I so oblivious to the negative culture building up in my laboratory? Suddenly I valued a positive culture because it meant life or death to my business.
Now I have a 14-person laboratory, and if you walked in today, you would discover a feeling of unity and communication. The hum of busy people and machines working toward a common goal is powerful. Each employee knows what is expected of them and what their compensation will be. They know what is required of them in order to advance. They feel appreciated and validated. They are confident in their jobs, and they are quick to help others.
Why is an awesome culture so valuable? A favorable culture means much less stress for employees and management. It has been proven in other companies—and by my own experience—that a happy employee in a favorable culture produces over 20% more than a dissatisfied worker in a poor working environment. These reasons alone should be enough motivation for every manager and owner to improve overall business culture.
No Cost, High Return
Thankfully, fostering a positive culture is cheap, and it's easy to start improving today. It is expensive and exhausting to ignore it. Here are a few ways how I have improved my business's culture at no expense.
The old adage, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," makes sense even in the workplace setting. When I get to the laboratory every day, I say hello to each employee. Once or twice a week, I take a few minutes to address each employee personally. I ask about their weekend, their child's performance, or anything that isn't work-related. This helps them feel how important they are to me and creates a loyalty that isn't easily compromised. There is no doubt in their minds that I care about each of them as an employee and a person.
The two magic words—"please" and "thank you"—are truly magical. Maybe this sounds like kindergarten, but using these words every time you ask or receive adds positivity to a culture. The giver and the receiver both feel good. When the magic words are used, they become contagious and soon the whole laboratory is saying "please" and "thank you." They validate an employee's good work and show gratitude and politeness.
Attitude determines altitude. If I bring a sour attitude from outside or let my worries show, soon enough that poor attitude will rub off on everyone. Pretty soon, the whole laboratory is quiet and feeling in the dumps. They put up emotional walls of protection. However, if I keep on my game face and talk positively and supportively, everyone feels happy and secure.
"Show and tell" is another carryover from grade school that applies well in the workplace. We have a full wall—floor to ceiling, 6-feet wide—full of photos of employees. Our Christmas party, summer party, laboratory events, and funny things we catch on camera are all posted on that wall. Also, employees bring pictures of family, hunting and fishing, hobbies, and anything they would like to share. It is fun, starts many conversations, and helps promote interest in each other.
Low Cost, High Return
Of course there are other options that may require some financial output but are well worth the cost. For example, in my workplace we have "laboratory lunch day" twice a month. Management pays for lunch to be brought in, and during this time, there is no agenda, speaker, or presentation. We eat lunch and chat about anything other than work. We also recognize each employee on their birthday and sing to them. We are usually off-key, but we mean well. We recognize everyone and make them feel special.
Two powerful culture builders are our annual summer and winter parties. I host the summer party at my own home. During the summer party, I grill hamburgers, provide good food, and get to personally thank my employees' family members and spouses for their support. This goes a long way to show everyone that they are important to our entire team. The winter party is a catered party and has been a tradition for 30 years.
It may not be practical to invite all your employees to your home or sing to each of them on their birthday, but it doesn't take much to make people feel appreciated. You just have to do something. When employees feel valued, they are happier. When they are happier, they work harder and not only produce their best work, but also have fun doing it.
If your culture is not at the level you want, start by doing something about it today. Bring in donuts, speak with each person and tell them "thank you," or even write them a thank-you card. You may be surprised at how quickly you can change the culture for the better.
About the Author
Scott Emett is the owner of Riverside Dental Studio in Saint George, Utah.