Creating, Crafting, and Encouraging a Culture of Workplace Positivity

By Niel Steve M. Kintanar, MA, RPsy (LEAP 1 Cebu Graduate; Head Coach – LEAP 5 Cebu Flourish)

Significant part of a person’s life is spent at work. In fact, The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has revealed in a study that the average Filipino clocked in 43.2 work hours per week this January 2019, that is, 8.64 hours a day, or 38 minutes more than the usual eight hours (if you’re working within a five-day work week). Thus, our experiences in the workplace is one of the factors that determine our happiness and overall well-being.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that having unfavorable work environments could lead to physical illnesses and mental health issues. It has shown to be highly associated with cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and harmful use of substances or alcohol. And as a result in the workplace, employees are frequently absent and sick, unmotivated, and to the extreme, employees resign. On the other hand, positive experiences at work is associated with higher levels of engagement, organizational citizenship behavior, and job performance and satisfaction of employees. When employees are satisfied in the workplace, they are cooperative, more helpful to their colleagues, more punctual and time efficient; they show up for more days at work and stay with the company longer than unsatisfied employees. Also, positive employees make better decisions, are more creative, and have better interpersonal skills. Furthermore, studies have also shown than when employees are satisfied with their work, it is strongly associated with their happiness and their overall well-being. Thus, a culture of positivity in the workplace reaps benefit for the individual and, eventually, the organization.

But how is a culture of positivity in the workplace built? Research in positive psychology has identified numerous interventions that have been proven to increase happiness and well-being among employees. It can range from the physical working environment (e.g., office designs, ergonomics, light, air, and healthier cafeteria choices) to organizational values, processes, policies and programs (e.g., understanding, committing, and communicating the importance of employee well-being and aligning policies, practices, and programs reflecting a culture of wellness, among others). Also, for those who are in human resources and development, workplace positivity can also be built by the people in the organization, specifically, the support from top management about the importance of wellness and leading the way in living a flourishing life.

“People leave managers, not companies” is a common refrain you’ll hear why people leave jobs. Thus, some companies started tracking why their employees leave, and Facebook showed a different story. As they give importance in selecting and developing great managers, they found that the decision to exit was not always about their managers, but was because of the work. Employees leave when their job wasn’t enjoyable, their strengths weren’t being used, they weren’t growing in their careers or feel a sense of fulfillment. (Of course, employees are more likely to go for an interview somewhere else when they have a horrible boss.) But who is responsible for what the job is like – exactly, it is still the managers.

Thus, this article will give three tips for managers to consider in creating, implementing, and maintaining a workplace positivity where employees will flourish.

First, create a positive and enjoyable work environment.

Creating a positive and enjoyable work environment means making employees feel good about coming to work, which in turn, provides the motivation to sustain them throughout the day. But first, know that, we – humans – have a negativity bias. It means that we strongly react and vividly remember more negative events and negative feedback compared to positive events and positive feedback. This negativity bias allows us to always look out for danger and has certainly played a role for our survival. Because of this, increasing positivity in the workplace requires considerable sustained effort by managers. Managers can help create a positive and enjoyable work environment by encouraging people to think positive thoughts and do more positive actions.

These efforts include:

  • Directing conversations toward what is going well
  • Sharing success stories
  • Pointing out an employee’s or the team’s strength
  • Celebrating small wins
  • Focusing on solutions rather than problems
  • Helping employees view negative events as temporary setbacks
  • Helping employees view mistakes as opportunities to learn
  • Gossiping about positive qualities and good fortunes about co-employees and not about their mishaps and weaknesses
  • Starting meetings by asking them what they are thankful for
  • Expressing gratitude frequently
  • Giving employees the benefit of the doubt and not reading into their actions
Another way a manager can create a positive and enjoyable work environment is encouraging play. Most of us think that play at work is a distraction, inappropriate, or simply a waste of time. Yet, studies have shown that encouraging play in the workplace is conducive to productivity. Play taps into regions of our brain that enable creativity, sustained motivation, help develop and improve social skills and creates stronger relationships. Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other companies have access to and can play during their workday. They have all sorts of activities like bowling, meditation, wall climbing, volleyball, ping-pong to arcade games. But we don’t need to install a playground or a climbing wall in the office. Managers just need to creatively think of ways in weaving bits of fun into the everyday work day.

These efforts include:

  • Getting outside and leaving the stuffy meeting room behind and holding a meeting in the fresh air.
  • Starting meetings with a quick game such as musical chairs or charades.
  • Allowing employees to personalize their workspace with photos and other mementos.
  • Planning team bonding or building activities for the employees to give them an opportunity to get to know each other outside of the regular work environment.

Second, craft jobs that ignite employees’ talents, passion, strengths, meaning, and purpose.

There are only few people who have found a calling in their work, in fact, many are in a job or a career that may not be aligned to their talent, passion, and strengths. Positive psychologists hypothesized that when we ignite the talents, passion, and strengths of employees, they are more active and engaged and they find meaning and purpose to what they are doing, which in turn, increase their job satisfaction and overall well-being.

We heard of exemplar stories on how a company lawyer, who missed his dream of being a performing artist, organizes, directs, and performs in company presentations and parties. A science teacher, who walked away from a music career, brings a guitar to class and writes songs and jingles for students to memorize the table of elements. Thus, it is not really the profession or the job, but it is about activating and utilizing one’s talents, passion, and strengths in the workplace. Studies have shown that the happiest, most successful people have the opportunity to frequently use their talents, passion, and strengths and it is through capitalizing on their talents, passion, and strengths that allowed them to achieve excellent results.

Thus, managers can play a major role in crafting jobs by identifying, using, and developing employees’ talents, passion, and strengths. These efforts include:

  • Observing for clues that uncovers the talents, passion, and strengths – usually, employees display rapid learning, high energy and enjoyment, and/or repeated successful performance.
  • Administer a strengths inventory
  • Select individuals whose strengths fit the company’s needs
  • Assign or modify roles to maximize strengths use
  • Designate a few hours each week as “strengths time”
  • Focus feedback on people’s strengths
  • Provide training to further develop people’s strengths
However, it does not end there. Many people look to their work to find a sense of fulfillment. They believe their career is not just about making a living, but that it is about making a difference. Positive psychologists differentiated how people typically see their work: a job, a career, or a calling. A job is about earning a living, a career is about personal mastery and advancement, whereas, a calling is about feeling their work is important and meaningful because it has an impact to others and/or the organization.

Thus, managers need to help employees discover the why of work. These efforts include:

  • Drawing on the company’s mission to help employees see their work as a calling.
  • Highlighting the impact people have on clients or colleagues
  • Communicating the company’s social responsibility initiatives
  • Encouraging participation in social responsibility programs

Third, encourage positive and meaningful workplace connections and relationships

Today, as we spend most of our time in the workplace, we spend more time with our colleagues than our families. And work connections and relationships are important for building a career and finding satisfaction in our job since it gives meaning and richness to our work and our lives. The Gallup Poll have shown than 70% of employees say that having friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life; 1/3 of adults have met their closest friends at work (if not their spouses); 37% of employees are more likely to have someone in the workplace who encourage their development; 50% of employees who has a best friend at work reported that they feel a strong connection to the company; their engagement to the company is doubled when they have a best friend at work; and 58% of men and 74% of women will refuse a higher paying job if it meant not getting along with their boss or coworkers. And yes, horrible bosses and colleagues are reasons why some are disengaged at work and, to the extreme, transfer to a different workplace. And given the interdependent and family orientation of Filipinos, studies have shown that bosses are more like parents, colleagues are friends, and work teams are second families. In summary, workplace connections and friendships has direct links to job satisfaction, connection, engagement, and retention.

Successful managers encourages social connections in the workplace. In fact, psychological studies have shown that high quality connections among employees and between their managers have individual, team, and organizational benefits. Thus, managers can play a major role in encouraging and in creating a positive and meaningful workplace connections and relationships.

These efforts include:

  • Asking and listening to employees’ ideas and opinions
  • Learning as much about them and their life outside their work (e.g., their families, hobbies, and stories).
  • Letting employees know that they are appreciated
  • Recognizing employees for doing good work
  • Celebrating accomplishments and birthdays
  • A simple welcome party for new staff and farewell-gratitude party for those who will leave.
  • Demonstrating that they are trustworthy and acting with integrity, dependability, and benevolence (i.e., keeping their commitments)
  • Encouraging participation in decision-making
  • Sharing information freely
  • Rewarding people for helping their colleagues
  • Establishing a mentorship and/or coaching program
It is time to put the well-being of our employees in the forefront. Work can be toxic place, it could have negative consequences on our health. By putting the spotlight on employee’s well-being, companies are allowing their employees to shine. Thus, it is up to us to shield and to protect our employees from toxicity. Instead, we create, craft, and encourage a safe, fun, positive, loving, and meaningful workplace environment so that we develop our employees to reach the best version of the grandest vision of themselves. And while this may require some additional investment, taking the right steps towards encouraging a positive mindset and lifestyle for your employees, no matter how small, can indeed go a long way – from more sustainable, and cost-effective workplace environments, to healthier, happier, more productive employees, and ultimately, healthier societies.