Sunday, April 15, 2012

How to Create a Positive Work Environment

Positive versus Negative Workplaces

We have all worked in places where we grew to dread getting up in the morning, and a few of us have had the pleasure of working for a boss who makes us feel like we can do anything. Let’s take a look at the differences between a positive and a negative work environment.

Signs of a Negative Work Environment

         The boss is unfriendly.
         The boss is critical.
         There is high employee turnover.
         There is low employee morale.
         People watch the clock.
         People don’t get much performance feedback.

Signs of a Positive Work Environment

         The boss demonstrates interest in the employees.
         The boss has an encouraging attitude.
         Employees like working there.
         There is evidence of company pride and loyalty.
         People know where they stand with their supervisors.

Thousands of books have been written on the subject of managing and motivating people, and as many training seminars are conducted on this subject around the world every day. And yet it’s interesting that even with all of this available information, few companies succeed at creating a positive work environment. Let’s see what’s involved.

Four Key Skills

Creating a positive work environment is based on four key skills. They are:
1.      Tell people what you expect of them.
2.      Show interest in your team members.
3.      Create an encouraging environment.
4.      Recognize and reward good performance.

Skill #1: State Your Expectations

Telling people what you expect of them means doing the following:

         Communicating expectations clearly
         Having a specific job description
         Identifying specific performance standards
         Specifying deadlines
         Setting goals

Skill #2: Show Interest in Your Team

What behaviors convey that someone is interested in you?

         Making eye contact
         Calling you by name
         Asking your opinion
         Complimenting your work
         Taking your suggestions

These behaviors convey a lack of interest:

         Ignoring you
         Not knowing your name or not using it
         Not asking your opinion
         Ignoring your suggestions
         Not commenting on your work
         Following your suggestion, but only when heard from someone else

Such signs discourage productivity because they make people feel discouraged, angry, less confident, and stripped of self-esteem.

Skill #3: Create an Encouraging Environment

Most people would agree that an encouraging work environment is one where:

         Your ideas are valued.
         Creativity is encouraged.
         Risks are encouraged.
         Fun and laughter are valued.
         New ideas are rewarded.
         You feel appreciated.
         People thank you for your contributions.
         Flexibility is valued.
         You feel like part of the team.

Creating such an environment results in the following benefits to employees. You:

         Contribute more ideas.
         Feel more committed.
         Look forward to coming to work.
         Are more productive.
         Have increased self-esteem.

Creating such an environment results in the following benefits to managers and business owners:

         Less turnover
         Less sabotage
         Greater loyalty
         Easier to find employees due to good reputation
         Higher productivity

Skill #4: Recognize and Reward Good Performance

A reinforcer is anything that happens, after a behavior, that tends to increase the chances that the behavior will be repeated. Included are such things as:

         Thumbs-up gesture
         Saying “Thank you”
         Public announcement of your achievement
         Positive letter in your personnel file
         Time off
         Special parking space
         First choice on schedule
         Dinner with the boss
         Tickets to an event
         Extra employee discount
         Picture on the bulletin board
         Applause at a meeting

Recognition Guidelines
1.      Describe the results you are recognizing. Be specific. It’s important to make certain the employee knows what behavior or accomplishment you are referring to.
2.      State your personal appreciation. Say, “I appreciate it.” Adding your personal appreciation makes the compliment feel more genuine.
3.      Encourage the person to continue producing such good work. This increases the chances that the person will repeat the desirable behavior.

Suggested Reading

Bob Nelson, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees. New York, NY:Workman Publishing Company, 1994.

Does Your Company Need Family Therapy?

How Companies Are Like Families

Like a family, a company is a group of people who have an ongoing relationship with one another. Companies have several things in common with families:

1.  Families have distinct ways of communicating and degrees of togetherness. For example:
• Communication may be overt or covert.
• Relationships tend to be enmeshed (too close; overly involved) or disengaged (not at all close; uninvolved).
• Boundaries may be described as diffuse (extreme togetherness), rigid (extreme separateness), or clear (ideal and appropriate).

2.  There are unwritten rules which family members or employees must follow in order to survive and thrive in the system. For example, in an organization, the rules might be:
• Never call the boss by her first name.
• Always be at your desk by 8:00 a.m.
• Never eat lunch with a person of lower status.
• Don’t place any personal items on your desk or credenza.

3.  Unresolved issues from the past have an effect on current functioning and communication patterns.
For example: After an emotional event such as a major strike, employees need time to process their feelings. Family therapy following a disruptive event like this would heal such wounds much more quickly.
Four Dynamics That We Bring to Work from Home
We learn to relate to people first in our families of origin. We learn to trust, communicate, listen, cooperate, and share before we reach our tenth birthday. When we join a company, we bring those abilities with us. And every work team in every company becomes a place where family dynamics play themselves out, for better or worse.
Every member of every work team brings the following kinds of dynamics from home:
1.  A preference for independence and autonomy vs. dependence and control
For example: Some people are most comfortable in a closely supervised work situation and prefer to have everything clearly spelled out. Others find such an atmosphere suffocating and seek an environment where they are left to their own devices.

2.  The ability to recognize and respond to appropriate vs. inappropriate boundaries
For example: Some companies expect employees to demonstrate extreme loyalty and openness to those within the company. This atmosphere may feel comfortable to someone from a family with similar boundaries, but inappropriate to another person.

3.  The ability to communicate with others effectively. This includes:
• Stating opinions and expectations overtly vs. covertly
• Demonstrating listening skills
• Asking for clarification when needed
• Speaking assertively
• Showing respect for others
Using effective communication skills requires strong self-esteem. This may be impossible for a person from a family where such communication was never modeled. A person who learned covert, aggressive, disrespectful communication patterns would not be successful in a work group where the preceding, effective behavior is expected.

4.  Demonstrating the ability to trust others
When employees do not trust one another, team functioning is threatened. Empowerment and motivation are maximized when people trust each other.
Signs of Dysfunction
How can you tell if a work group (or a family) is not healthy? Here are some signs of dysfunction:
1.  Attendance: Excessive absenteeism and high turnover correlate to family members responding to dysfunction by becoming emotionally distant and running away.
2.  Sabotage: When employees feel unable to express their feelings and opinions, they sometimes resort to acting them out by violating rules, sabotaging the company, or by displaying other passive-aggressive behaviors.
For example: In a large company, an employee recently shared a confidential, sensitive memo with a friend who worked for a competitor. The memo became front-page headlines.
3.  Substance abuse: Employees feeling excessive stress at work may respond as they would in a family, by abusing substances at work or after hours.
4.  Overachieving: Companies with very high expectations may create employees who routinely produce miracles. This may look admirable to an outsider, but it can produce burnout among the employees. This dynamic resembles the family that looks perfect from the outside, but is in fact severely dysfunctional.
5.  Underachieving: Employees who feel unappreciated or abused may respond by producing substandard results at work, just as such family members do at home.
For example: Most stores today have sales associates who act as if the customer is an interruption. These employees appear to have no interest in the success of the company.
6.  Emotional or physical abuse: In some organizations, employees are routinely subjected to emotional or even physical abuse. These are obviously examples of severe dysfunction, just as they are when they occur in a family.
For example: There have recently been several reports of physical and emotional abuse in the military.
7.  Double bind: Some work teams have an atmosphere in which employees feel “damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
Strategies for Resolving Problems
Following an assessment, the following family therapy interventions may help the employees of a dysfunctional company relate with one another in a healthier and more productive way.
1.  Teach employees the following communication and problem-solving skills:
• How to define problems in a non-blaming way
• How to listen with empathy
• How to make requests assertively
• How to brainstorm solutions

2.  Help employees identify themes and company (family) myths. Explore those that may be discussed and challenged, as well as those that may not.

3.  Triangulation is the process where two people side against a third. Teach employees to manage conflict by teaching them how to avoid triangulation.

4.  Where a work team shows signs of being disengaged, help employees build stronger relationships and communication patterns. Use team-building techniques to accomplish this.

5.  Where the system is enmeshed, help the employees strengthen boundaries and increase autonomy. Team-building exercises can be helpful here, too.

6.  Teach supervisors how to manage employees more effectively through regular supervisory skills training. Just as parents benefit from parenting skills training, supervisors need similar instruction. Supervisory training should address the following skills:
• How to demonstrate effective listening skills
• How to encourage open communication among team members
• How to empower team members by setting effective goals
• How to encourage creativity and initiative
• How to resolve conflict in a healthy and productive manner
The goal of such interventions is to energize employees by teaching them new ways to relate to one another.

Suggested Reading

Bob Nelson, 1001 Ways To Energize Employees. New York, NY:Workman Publishing, 1997.
Fred Piercy, Douglas Sprenkle &Associates, Family Therapy Sourcebook. New York, NY:The Guilford Press, 1986.