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6 ways to create a positive work environment

by Michael Feder

At a glance

  • Creating a positive work environment is key to making employees feel that they are part of a larger company and that time and effort they invest will be rewarded.
  • According to Gallup polling from 2019, “only 41% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they know what their company stands for and what makes it different from its competitors.”
  • Recognizing achievement and fostering transparency are some ways employers can help create a positive work environment.
  • A Bachelor of Science in Industrial-Organizational Psychology provides crucial insights into how to foster a positive work environment.

Creating a positive work environment

No matter how good their product, or how critical their service is, businesses need their employees. When talented employees give their time and energy to a project, the returns can be game changing. On the other hand, there’s nothing like losing good talent at a critical time to deflate a new initiative or product launch.

Creating a positive work environment can play a critical role in making employees feel that they are a part of a larger company and that time and effort they invest will be recognized. At best, a positive workplace can help every employee perform at their peak — and lift the entire organization along the way.

Creating such a workplace isn’t always easy. Every company (and every employee) operates differently. There are some lessons to be learned, however.

In this article, we’ll cover those lessons, along with some positive work environment examples and several principles that can help an organization attract and retain the right people.


6 steps to creating a positive workplace

1. Define clear goals

It can be hard for a team to work toward the same goals, especially if they don’t know what those goals are. According to a 2019 Gallup poll, “only 41% of U.S. employees strongly agree that they know what their company stands for and what makes it different from its competitors.”

Defining clear goals is a crucial part of creating a positive workplace because it establishes a basic understanding between an employer and an employee. In many ways, the other tips included in this list depend on this kind of mutual understanding.

Communicating short-term goals and how they fit into long-term goals can help motivate employees and encourage them to find greater meaning in their day-to-day work. This can help build enthusiasm for every task because every task is important to  larger goals.

When defining goals for employees, it’s important to be both clear and realistic. Clarity helps employees know when they cross the finish line and achieve an objective. Being realistic about goals, meanwhile, can help employees get on board: When they recognize that goals aren’t arbitrary and that management takes their abilities and bandwidth into account, they are positioned to achieve.

On the whole, communicating clear goals can help foster a working environment where every employee’s work plays a role in achieving larger company objectives.


2. Practice transparency

Goals aren’t the only thing business leaders should communicate clearly to employees. In a broader sense, creating a positive work environment depends on a culture of trust and communication. Transparency rests at the center of this culture.

In short, transparency is the openness with which management speaks to employees about company objectives, financial status, performance and other areas of challenge.

Another way to look at it? It’s the way each employee understands the company and their place in it.

When businesses lack transparency, it can negatively impact both the workplace and the work employees produce. For example, if management attempts to hide financial difficulties from employees, they run the risk of creating resentment or mistrust should that information trickle down the company ladder.

3. Recognize achievement

You don’t have to be a management expert to know it feels good to have your work recognized. This can materialize in several ways, such as promotions and raises, certificates and awards, and verbal accolades, like a special callout during a meeting or formal ceremony.

Recognizing employee contributions can help boost morale and motivate employees to achieve their next goal. As with clarity about goals, recognition can also help employees see the connection between their work and the larger company.

Having a recognition program in place can help employers recruit and retain employees, as well as create a more positive company culture overall.

At the end of the day, recognizing achievement makes clear to employees that their leadership sees them, values them and will reward them for a job well done.

4. Encourage collaboration

The relationship between employees and management is an important part of creating a positive work culture and environment, but it doesn’t cover everything. How employees interact with each other makes up another major aspect.

In a business, few goals can be accomplished alone. One employee may contribute something important, but the work will likely pass through several others before it is finalized.

When employees work in large teams and work remotely, this process can be extensive. That can translate to streamlined productivity or unhelpful bottlenecks, depending on the ability (and willingness) of employees to collaborate.

At its best, a collaborative workplace is one where everyone understands the role of other employees and their work. Collaboration helps employees feel supported by their peers, and it can clarify the importance of an employee’s work to others.

Business executives can take a leadership role in encouraging collaboration between employees. This might mean arranging open workspaces that foster communication or installing managers who promote teamwork.

Human resources can also spearhead events that get employees interacting on a personal level.

When new projects arise, building upon existing teams that have experience working well together can translate to better results than relying on teams that lack such experience.


5. Respect work-life balance

Especially in remote work environments with flexible scheduling, it can be hard for employees to know when they are “off the clock.” The feeling of always being on can lead to burnout, resulting in decreased morale and productivity.

This isn’t necessarily the result of malicious management intentionally disrespecting employee boundaries. On the whole, it can be difficult to know (especially in remote work environments) what amount of productive time an employer can expect from those they oversee. In all, this breakdown of communication can leave an employer feeling in the dark and an employee feeling stressed.

Defining and respecting the work-life balance of each employee can mitigate this ambiguity and stress, and that can boil down to management philosophy. For example, some employers allow their employees to set their work schedules as long as they hit a certain number of hours every week. Others focus more on the work produced and less on the total time each employee works.

Respecting a work-life balance gives employees and employers a clear idea of what they can expect from each other. Employers can define how much work they can expect out of an employee. Employees can know how much work is expected of them.

In the end, work-life balance helps employees know when they are “on the clock” and when they’re not, which can help them make the most of their time, which creates a more productive and positive workplace — and that’s good for everyone.  

6. Be receptive to feedback

When it comes to creating a positive work environment, managers can faithfully implement every method included on this list, but there’s one more crucial step they have to take along the way: They must solicit and listen to employee feedback to determine what’s working and what’s not.

Reception to feedback exists in both a passive and active sense. In the passive sense, fostering a culture of transparency and collaboration means employees can easily communicate their thoughts to management. When employees feel they can express themselves openly, they’re more likely to bring up potential problems before they grow into thornier ones.

It’s not enough, however, for management to simply be open to feedback. Leadership must be active about soliciting that feedback. That can mean companywide surveys or scheduled, one-on-one meetings. (Or both!)

Ultimately when employees feel that they can communicate their feedback, they can help shape the policies that form their workplace. Seeing their feedback reflected in policies can give them a sense of their stake in the larger organization.


Positive work environment examples

Every business is different, so every positive workplace will look different. That said, the most positive work environments exhibit a few standard signs. Here’s what to look for.

Professional growth opportunities

Staying in the same position and performing the same work for the same pay may be enough for some employees, but certainly not for all. One of the major reasons employees quit their job is the lack of opportunities to grow in a company.

For many employees, it’s not enough just to be recognized symbolically for their achievements. They want to see their work rewarded with material benefits, particularly in the form of new responsibilities and a higher salary.

When employees can see a path toward advancement, they can look past their short-term goals to work with a larger career in mind, bringing positivity and energy to their work and that of others. 

Relaxed atmosphere

In the world of business, there are deadlines. That doesn’t mean, however, that the general work atmosphere has to be riddled with anxiety. One sign of a positive workplace is an organization that’s productive while maintaining a relaxed ambience.  

Stress can enter the picture when there are miscommunication and ambiguity in an organization. Ambiguity can result in team members working unevenly, requiring some to stress themselves out trying to catch up.

A positive work environment isn’t one where employees feel stressed, alone or discouraged. When everyone knows their role and their place within the broader mission, they can do their work without stress or anxiety. The result can be steady, companywide progress in a relaxed work environment.

Supportive co-workers

Teamwork is fundamental to an organization’s success. From the top executive down to the newest intern, everyone has a role.

In a negative work environment, employees contribute unevenly and compete with one another. That’s not the best thing for an organization looking to make the best of every employee’s unique skills.

In a positive work environment, everyone’s contribution to that success is mutually understood and recognized. Seeing employees support each other can indicate that work is distributed fairly and that no one is extraneous to the larger mission.

Compassionate leadership

Ultimately, the methods mentioned in this article are best implemented from the top down. It may be difficult for employees to contribute to a positive work environment if they don’t see their leaders doing the same.

Compassionate leadership listens to employees when concerns are raised or when things go awry. People make mistakes. Employees can be inspired by leaders who recognize mistakes for what they are and provide a road map to avoid errors in the future.

The compassion and understanding that emanate from good leadership can be strong indicators of a positive work environment, as they encourage communication and transparency.

A positive work environment works to everyone’s advantage. It encourages employees to bring their A-game and to collaborate. When employees want to give their all to the company mission, the results can be transformative.


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