The importance of a positive work environment

One of our previous blogs explored how the UK’s trailing productivity could be the result of low employee engagement. We called for companies to review and refine their employee engagement strategy in light of this, and as an example looked at the four pillars on which our strategy at Computershare is based.  In this blog, I will hone in on one of these pillars, a positive work environment, looking at why it’s important and how it can be created.

At some point in your career it’s likely you’ll have worked in a place with a negative, maybe even “toxic”, atmosphere. If not, chances are you’ll know someone who has. Remember the groans as people filtered in on a Monday morning?  People complaining of being overworked and underappreciated, not knowing where they’re headed, or what their objectives are, with the stress and bad feeling seeping into their home lives and affecting their health. Who would want to work in a place like that?

Instead, imagine coming to work with a huge sense of pride because you know you’re making progress as an individual, as a team and as a company…imagine not only feeling valued but also feeling a strong sense of belonging…and imagine feeling not just happy in your work but also inspired. You have all the resources you need to do your job well, you’re clear what your role is, and how to succeed. The stress-causing factors that can affect your performance have been minimised and you feel great! Isn’t that much better? 

Clearly I’ve just painted a picture of two extremes, but there’s a lot to be gained by taking some simple steps to examine your workplace and make some positive changes.

But before I get into detail on how, it’s worth considering some of the reasons why you should. Firstly, companies with positive work environments have a low turnover of staff. Simple. And maybe even reason enough on its own. But it’s not just about retaining staff; with company websites, social media and review sites offering access to more information about companies than ever before, candidates are doing a lot more research before applying for a role and are taking more aspects into account. In fact, EY’s annual graduate survey found that factors like training and development opportunities, people and culture, and a good work-life balance came ahead of salary. So, the working environment is something employees really care about, with the potential to be a genuine USP helping you attract and retain great people.

That sounds great, so how can I achieve this?

There are many interlinked factors which contribute to a positive work environment, but we believe that there are three elements which are fundamental: communication, colleagues and physical environment.

Regular and open communication

“Communication is the key to success” – if only you had a pound for every time you heard that. Yet, despite all the talk, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD’s) Employee Outlook Surveys have shown that only around half of employees feel fully or fairly well informed about what’s happening in their organisation, with the rest saying they receive limited or very little information. Decisions made by the senior management team can affect an employee’s job security and prospects, so of course employees prefer to be informed. This is top-down communication, but there is also a strong case for what the CIPD terms ‘multi-directional dialogue’ – top down, bottom up, two-way, peer-to-peer, across departments, and so on.

Structures must be put in place within a company to allow, and encourage, employees to have a voice within the organisation, and furthermore to enable employees to communicate easily with each other and share knowledge and ideas. At Computershare, we have a company social network which really helps here. We also have a weekly internal newsletter that keeps everyone up-to-date and an employee forum where employees can discuss company issues. Give some thought to the quality of communication too – there needs to be a tone of openness, trust and respect, which brings us nicely onto the next heading…

Help colleagues to build relationships

Oracle recently surveyed 1,500 employees working in large businesses across Western Europe for its Simply Talent employee engagement study and a whopping 42% of those who participated believe that their peers wield the biggest positive influence on their level of engagement. Only 21% named line managers, 7% specified business unit managers and a mere 3% selected HR. So yes, colleagues are very important.

Obviously employing positive and personable people who can work collaboratively is a good idea, but there are also mechanisms that can be put into place to optimise peer interaction and foster happy and productive relationships. Providing opportunities for people to get to know each other better – both through formal networking events and during informal team nights out and parties, fundraising events or sports events – can help this. Our table tennis league is extremely popular, for example, and has brought different teams from across the business together in a fun way.

So, we’ve talked about the people and their interactions – but we also need to consider the workspace itself.

Create a physical environment to be proud of

There’s growing awareness that physical surroundings affect people’s work performance in various ways. So much so that earlier this year the CIPD collaborated with the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM) on The Workplace Conversation, a joint project looking at the evolution and improvement of workplaces. There’s more work to be done in this area, and it’s great that different professional bodies are working together to find answers. In our view, as part of a positive working environment, the workspace should:

1) allow collaborative and flexible working
2) support employees’ wellbeing
3) be environmentally friendly

The first aspect involves making the most of physical space and available technology to ensure that people can undertake both individual and teamwork easily, and flexibly, at different times and from different locations. The second aspect is about improving the quality of employees’ lives. At Computershare we do this in many ways – from making it simple for staff to get to work with our employee bus service and bike facilities, to making life more convenient for them when they’re here by having a gym, a newsagent, a restaurant and market stalls on the premises. We also make the most of our outdoor space, creating allotments and bee hives that staff can use. Being environmentally friendly is something we’ve found many staff share our commitment to. Simple steps, such as replacing under-desk bins with office recycling bins, have really made a difference for us.

So, what next?

You might be looking at some of our examples and thinking that a positive work environment sounds expensive to implement. Yes, some investment is required but, there are also a lot of changes that make a huge impact without costing a lot of money. The process of creating a positive work environment should be gradual and requires buy-in from all quarters, but even small changes can make a big difference.