Most of us spend about a quarter of our lives at work, and it would be safe to say that we hope for something more from that precious time than just a paycheck. Finding a happy and healthy place to work is increasingly important for job seekers, to the extent that 88% of them consider culture an important factor when applying for a position at a company. This is especially true of millennials and younger job seekers, who are often willing to prioritize a positive work culture over salary.
From an employer or management perspective, investing in a happy culture reaps benefits even beyond a better work-life balance and sense of purpose for employees. It also boosts productivity and, therefore, the company's bottom-line profitability. What's more, by elevating employee motivation, health, and happiness, leaders can expect cost reductions through lower levels of absenteeism, job turnover, and workers' compensation. Given the dual factors of increased efficiency and reduced costs, the health of an organization's culture is actually an excellent long-term predictor of the business's ability to grow and thrive.
If you feel that your workplace culture is in need of transformation, follow these eight steps.
1. Be a mentor.
Noted organizational psychologist Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success and Originals, underscores the importance of mentorship in a healthy work culture. Company leaders have a responsibility to act as mentors to employees and to empower those employees to mentor others in turn.
An open-door policy that encourages and welcomes employees to discuss new ideas and make suggestions reduces their fear of being ignored or criticized, thereby fostering the atmosphere of mutual trust that is so vital to an organization's success. Leaders who are active participants in their employees' self-expression, creativity, and self-betterment tend to be rewarded with both loyalty and productivity.
2. Adopt wellness initiatives.
In our digitally driven world, addressing the pitfalls of office work – long stretches of sitting, typing and gazing at screens – is important. We are all human, and a workplace that passionately supports employees' physical well-being can help any team circumvent its human frailties. Whether this takes the form of healthy snacks, lunchtime yoga classes or a fun fitness challenge, employees appreciate being part of an organization that prioritizes their health.
Organization leaders can also reduce absenteeism and increase productivity by being proactive about protecting their teams from preventable physical and mental illness. Providing annual flu vaccinations or having a counselor whom employees can access for help with issues such as financial troubles, stress, or depression are simple ways to safeguard a team's long-term happiness.
Leaders should consider the health of their team when designing or improving the spaces in which employees work as well. An uncomfortable environment – poor lighting, low-quality furniture, outdated equipment – can complicate workers' days with nagging little stressors that could ultimately amount to a big problem. A well-lit, visually pleasing environment decorated with soothing colors and equipped with ergonomically designed equipment (such as adjustable chairs and sit-stand desks) can have a big impact on both satisfaction and performance.
3. Promote radical honesty and inclusion.
Open communication fosters innovation and agility, two key contributors to success that leaders naturally want to see in their teams. It also fosters mutual trust and respect. Nurturing employees' individuality in an environment where they can express their true selves promotes contentment with their work and emboldens them to contribute new ideas. Cooperation among employees from diverse backgrounds and academic disciplines (and of different genders) enriches everyone's experience and improves the team's ability to pivot and adapt when necessary.
The healthiest workplaces strive to create an atmosphere in which everyone in the organization feels equally valued, regardless of their job designation.
4. Be flexible.
One way that companies can give employees more flexibility is to steer clear of narrow job descriptions and fixed offices. Allowing team members to cross-pollinate their skill sets with a shared purpose and common goals makes the most of everyone's strengths and gives projects greater meaning.
Another way to give team members freedom that has become ever more relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic regards flexible work hours and remote work. Moving away from rigid schedules and organizational structures spares employees the sense of drudgery that comes with a mundane, 9-to-5 grind. That sort of prescriptive atmosphere gets workers excited about just one thing – the weekend.
A study by Workplace Trends found not only that many employees (75%) rate flexibility as the top workplace benefit but also that employers see marked improvements when they allow such flexibility. The organizations in the survey that had instituted flex-work programs reported experiencing increased productivity (71%), greater employee retention (65%) and higher employee satisfaction (87%).
An interesting trend that is receiving a lot of attention is the four-day workweek. After Microsoft Japan experimented with closing its offices on Fridays for one month, it reported a 40% increase in productivity. Perpetual Guardian, a New Zealand trust management company, also adopted the idea; subsequently, 78% of its employees reported better work-life balance (a 45% increase), and productivity improved. As a result, it made the schedule change permanent.
5. Cultivate joy.
Injecting fun into the workplace pays dividends for everyone. An organization's investment in joy can be as simple as encouraging its employees to take five-minute breaks from their desks (which reduce muscle fatigue and eyestrain and improve focus) or as complex as building inspiring green spaces on its campuses where employees can take walks.
Team-building activities that fortify relationships among colleagues can also be a source of renewal and satisfaction. Allow employees to suggest fun activities, giving them a sense of ownership over the company's quest for happiness.
6. Reward generously.
At the end of the day, we all want to feel that we and our contributions are valuable, and making employees feel valued is the responsibility of a company's leaders. Businesses should celebrate team members' accomplishments through rewards, incentives, promotions and bonuses.
Another key ingredient to a healthy work culture is a regard for self-improvement and lifelong learning. Initiatives and benefits that support employees' continued edification are the ultimate expression of how deeply an organization appreciates and supports everyone's continued growth.
7. Be supportive.
Perhaps the most meaningful way of all to ensure the long-term happiness and health of your employees is to prepare for the inevitable moments when those employees are anything but happy and healthy. We all experience bumps in the road, and we all dread what could happen if an illness, loss or other unfortunate circumstance renders us unable to fulfill our duties at work.
A leader who shows concern and eases someone's way – who is a sincere, trustworthy supporter rather than another source of pressure – can win an employee's appreciation for life. Model empathy and compassion in the workplace, and encourage similar citizenship behaviors in your colleagues.
8. Put culture first.
The job of creating a positive work culture, in a sense, is never done. It requires regular attention, thoughtful planning and corrective actions. But it might also be the most important task company leaders can undertake. When employees experience true happiness and health at work, success tends to follow.