A work environment should be pleasant and comfortable for everyone, but creating such a setting can be tricky. There are countless pitfalls that will lead to toxic workplaces and atmospheres where employees, for one reason or another, will feel stifled, constrained, and vulnerable.
A positive and uplifting workplace will bring the best out of everyone, keep retention rates high, reduce recruitment costs, and improve employee engagement rates and Employer Net Promoter Score, or eNPS. We’ll look at the myriad of benefits later on so stay tuned.
But, first thing first, let’s try and define what exactly a safe workplace or work environment is.
A psychologically safe work environment is one in which employee feels comfortable, secure, and at ease when it comes to both their physical and emotional safety. A key feature of a safe work environment will be one that prioritizes and shines a spotlight on employees' well-being.
High levels of trust and support, strong communication, encouragement, and compassion are some hallmarks of a good and positive workplace. The opposite of course would be a hostile work environment that is characterized by negativity, distrust, and an underlying level of fear or gloom.
The goal for most employers will be to foster a strong, collaborative and positive place to work. But many workplaces will fall into some middle ground - especially those companies that may be in their infancy - where there is room to improve to ensure that everyone will feel comfortable coming to work.
A hostile work environment can be defined as one where employees do not feel at ease, where there is a culture that lacks communication, and transparency, thus making it difficult to do one's job. Hostile work environments are likely to feature some level of bullying, discrimination, and intimidation.
To help those of you that may be looking to improve the vibe in your office (whether it be a virtual or remote one), we have compiled together some tips on what you can do to raise both positivity and safety levels.
A strong and high-performing workplace should be the perfect place for open discussions. Brainstorming sessions and workshops can be a great opportunity to generate new, exciting, and innovative ideas. When conducting group discussions, you may find that the more extroverted and opinionated team members dominate proceedings.
In order to promote a safe and positive environment for the whole team, develop a system where everyone gets the chance to voice their idea or opinion. It can be a very discouraging experience to arrive at a meeting bursting with ideas, only to be talked over or lack the courage to speak up at the opportune moment. Thankfully technology is on hand to help alleviate these issues.
Try out this discussion template to encourage a fair and open discussion with your team:
One easy and rewarding thing you can do to create a positive working environment is to actively show appreciation for one another and to highlight just how much you value everyone’s contributions. This can be done in an unstructured way, by just encouraging your employees to be thankful to each other. Alternatively, this can be done in a more structured manner during reflection sessions during which your team where everyone can share feedback.
Test out this template with your team:
People feel at ease when they know what to do, how to do it, and who to ask if they have questions. Helping people adapt to your culture and your ways of working will take time but you can help people feel at ease by welcoming them and helping them ease their way in with a structured onboarding process. The same goes for training; it can be very demoralizing to be thrown into the deep end with little to no instruction, so be sure not to let that happen to anyone.
Imposter syndrome is something that many struggle with when they come into a new job or join a new team. There are numerous ways to help those suffering and training and onboarding are a big part of this. Not only can you help people feel more comfortable in their surroundings but you can also highlight the support system they have around the.
If you find that there’s some tension between team members in the group, you should tackle this proactively. Usually, any tensions between members are down to a lack of communication and a potential clash of personalities. To combat this consider holding a workshop or presentation where each member of the team highlights ways they prefer to work, where their strengths are and what are their weaknesses.
This will help your team to get to know each other and understand how to work with each other better. Oftentimes clashing personalities are unaware that their own behavior could be triggering someone for a particular reason. A team that understands one another will have a positive impact on your working environment. A meeting to clear the are on preferred ways of working will help to open the lines of communication and help set boundaries so that everyone feels as comfortable as possible.
A team that celebrates together, stays together. You will discover that most successes you have in your work are not down to one person, but a whole team. Be sure to celebrate wins in the workplace, no matter how big or small. This will not only help people to feel appreciated but also make them understand that they are having an important impact on the organization too!
We have already spoken about offering praise to one another but it is just as important to highlight the strong work done as a collective. Exercise like this will build team spirit and help everyone see how their individual work contributes to the team goals. Get your team to decide on how they would like to celebrate their next win.
If you’re looking for a way to decide on how to celebrate then we have just the thing for you!
Your employees are human, not resources or man-hours. Take some time to do a non-work-related activity together. This can help to rejuvenate the team and also help them to see each other beyond their job title. If your team feels relaxed and comfortable in each other’s presence, this will create a positive and safe working environment.
This need not be a large-scale after-work event or something that requires weeks of planning and plenty of budget. Consider eating lunch together once per week - Just make sure that conversations about work are off-limits!
Take time to reflect on what you and your team have achieved during the week, what went well, what needs improving, and what is coming up next. Try setting aside 15-30 minutes asides towards the end of the week where everyone can look back at how they and the team performed.
This can help identify positives from the week - whether goals and objectives were met, how new processes performed, what blockers there may have been - and even look forward to the next. Not only is this a great way to recap a week’s worth of work but to help summarize how it went, how you can improve as a team, and ease you all into a well-deserved weekend break.
Gather together the opinions of the group and hash things out in a quick session to finish the week on a high note.
As a leader, you must trust your team. Avoid micromanagement, or taking over tasks that others should be responsible for as this will cause your team to harbor negative feelings. Instead, nurture an environment of trust and give your team freedom (with responsibility, of course) and this will spread positivity throughout your employees.
Teams will generally respond more positively when their opinions and decision are trusted and their opinions and expertise valued. This does not mean you need not have plans and processes in place to ensure work is done to a high standard. More so we encourage you to have faith in team members to follow through on plans and deliver the high-quality work they are capable of.
Setting expectations is a vital job of a leader. In this role, you need to highlight what is expected of each and every team member to communicate clearly what this job requires and what you want to see. By creating these commitments together you will avoid team members from feeling that something has been ‘imposed’ on them.
Opening the lines of communication early on will help everyone understand what exactly it is they need to achieve and what exactly is the end they need to hold up in order for the team to be successful.
Anonymity can have a real transformative effect on how safe people feel at work. This can be useful if you need to discuss sensitive topics (something we will touch upon later) or need to ask for very opinions or feedback on something. There are a number of ways of doing this, for example by using an anonymous feedback form.
We mentioned earlier about creating a space for open discussions and this point very much piggybacks off of that. You want open and honest feedback from employees and to eliminate any fear or trepidation they may have over voicing their honest feelings. Nothing should be left unsaid especially if those matters concern sensitive or serious subjects.
To expand upon the last point regarding anonymity and confidentiality, we want to briefly examine the potential benefits of collecting anonymous data.
Most of us don’t enjoy talking about sensitive topics in a business environment. However, sometimes it can be necessary to hold difficult meetings and workshops and the hallmark of a workplace with a safe and positive environment is the ability to navigate these tricky situations.
Perhaps an incident has occurred that needs to be rectified, maybe an employee needs to come to HR with a confidential problem or honest but difficult feedback needs to be submitted. Whatever it is, by having a strong plan in place you can make sure that the sensitive topic is covered thoroughly and respectfully and that those coming to you feel comfortable and confident in doing so.
Naturally, many employees will seek out individuals they trust if they prefer to discuss some issues in a 1-on-1 setting, but the role of team lead or manager requires those in a position of leadership to facilitate and run meetings that can help groups discuss sensitive topics in a larger setting. But how can we ensure these meetings are a success and that everyone who attends feels comfortable and at ease expressing themselves?
The role of the facilitator is important when it comes to workshops and meetings on sensitive topics as such sessions can be emotional, and some sensitive topics can be difficult to talk about. Whilst it is natural to feel some anxiety around holding a session on a sensitive topic, as the facilitator, you will be expected to overcome any nerves and proceed with your meeting in a professional manner.
Remember that your role will be that of a facilitator, and not to dominate the conversation or to drive it in a particular direction. Listening to others and moderating will be the two main skills required here. Ensuring everyone gets a chance to speak their mind and that they have the platform to be heard will be of critical importance.
As with any other type of meeting or workshop, you should set an agenda. This will let the participants know what to expect during the session. By setting a clear agenda you will make sure that the session stays focused and on track. Sending this agenda out in advance will have a number of benefits.
Firstly, no one will be surprised or blindsided by what is discussed in the meeting. The last thing you need is for someone to be caught unawares by the situation or the topic of conversation. Secondly, you will allow people ample time to prepare themselves, get questions ready, gather their thoughts together, and properly formulate their opinions. The more prepared you are, the more prepared the group will be to start and move the discussion forward.
As well as encouraging discussion, you should also create some guidelines for the discussion. The guidelines aim to make sure that all participants conduct themselves professionally and respectfully. As the facilitator, you should also follow these discussion guidelines. No one person should dominate the conversation and no one should feel left out or leave the meeting with things left unsaid.
Whilst clear communication is always important when facilitating a meeting or workshop, you should be even more mindful of it when you are hosting sessions on sensitive topics. A good way to check to make sure that you are communicating clearly to your participants is to use check-in questions during the session, and then end with a Q&A session at the end.
This will give you as the facilitator the opportunity to see if participants understand, and it will give participants the chance to ask you questions. This will help to prevent any miscommunications during the sessions.
To make sure that your participants get more out of the meeting or workshop, ask them reflective questions throughout the session. Of course, it can be difficult to reflect on sensitive topics in a group, but making the reflection anonymous (using tools such as Mentimeter) can allow everyone to reflect without feeling nervous or embarrassed.
So we have discussed what it is you can do to foster this ideal workplace environment, but what exactly are the potential benefits of doing so?
One of the most evident impacts of a safe and positive work environment is when it comes to feedback in the workplace. If an employee is asked to give constructive feedback many will be hesitant for fear of ramifications from superiors or may not want to hurt a colleague's feelings. Creating a safe space for people to give constructive feedback and guiding them in doing so will benefit everyone as they can adjust and improve their ways of working and communicating.
Ask any HR professional or any recruiter and they will tell you just how big an impact a good office culture and a good environment plays in retention rates. People want to work where they feel valued, where they can perform at their best, and where they enjoy spending time. Higher retention rates in turn mean less money spent on recruiting and onboarding, as well as the related costs.
It would be wrong and misleading of me to say that a good and hospitable work culture directly correlates to a successful business. However, it does play an important role. Employees that are given the confidence and space to express themselves and their ideas will more likely buy into company goals and success and strive to do more in order to achieve both individual and team goals. Having a connected and committed group of workers will undoubtedly help the business adopt a strong position going forward.
We have mentioned on a number of occasions in this piece about offering people the chance to speak their minds. The more people do this, and the more it is encouraged, the greater the number of ideas that will be brought to the table. People will also have the confidence to come up with more bold and daring thoughts knowing well that they will be encouraged the be creative.
A hostile and stifling work environment will mean that many will not see the value of offering up new innovative and improved ideas. Brainstorming sessions and workshops will thus become more creative and forward-thinking and help each of the company’s departments from stagnating.
Word gets around, and word certainly gets around about work. Oftentimes the conversation naturally turns to work - we all do it no matter the group we happen to be socializing with. When someone speaks glowingly about their work, their colleagues, and their employer we tend to sit up and take notice. Whether it be word of mouth, Glassdoor reviews, or brand recognition, a good place to work will receive the recognition it deserves and improve its reputation both inside and outside of the office.
We could sit here and wax lyrics about what a happy workforce can do for a company, but that’s for another day and another blog post. To keep it short and simple, a happy workplace will result in happy workers. Happy workers mean better work and better work is better for business. Simple.
The steps listed above aren’t an impossible undertaking by any stretch of the imagination. Each can be implemented thanks to some dedicated time and effort. In saying all of that, there are online tools that can make the process easier and help to facilitate these steps.
With Mentimeter you have the ability to run workshops, brainstormings, meetings, and more in a secure and safe environment. Anonymous voting gives each and every participant a platform to voice their opinions in confidence. This will help improve feedback sessions, team meetings, and any type of ideations that you may run.
Get started today and see how you can improve the safety and positivity level of your workplace.