How to Establish and Maintain a Culture of Positivity

Positive company culture can result in a 24-64% drop in employee turnover, boosting morale and productivity, and helping improve your recruitment efforts. A recent study by the University of Warwick shows that not only does happiness boost productivity by 12% increase, but that unhappiness can lead to an equally significant 10% drop in productivity. A positive culture means happier employees, and happier employees get things done. However, it takes work to foster such an environment. Your culture deck and mission statement alone aren’t enough – it takes a keen understanding of what impacts mood and morale, and an investment of time from leadership to build a true culture of positivity.

We’ve discussed culture at length: how to identify and cultivate your values as an organization, how to build a culture deck, and how to encourage ongoing feedback from and to employees. However, at the heart of any thriving culture is a can-do attitude – a general sense of excitement and anticipation to go to work and accomplish shared goals. Let’s look at some of the most effective ways to build a positivity-driven culture and what it ultimately looks like.

Have an Open Conversation with Employees

Whether you have a detailed culture deck or a simple mission statement and little else, use what you have as a baseline. There is no “ideal” culture to which every company should aspire. There is only what is right for your organization, and it’s a lot easier to build on what you are already doing rather than to start from scratch.

Ask your employees what they like about your culture, what they don’t like and what aspects they feel are positive or negative in the context of how the business currently operates. Specifically, incorporate requests for feedback into your performance review cycle – asking questions during regular one-on-one meetings. You can also run a recurring survey every quarter or every six months that ask for employee feedback on key elements of your culture, and what changes would have the biggest impact on morale. Your employees are the ones who are living and breathing your culture every day. It’s important that you start by listening to what they think is (or is not) working.

Employees who trust their managers and know that their best interests are paramount are generally happier and perform at a higher level. Encouraging people to share their concerns and talk openly puts them at ease and helps them feel safe rather than fearful. People collaborate better, communicate more openly, and are happier when they know they are valued and taken care of. Constant fear or pervasive uncertainty have the opposite effect.

Be a Role Model for Positivity

Positivity starts at the top, but it can be difficult. Waking up every day to face the challenges of running a growing company can be taxing. Long hours, cash flow concerns and personnel interventions that all leaders deal with can dampen even the most optimistic mood. No one wants to force a smile when they’re juggling performance reviews and fundraising. For a positive culture to take hold, it needs to be authentic. Leaders who work long hours and risk burnout, or refuse to ask for help will fail as role models for positivity because they will be too tired to set an example without “faking it”.

However, for a positive atmosphere to impact every level of a company, it must start at the top. A study in Science Direct showed that employees had a direct, physiological response when remembering a boss who had been unkind to them. Empathetic bosses, in turn, had a lasting positive impact.

Too often at the executive level, the focus is on performance and metrics. Factors that can influence management’s morale and positivity suffer because they are under a lot of stress to hit their targets, squeezing another few hours in the office. For a positive culture to work, leadership needs to be optimistic, smile more often, stay positive in the face of uncertainty, and keep an overall upbeat attitude. But doing so authentically will be difficult at times. By focusing on work-life balance, the importance of intangibles like emotional intelligence, and the impact of frequent, positive communication, companies can support their managers and help them bring a more positive attitude to the workplace.

Help Build Stronger Relationships

A positive culture is a vibrant one. Employees are excited to see each other in the morning, go out for drinks after work, eat lunch together, and share stories from their weekends. A weak culture is often the opposite. Work is just that…work. Employees show up at 9 and leave at 5, eager to get home. They are isolated, alone, and disinterested in sharing. Disengagement in the workplace not only creates a higher level of stress which has been linked to increased healthcare costs, but a recent study by the Queens School of Business and Gallup show that disengaged workers are responsible for 60% more errors, 37% higher absenteeism, and 49% more accidents on the job. This, in turn, leads to lower productivity, reduced job growth, and lower profitability.

This doesn’t end at the office door. Smartphones and always-online technology are increasingly blurring the lines between work and life. If work culture is weak and predominantly negative, employees are more likely than ever to start looking for alternatives. Workplace stress has been linked to a 50% increase in voluntary turnover, which can have meaningful repercussions for your bottom line. To encourage loyalty, it’s more important than ever that people can find a welcoming, positive environment at work.

People with good rapport are more likely to give one another the benefit of the doubt in challenging work situations. Short deadlines and periods of increased stress will happen – how your employees get along will have a direct influence on their output and emotional wellbeing during these periods. At the same time, they are more likely to speak up when there is a problem, helping management to address issues that could negatively influence culture immediately. The alternative is much worse. Employees who talk about one another behind their backs, stew in frustration and resentment, and who are afraid to bring their concerns to management feed a culture of negativity.

You can’t force employees to be friends, but you can foster stronger social connections and relationships with the right blend of culture-oriented activities and social get-togethers. Lunch and learn meetings, weekly happy hours, intra-office competitions, sports pools, and team building days can all be highly effective in encouraging stronger relationships. Go a step further and recognize the big days that matter. Your company’s anniversary, landing a significant new account, someone’s birthday – whatever the cause, encourage and facilitate social interactions that go beyond just “getting things done.”

The Long-Term Benefits of a Positive Company Culture

Positive company culture creates a more enjoyable place to work. In an age of high mobility in young workers, constant connectivity that makes employees available 24/7, and the need for companies to stay nimble to remain competitive, culture is a lynchpin. It can attract higher quality candidates, help you keep your best employees for longer, and boost productivity. Happy employees who are generally positive at work are more likely to jump into new challenges and encourage each other during hard times. Positivity can have a significant impact on almost every part of your company. Companies that invest in continuous cultural improvements benefit immensely because of it.

That’s why we’ve partnered with Sapling and Deputy for a special webinar presentation on May 30 at 10 am PDT to discuss what it takes to drive sustainable behavioral change and build a positive company culture. Register now for the live panel presentation, featuring Torch Coach, Michael Seelman and Head of People Ops from A Thinking Ape, Natania Mathay, and from House Canary, Alice Tang.

Register for the Webinar

Author Cameron Yarbrough

Cameron is the Co-founder and CEO of Torch Leadership Labs. In this capacity, Cameron heads up business development, sales, and marketing, and defines Torch’s strategic vision. He brings 15 years of entrepreneurial experience to his role as CEO, along with a deep background in mindfulness and psychotherapy.

More posts by Cameron Yarbrough

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