Your Role in Cultivating a Positive Workplace Culture

one woman helping another up a step

Whether you’re in an entry-level position or sitting in the C-suite, your attitude about your job, co-workers, the organization and everything in between has a direct impact on the company’s culture. Think about it, employees can be swimming in the best perks and benefits, making above average pay and have unlimited time off, but if everyone shows up with negative attitudes day after day, that’s not going to be a very fun office to work in. 

Negativity has a way of quickly spreading, and it only takes a few grumpy employees for a culture to start to sour. However, you have the power to stop the spread and the ability to empower the people around you to do the same.

Some of the major elements of positive company culture are a sense of community, equity, communication, employee attitudes, trust and respect, and support. The foundation for each element is laid out by leadership, but the rest is up to the employees. It’s up to each person to help create and cultivate their company’s culture, and with a little extra awareness, there is a much higher chance that culture will be positive

Elements of positive company culture

Sense of community

One thing most employees want is to feel a sense of community between them and the rest of the organization, from their fellow employees to leadership. In this situation, the organization’s role is to encourage employees to socialize with each other at work and provide opportunities for staff to get to know each other better and develop friendships. 

It’s up to the individual employees to follow through in developing and growing relationships with their coworkers when given the opportunity.

Here are some things you can do to help this effort:

  • Attend office social events like celebrating a coworker's birthday or baby shower
  • Join an event outside of work hours now and then (if you’re able to)
  • Start conversations with your coworkers; the awkward small talk will grow into real discussions
  • Make yourself approachable by keeping your office door open, offering your help and simply being friendly to those you come across
  • Eat lunch in the community break room now and then to get to know your coworkers

Equity

Have you ever worked for an organization where things were really off balance? Maybe only certain departments or job levels got to work from home or the same person was always picked for special projects, or it seemed to be exceptionally easier to get a promotion for a certain group of people than everyone else.

 A lot of this, once again, has to do with leadership and you only have so much control over it. Still, there are small things you can do to try to level the playing field for those around you:

  • Suggest a teammate takes the lead on a project instead of volunteering for it yourself
  • Be mindful of how often you’re requesting special benefits compared to the rest of your team (example: working from home)
  • Lead diversity and inclusion initiatives
  • If you’re a manager, check in with your direct reports to find out how they’re feeling, and make changes where necessary
  • Form or join an Employee Resource Group (ERG)

Communication

Typically, in terms of workplace culture, communication is associated with sharing information from the top down. However, it also has to do with day-to-day communication among employees and teams. For instance, it’s great to have some humor in the workplace, but it’s never okay to tell offensive jokes, or it’s one thing to mistakenly assume someone’s pronoun and have to apologize, but it’s quite another to do it repeatedly without any attempt to change your language. 

With communication, your role has two parts: being mindful of your own communication and serving as an ally to your coworkers.

  • If you hear someone say something offensive, correct them; if you don’t feel comfortable correcting them because of their rank, report them
  • Check-in on a coworker to make sure they’re okay and to offer your support if a situation has occurred
  • Speak mindfully, doing your best to use inclusive language; if you slip-up, genuinely apologize and promise to do better 
  • Walk away or speak up when you hear someone telling inappropriate jokes, whether it’s their context or timing

Attitude

The overall attitude and vibe of a workplace’s culture starts with leadership but is much more the responsibility of the employees. Sure, everyone has an off-day when they’re in a bad mood or a client or project gets them all worked up, but if you’re coming to work every day and filling the office with negativity, you’re actively creating or contributing to a negative workplace culture. 

Your language, demeanor, engagement, and overall outlook play an important role in the overall attitude of the company.

Below are some things negative employees might be guilty of:

🚫 Talking trash about the company or a coworker, often frequently and with anyone who will listen and agree with them

🚫 Complaining about their job on a regular basis; never offering alternative ideas to help improve their situation

🚫 Disengaging from their work, personal and/or team goals, and acting generally uninterested

Trust and respect

Two important aspects of positive workplace culture are whether or not employees trust leadership and each other and if they feel respected. This element is weighted more towards leadership, but it applies to peers as well. You want to feel assured your coworker is going to do their part of the project you’re working on and that they’ll respect you enough to take it seriously. 

Everyone has to earn trust and respect in all aspects of life, but it’s especially important at work because if you prove to be unreliable or difficult to work with, it can fracture your team culture (and potentially spread further).

Here are some ways you can show and earn trust and respect:

  • Show up to work on time and prepared for the day; if you know you’re going to be late, tell the people who need to know as soon as possible
  • Do your part, whether it’s in your own individual work or your portion of a collaborative project
  • Respect others’ time when it comes to scheduling and rescheduling important meetings
  • When faced with an ethical or moral dilemma, do the right thing
  • Trust your co-workers to do their part without micromanaging them
  • Respect boundaries and don’t expect anyone to respond to your late-night emails or work outside of office hours

Support

We all need support now and then, whether it’s personal or professional. Since those two areas of life often blur together, it’s important that co-workers offer each other help, compassion, and grace when they need it. Agreeing to take on a little extra work so your teammate can take a much-needed week off for their mental health inconveniences you for five days, but is something they will remember for the rest of the time they work with you.

A positive workplace is where people feel safe

A positive workplace culture is one where people feel safe, celebrated and cared for, where they don’t have to hide the fact that they’re human in order to thrive professionally. Your actions play a significant role in this element.

  • Celebrate coworkers’ accomplishments and achievements
  • Offer to step in and pick up some of their workload when they’re going on vacation, taking leave, or need time off to take care of their kid who’s home with the flu
  • Follow up with your peers after they presented at a big meeting or check-in on them when they’ve taken on a difficult new project
  • Encourage your teammates as they work toward goals
  • Offer grace when someone has dropped the ball on something or made a big mistake
  • Let coworkers know you’re available to help when your workload is lighter than usual

We all have the power to make a difference

When you work somewhere with a negative workplace culture, it can sometimes feel like it’s out of your control. Likewise, it’s easy to take a positive workplace culture for granted without really being aware of your role in maintaining it. Each individual employee has the power to positively influence their workplace culture and to empower their co-workers to do the same. Put in the effort; you may be amazed by how quickly a poor culture can be taken over by positivity. 


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