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How to create a positive work environment

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create positive environment

What makes a company great?

“Being a great place to work is the difference between being a good company and a great company.”

Says Brian Kristofek, the CEO of Upshot Agency.

Let us consider the company Hilton.

In 2016, it was named one of the World’s 25 Best Multinational Workplaces. Recently, and for the first time ever, it was named the No. 1 World’s Best Workplace by Fortune Magazine and Great Place to Work.

What makes its workplace so great? And how is it different from other workplaces?

Because for Hilton:

Happy employees = Happy customers

It not only believes in this simple motto – but also operates on it.

Secondly, it created an environment where employees don’t just survive – but thrive in it.

The company invests in its staff and their careers. They offer Hilton University, which helps employees progress forward in their careers by helping them learn and manage new skills. All the staff members are provided with basic amenities, like nice decor, food, and free Wi-Fi. Apart from this, Hilton also hosts a reward program called ‘Go Hilton,’ offering employees and their families travel discounts.

Perks like these are small, but they make an enormous difference. Hilton might appear like any other company with benefits. But it takes a different approach, focusing on creating a meaningful and holistic employee experience.  For the company, it’s all about investing in their employees, keeping them happy, acknowledging them, and providing them with what they want and need. Ultimately, it comes down to employee experience and creating a positive work environment is only the first step.

Unfortunately, most employers get ‘positive work environment’ wrong. Let us explore what it actually means before diving into why some companies fail to create such a work environment.

Positive vs healthy work environment. Is there a difference?

When we say, ‘positive work environment,’ we refer to a workplace that promotes employee well-being, productivity, and growth.

An NYU social psychology professor, Tessa West, warned that most companies have pushed their culture so far towards positivity that they’ve become toxic in a new way.

She says, “…But what ends up happening is, we’ve somehow pitted niceness against clear communication and confrontation, even when it’s necessary.”

Imagine a company that promotes positivity so much that every idea and team member is praised with the same pleasant but empty phrases – that’s a sign that the work environment is starting to erode performance and safety. This is toxic too.

There will be issues of workload, stress, or conflicts, but by building a healthy environment first – one where communication, honesty, and psychological safety are prioritized, the organization will foster a positive environment, one where employees feel valued, supported, and empowered.

Hence, a healthy work environment is the step to creating a positive one.

Common challenges to creating a positive work environment

Let us consider Chris.

Chris works with a very toxic manager.

For instance, his manager publicly shames his subordinates if he thinks they are not working hard enough. Sometimes, the manager takes out his frustrations on his team when he is having a difficult day. Moreover, he doesn’t allow time off. Chris had to inform weeks in advance for a single day off, but it was still cancelled. Unfortunately, Chris cannot change teams and is considering leaving his job in a few months.

Should Chris stay?

Sad to say, but Chris may have to leave his job. His company might still be a good place to stay, but not a great place to work for Chris.

The issues with his company are:

1. Lack of competent management

A competent manager is someone who knows how to motivate their employees to perform at the desired level. As we see in Chris’ case, the negative impact of the manager was far-reaching. It was detrimental to the company’s success and its employees’ well-being.

Companies should address such managers and focus on these 8 core competencies of management as recognized by Mac Mclntire:

  1. Identifying the performance desired
  2. Communicating the expectations
  3. Hiring or training
  4. Providing information, tools, resources, and incentives
  5. Measuring and monitoring performance
  6. Providing feedback
  7. Recognizing and rewarding
  8. Coaching, counseling, and disciplining
  9. Providing developmental and career opportunities

2. Leadership participation

Creating a positive work environment is a continuous process, so leaders should create opportunities for employees to connect and build relationships. In fact, leaders are the key to building a healthy work environment. An article from Forbes reveals three things a leader can do:

  1. Fair compensation
  2. Culture of open communication
  3. Authentic workplace relationships

3. Maintaining employee engagement

The biggest illusion when it comes to employee engagement is that it lasts forever. Employees might be engaged when they are starting a new project, but after two to three weeks, the bubble puffs. Suddenly, they feel disengaged and tired – unsure if taking the new project was a good idea.

In the example above, Chris may have been a highly engaged employee in a previous team. However, with the deteriorating work environment, his level of engagement dropped as well.

4. No vision for employees to uphold

We are inherently drawn to meaning – to something bigger than ourselves. We crave to be connected to a vision, to a larger idea. It’s this vision that unites employees to pursue a common goal. Absence of a clear vision leads to indecision at the executive level, lack of direction among middle managers, and mistakes on the front lines.

5. Boring workspace

Imagine a workspace with an open floor plan, touch screens on the walls, nice decor, etc. This typically gives vibes of innovation, collaboration, and engagement. Such spaces create new energy inside a work environment. Some ideas to transform your workspace:

  1. Allow more natural light and greenery
  2. Use a diverse set of colors
  3. Design aesthetics with technology
  4. Configurable offices

6. Lack of team-building activities

Team-building activities are a great way to learn new skills and develop team morale or work relationships. It enhances workplace culture and reduces tensions that adversely affect the work environment.

Now that we know what doesn’t make a positive work environment, let’s understand how to make one.

Dimensions of a positive work environment: The Hilton way

Continuing the discussion on  Hilton, let’s examine the different dimensions of its work environment.

Firstly, its workspace is a critical factor in keeping its employees satisfied.

How does it do it?

This research on Hilton’s Hotels in Egypt collected data on back-of-the-house departments, like kitchen, stewarding, engineering, housekeeping, and laundry offices. Typically, such departments are given less care when compared to front house departments.

The research involved collecting information through a survey – measuring the workers’ satisfaction and productivity in the physical environment. The survey was distributed among twelve Hilton hotels, with five of them being main tourist areas.

Its findings?

1. Physical environment

Analyzing the responses regarding the physical work environment components, the researchers found that most Hilton hotels follow the same standard and give a big attention to physical workspace. Most of the employees agreed that some specific factors contributed to their job performance and productivity. The factors are:

  • Lighting
  • Sound
  • Color
  • Temperature
  • Workspace design and layout
  • Equipment and tools

Also, there was no injury represented (around 2% injury), showing that the Hotels follow strong industrial safety procedures.

Hence, the research concluded that there is a positive relationship between physical work environment and employee performance, productivity, and satisfaction.

Coming to next dimension:

2. Technical environment

In an interview, Peter Ignaszak, the General Manager of the Hilton Garden Inn Krakow Airport, explained how technology is used in various departments. For instance, in the kitchen, tech solutions monitor food waste while improving recycling processes. In food preparation, Thermomix (a blender that also cooks and stirs) aids in shortening cooking times. Moreover, the queues at the reception desk are also reduced by implementing self-service kiosks for guests to make purchases.

In Hilton, technology plays a vital role in collaboration and communication. For example, the staff uses internal social media platforms to quickly share company updates and recognize employees’ efforts. The company has, thus, fostered a sense of community within the organization.

3. Workplace relationships

Hilton is not behind when it comes to fostering workplace relationships. For instance, it implemented two initiatives called:

  • Catch me at my best, , where coworkers spot, acknowledge, and appreciate exceptional efforts of each other.
  • Spirit of CARE, where employees were encouraged to care for each other. Hilton awards those who continually exceed the expectations of both customers and fellow peers.

Covid was also one of the toughest times for Hilton, as they were forced to take unfortunate decisions. When it announced job cuts, Hilton promised that it would care for its workforce – and it did.

The company partnered with Albertsons, Amazon, CVS, Lidl, Wegmans, and Walgreens to provide temporary employment to its displaced employees. Ultimately, Hilton had placed thousands of team members around the world.

Kay Harriman, the Senior Director HR at Hilton said, “Hilton’s biggest resource is its team members. We are a people business. We have to invest in our people and be able to put insights and rigor behind some of the decisions. As an HR professional, you are there to make sure everybody has a great time at work.”

And this is what Hilton has done for its people – creating a great place to work and making sure its people are having a great time too.

4. Culture

Culture is the most important dimension when it comes to creating a positive work environment. Patrick Whitesell, the CO-CEO of WME said:

“You can have all the right strategy in the world; if you don’t have the right culture, you’re dead.”

Why is culture so important?

Simon Sinek explained this well, “Corporate culture matters. How management chooses to treat its people impacts everything for better or for worse.”

Corporate culture is often referred to as the glue that holds a company together, and this is true for Hilton.

Hilton follows various cultural practices – starting from putting their mission and vision statements at the center of every operation and decision to promoting leader involvement in communities, where they spread hospitality all around.

Its hospitality and care extend beyond just their guests and includes team members alike.

It implements various activities like improved wellness and nutrition, renovations, and much more to show that each team member is valued and appreciated.

Culture is one of the dimensions of a positive work environment, but it takes up a large part of it.

Why culture matters  when building a great place to work

Let us consider Chris again.

If he had known about the toxic management, would he have joined the company? Probably not.

What made him join, then?

Most likely, Chris saw the company’s characteristics, like location, benefits, or perks and decided it would be a great place for him to work.

This is exactly what the Culture Iceberg Model is all about. It was developed by Edward T Hall in 1976, where he explains the concept of culture using an iceberg.

cultural iceberg model

As you may have noticed in Chris’ case, there are two realities of his company’s culture. The first one is what made him attracted to the company i.e., the visible characteristics, or the surface part of the iceberg. The deeper components of the culture, like attitudes, values, and biases made him leave the organization. They are the submerged part of the iceberg, hidden below the water line.

These deeper culture components have the power to make or break the organization.

How do you use this to improve your work environment?

Start by analyzing your culture, both surface and below-surface components. If there is a large gap between how the company says it gets things done and how it really gets things done,

there will be unplanned attrition, toxic work environment, and deteriorating culture. Organizations should make sure that both parts of the iceberg are in sync.

This also means that Chris’ company had a big gap between the surface and deeper level of iceberg, which ultimately forced him to look for other employment opportunities.

You can also use the Iceberg Culture Model to improve workplace dynamics. For example, if your company primarily has surface aspects, there are problems of paper bureaucracies, a policy for everything, and parent-child management. If the lower half dominates the upper half, the organization is trying to succeed solely on teamwork and entrepreneurial spirit. This means there is an absence of policies, processes, and structures. Both extremes are harmful to an organization.

Considering that a company’s both halves of an iceberg are not in sync, you may ask:

Actionable steps to a positive work environment

Organizations have unique needs and challenges. A single process is not suitable for every company.

In this case, you can use the design thinking process.

Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO defined it:

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

It is a problem-solving methodology used to approach complex problems and find innovative solutions. It is most useful to tackle unknown or yet-to-define problems.

creating positive work environment

1. Empathize

This step aims to understand the employee’s needs and pain points through research.

One way Chris’ company could have reduced attrition is by conducting surveys and interviews on employee engagement and the work environment. It would have allowed the company to gain insights into certain roadblocks.

2. Define

In this stage, you analyze the information and observations gathered to define the problem statements. You can create personas to ensure your efforts are human centered.

For example, this is the problem statement Chris’ company came up with:

“Due to the lack of ineffective management practices and inconsistent time-off policies, employees are experiencing decreased morale, leading to higher turnover.”

3. Ideate

Brainstorm ways to solve the problem statement. The goal here is to devise new and innovative ideas that solve the problems identified in the above stage. Make sure to avoid assumptions, focusing on facts and insights found. Tip: Keep employees at the forefront of your mind during ideation sessions.

These are some ideas Chris’ company came up with:

  • Leadership training
  • Employee recognition
  • Review time-off policies, offer generous paid time-off options
  • Wellbeing initiatives

4. Prototype

Now, it’s time to identify the best possible solution for each problem. This step is all about experimenting with different ideas to find out which ones work, and which don’t. In this stage, it’s important to gather feedback while experimenting before implementing a solution.

From the above ideas, considering that Chris’ company decided to implement a leadership training program, it would be experimenting with a small group while collecting feedback and making improvements.

5. Test

Finally, the prototype is put in front of the entire organization. You will be gathering feedback as the entire organization interacts with the prototype. This stage quickly highlights any flaws that need to be addressed. Sometimes, you may need to revisit the first stage or run through a few more ideation sessions to create a winning prototype.

But then, if the prototype did work:

How do you know you have created a great place to work?

Employees trust you.

Imagine Hilton. While other companies witnessed a drop in morale after layoffs, Hilton’s employees only bonded stronger.

Chris Nassetta, President and CEO of Hilton, said “The [employee survey] data suggests that it bonded the remaining team. We have a group of people who are more excited, inspired by and proud of the company and what we are doing. Even in the crisis, this has brought them closer together and more trusting of the company and their leaders.”

Without a question, Hilton suffered under COVID-19, but it didn’t stop the company from taking value-based decisions or caring for its employees.

Now, how do we know its employees truly trusted them? These 5 dimensions of The Trust Model by The Great Place to Work help us analyze it:

trust model of work environment

1. Credibility

Employees think that the management is credible. To assess credibility, evaluate what employees think about:

  • Communication processes
  • Integrity
  • Competence
  • Transparency For example, 70% of employees believe that Hilton has a positive business outlook.

2. Fairness

Employees believe that the organizational practices are fair. To assess fairness, evaluate:

  • How employees of all ranks are treated
  • How workplace rules and policies promote equity
  • Promotion procedures
  • Paychecks According to a survey by The Great Place to Work, 96% of employees believe that they are treated fairly regardless of their position.

3. Respect

Employees feel respected by the management. To assess fairness, evaluate:

  • If every person feels heard
  • If people are trusted with information within an organization
  • If employees are recognized
  • If people feel their time and work is valued

Hilton promotes respect in its workplace by recognizing contribution, prioritizing autonomy over guidelines, and focusing on individual needs.

4. Camaraderie

Employees believe they are a part of a community. To assess camaraderie, evaluate:

  • Receptivity to new ideas
  • Opportunities for collaboration
  • Level of trust between coworkers

For instance, Hilton uses technology to promote internal communications and collaboration. As discussed above, it implemented initiatives like Spirit of CARE and Catch Me at My Best.

5. Pride

Employees strongly believe that their work has a positive impact on the company. To assess pride, evaluate if employees are:

  • Inspired to achieve more
  • Proud to work with the people around them
  • Proud of the company’s mission and vision

According to the same survey, 97% of employees at Hilton are proud to tell others that they work for the company.

These five dimensions also act as a lens to the level of employee experience and satisfaction.

Stepping back…

How could the company have retained Chris?

The best way would have been to assess how engaged Chris was in his work. Was he motivated to achieve more? Was he proud of working with his team? What did he think of the company’s mission? Did he feel like he was a part of it?

Gaining insights into an employee’s engagement reveals the kind of environment they are working in.

What are the factors that caused disengagement in Chris? How could the company have spotted this sooner to tackle it?

Read more about this here.

Table of Contents

    Meet the author

    Nikitha Joyce

    Content Writer

    Nikitha Joyce is a content writer at Keka Technologies. She loves exploring HR topics and turning them into thrilling tales. Nikitha is a dark fiction enthusiast who is a fan of anime, books, and horror tales.

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