How to optimize your organization’s work environment
They say that we are all products of our environment. The point may be debatable philosophically but, at work, everyone is only as productive as his or her working environment allows. Your organization’s day-to-day success and ongoing growth depends, at least partly, on being a pleasant place for your employees to perform at their best.
Many management groups tend to assume that their working environments just sort of take care of themselves. But this can be a dangerous assumption. Problems may fester without your knowledge, and you may lose good employees without ever really knowing why. An important part of strong leadership is not only helping employees individually, but also creating a healthy work environment as a whole.
Recognize the physical world
When many of us hear or read the word “environment,” we think of the physical world. Indeed, the air around us and the walls within which we work play a key role in productivity. For example, it’s important to consider the sound of your workplace. Is it too loud — or too quiet?
A noisy environment can disrupt focus and irritate employees. Many organizations today require employees to wear headphones while using the phone or listening to audio. And there’s a growing trend toward designating quiet rooms where someone can work in silence to really concentrate.
Then again, the opposite can also hold true. A workplace that’s too quiet may indicate that employees are disconnected and keeping too much to themselves. This can lead to estrangement that may trigger conflicts or even motivate good workers to depart for competitors. To nurture connectivity, allow employees to have friendly conversations at reasonable volume levels. You might also:
- Conduct team-building exercises,
- Form project-specific groups, and
- Hold regular social events and celebrations.
Beyond sound, there are other senses to consider. In your employee handbook and on signage on the walls, be clear and firm about forbidding strong smelling foods and cleaning up one’s workspace. How your environment looks visually is also worth re-evaluating regularly. Is it time for new décor? A dull, outdated workplace can adversely affect employees’ moods and drive away new talent.
Set the right emotional tone
Whether you realize it or not, every work environment has a certain emotional tone. Many, perhaps most, are reserved, polite and professional. Then again, perhaps you’ve experienced a workplace that’s high-energy and even a bit raucous or, at the other end of the spectrum, particularly serious and solemn.
The objective here is to find the right emotional tone for your organization and its purpose. You may need to work to dial down the intensity of employees’ interactions and attitudes if they’re counterproductive. Or you might have to dial it up a bit if you feel your workers are too impassive and unmotivated.
An employer’s role here is driven by how it communicates. Remember, you set the tone from the top down regarding the look, feel and intensity of your workplace. And many organizations struggle in this area. For instance, a 2014 survey from PR firm Weber Shandwick found that a mere 17% of employees highly rate communications from leadership.
Without clear information, motivation and inspiration from you, a work environment can turn tense and reactive. One way to prevent this — or alleviate it, if necessary — is to promote an “open door” policy with management. Let staff know that there’s never a wrong time to ask questions or raise concerns. Provide employees with regular, face-to-face opportunities to communicate with their respective managers. Also, remind them of other avenues to communicate (such as phone calls, voice mails, emails and instant messaging).
But don’t just leave the door open and hope to hear from staff. Seek feedback proactively. Train managers to take a varied approach to soliciting staff opinions on important matters. Naturally, they should ask for it in meetings. But a manager can also contact an employee via email or even in a random, one-on-one hallway or break room conversation.
Encourage professional development
Let’s put it bluntly: A workplace full of employees going nowhere isn’t likely to be a vibrant, positive work environment. So another thing you can do to brighten and bolster the atmosphere at your organization is to keep everyone moving forward professionally.
This is a particularly important point with Millennials, who are making up more and more of the national workforce. A 2015 survey by consultancy Deloitte found that over 67% of Millennials believe it’s management’s job to provide accelerated professional development opportunities. And these workers tend to tie this issue with whether or not they want to stick with an employer.
The good news, and perhaps a bit of a challenge, is that there’s a multitude of ways to offer strong professional development. You can offer on-the-job training — or formalize your training program if you’ve been taking an ad hoc approach. You could also reimburse employees for completing external continued education and training courses. And, of course, you’ve got to establish clear performance objectives and ways of measuring these goals. The trick is picking the right professional development approaches for your organization’s specific needs, as well as tailoring and executing the right performance evaluation system.
Last, never underestimate the power of the internal promotion. When employees see a co-worker move up the organizational chart, they’re generally inspired and encouraged to do the same. This can translate directly and immediately to a better, happier work environment.
Wield your power
Whether your organization’s work environment seems out of control or perhaps not exuberant enough, you have the power to improve it. Please contact us at Performance Dimensions Group for help refining your performance evaluation system, improving employee engagement and culture, and developing leadership that will oversee a bright and productive workplace.