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Healthy Workplace Culture: All the Buzz, but What Works?

leadership's role Jul 24, 2019

Healthy workplace culture doesn’t just mean casual Fridays. A positive workplace culture is created when people know that their colleagues and supervisors respect them and that their work is appreciated. But how do companies demonstrate respect and appreciation? Leadership must walk the walk and talk the talk by showing employees that they respect them through taking time to check-in regularly about their physical and emotional wellbeing. When companies promote respect of ideas and people through offering opportunities for honest, open dialogue, issues that derail positive culture like harassment and discrimination will organically diminish. Here are four specific areas[1] that leadership should focus on to ensure creating a healthy workplace environment starts at the top:

1. Values: Many organizations have some form of mission or values statement that reflects their core values. Yet how many leaders can articulate the specific behaviors that are expected of employees to carry out those values? When supervisors and staff are able to understand in tangible terms how they can embody organizational values of respect and inclusion, positive workplace culture thrives. Leadership training can offer values assessments and the opportunity for supervisors to brainstorm ways to demonstrate their core shared values in their daily interactions with staff.

2. Authenticity: Staff have to believe leadership when they say that they care. Supervisors must regularly practice interpersonal skills such as listening and responding with empathy so that when staff express concerns around harassment or incivility to them, they respond in a compassionate manner and staff know that they mean what they say.

3. Awareness: Knowing that harassment and discrimination exists isn’t enough. Companies need to take an honest look at what’s really going on in their workplace by asking staff. Information can be gathered informally through one-on-one meetings or more formally through climate surveys. Only then will organizations gain a true picture of how healthy, or unhealthy, their workplace culture really is. Leadership should look at workplace wellness data collection like an annual physical at the doctor’s office. Your company doesn’t want to be like the person who hasn’t gone to the doctor in years because they are too scared of the lab results.

4. Accountability: Supervisors need to know their duty to respond to any form of harmful behavior in the workplace that they are made aware of, not just official reports of harassment. When leadership steps in to address negative workplace behaviors such as minor derogatory comments, the fact that they mean what they say about embodying respect will be evident.

While the new California Law that requires organizations of five or more to provide sexual harassment prevention training to all staff is a step in the right direction, how organizations choose to deliver this training will say a lot. Though some companies will choose to go the traditional online training route, companies who are serious about building and maintaining a healthy workplace culture will offer in-person sessions that equip staff with the tools necessary to promote respect at all levels. The training focus should not be framed within the negative lens of preventing bad behavior but rather looked at in the positive light of “what are we trying to create”? Hopefully that answer is a workplace where everyone knows that they are respected and valued.


[1] https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/task_force/harassment/report.cfm


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