Creating a positive work climate

Leaders’ actions are key to staff motivation and productivity

A positive work climate with a sense of belonging enhances employee motivation, collaboration and problem-solving. A negative climate, on the other hand, undermines productivity with increased drama, gossip, non-work activities and even passive-aggressive behavior.

This may seem obvious, but why do so many businesses have suboptimal work environments and reduced employee performance? Having a positive work climate doesn’t happen by accident — it requires an ongoing commitment to ensuring that it is sustained over time.

Ideally, that commitment starts at the top by the leader investing time in people and showing them that he or she cares. Leaders with formal authority should embrace proven strategies of valuing and motivating employees such as regularly scheduled supervision meetings, “catching people doing things right,” verbal praise, handwritten notes of appreciation, openness to accepting feedback from staff and ensuring that new leaders are properly trained.

This isn’t rocket science, but in the midst of busy work days, leaders all too often overlook these fundamental behaviors.

Even if top leaders are not fully embracing this role, middle managers and line staff need to do their part.

How each of us influences others, whether positively or negatively, is critically important to both our personal and work lives. Here are some simple actions every one of us can do on our own to support a healthy work culture:

• Act positive: It’s contagious (as, unfortunately, is negative behavior)

• Encourage others: We all need a kind word sometimes

• Say “thank you”: A little appreciation goes a long way

• Be trustworthy and reliable

• Show respect for others

• Embrace gratitude.

These actions are pretty simple. All that is required is self-awareness, stepping back to understand our own behavior and reflecting on how it impacts others. Changing one’s approach and mindset is not always easy, but a little mindfulness can go a long way.

A more challenging situation is dealing with negative behavior by others. Consider this scenario: “My boss is committed, but can be extremely hard to work with when under stress. Sometimes he even yells at me, and I sometimes leave the office demoralized.”

When someone acts in a disrespectful or unprofessional way, we have choices, for example:

• When you react with anger, it undermines your professionalism and reputation.

• When you internalize anger, it’s bad for your health and the poor behavior may repeat.

• When you gossip, it undermines your reputation, infects others, so poor behavior may repeat.

• When you engage in courageous conversation, it requires you to be vulnerable, but can prevent future problems and also be empowering.

What do we mean by a courageous conversation? Consider this response to the disrespectful boss above: “I know yesterday was a difficult day, but, when you yelled at me, I found it demoralizing, and that makes it hard for me to be 100% productive. I know we both want me working at full capacity, so I am hoping we can have a more respectful relationship going forward.”

Brené Brown, in her book “Dare to Lead,” observes, “We’re scared to have hard conversations because we can’t control the path or outcome.” However, her research shows that “the level of collective courage in an organization is the absolute best predictor of that organization’s ability to be successful in terms of its culture, to develop leaders and to meet its mission.”

One of my coaching clients, who has been gaining confidence in leadership skills, shared the story of an employee giving her this unsolicited feedback: “I never worked with anyone who is so down-to-earth as you, and I really want to come to work. I have always worked before with people that are so uptight.” Now that is a positive work climate!

For further thought: Do people say your office is a great place to work? If not, why not, and what influence could you apply to bring positive change? List three specific actions you can do that could make a difference in your life and work.

We each have an extraordinary opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives. Don’t underestimate your impact!

Douglass P. Teschner, founder of Growing Leadership LLC, Pike, can be reached at

Categories: Workplace Advice