Benefits & Work-Life Focus
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Creating a Positive Work Environment Takes More than Fun and Games

By Ann Clark, Ph.D., ACI Enterprises Inc.  |  October 2017

One look at some of the job titles now gaining popularity will make it clear where priorities lie for many companies. Titles such as "Chief Happiness Officer," "VP of People and Culture" and even "Vibe Manager" reflect an increasing focus on employee happiness and creating a positive work environment. These new job titles often go hand in hand with an emphasis on fun, as companies woo employees with ping pong tables, nap pods, surf breaks and bring your pet to work days.

Of course, having fun at work is known to lead to more productive and happier employees. But happiness at work goes much deeper than fun and games. True happiness at work is grounded in job satisfaction, and job satisfaction comes from feeling appreciated, acknowledged, engaged and connected to a shared purpose.

Ultimately, the employer and employee have a relationship, and every strong relationship is rooted in three basic conditions:

  • Trust. Employees need to feel they can count on their employer to be honest, in good times and bad. Appropriate transparency with clear communication about business strategy, operations and goals helps employees participate in the overarching vision. Trust also means employees can count on the organization to deal fairly in areas ranging from pay equity to promotions. Once again, appropriate transparency is key. In addition to ensuring that policies are fair, employers need to communicate effectively and openly about these policies and intended outcomes.
  • Respect. Everyone deserves to work in an environment of respect. Employers must make it clear that harassment, discrimination and bullying will not be tolerated. Plus, they should adhere to such hallmarks of a respectful culture as listening to and following up on employee ideas and suggestions as well as promoting a culture that welcomes and celebrates people of diverse backgrounds and life situations. Through a respectful work environment, employees bring talents and problem-solving skills to tackle tasks at hand, leading to more creativity, collaboration and innovation.
  • Appreciation. Employees should not have to wait for an annual performance review to learn their work is valued. The best workplaces have real-time and formal recognition programs, often allowing for not only supervisor-to-employee recognition but peer-to-peer acknowledgement as well. Even without a formal recognition program, informal demonstrations of appreciation can make a big difference. Positive feedback statements, extending public thanks and small rewards, such as a favorite coffee or lunch outing, can go a long way in fostering a culture of employee appreciation and engagement.

As with any good relationship, trust, respect and appreciation go both ways. Employees who feel trusted are more likely to trust employers and support leadership's decisions and directions. Additionally, employees who feel respected are more likely to help spread a companywide culture of respect. And employees who feel appreciated are more likely to appreciate others' work, which in turn helps to create a culture of shared purpose.

Does having fun at work matter? Absolutely. But if there are serious issues with absenteeism, retention and engagement, employers need to dig deeper than mandatory fun and games. The deep-rooted satisfaction that grows from feeling connected to one's work and to the role it plays in a larger, shared vision is much more lasting. Once a culture of trust, respect and appreciation is established, all of the above-and-beyond perks and fun workplace initiatives will have an even stronger impact on building a workforce of committed, engaged and happy employees.

About the Author

Ann Clark, Ph.D., is CEO of San Diego-based ACI Specialty Benefits.


Read the October edition of Benefits & Work-Life Focus.

Contents © 2017 WorldatWork. No part of this article may be reproduced, excerpted or redistributed in any form without express written permission from WorldatWork.

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