- Improving your office’s work environment includes giving employees space and privacy to do their work, making the office more comfortable, and improving communication.
- Hosting company events and expressing gratitude builds trust and ignites enthusiasm.
- To help keep productivity and morale high, don’t underpay employees or ask them to work through their breaks.
- This article is for business owners and managers who want to create a better working environment for their employees.
Your work environment impacts your mood, drive, mental health and performance. If employees work in a dreary office setting with unfriendly workers, they likely won’t have enough confidence or job satisfaction to speak up. That’s why creating a positive work environment is critical to your company’s success. We’ll explore ways to cultivate a better work environment that keeps employees happy and engaged.
How can you create a better workplace?
Creating a better workspace often involves common sense, tact and empathy. Seeing your employees as humans instead of business tools is key.
Here are six ways to improve your work environment, and employee engagement in turn.
1. Hire great team members – and don’t be afraid to let ineffective ones go.
Successful businesses know that a positive work environment starts with hiring employees who fit your culture. Ensure your employees are professional and team players. This also goes for people already on your team. Employees who work with toxic people are more likely to become toxic themselves, tumbling your company into an unhealthy work environment.
“It’s amazing to watch one bad attitude affect everyone’s daily performance,” said Claire Marshall Crowell, founder and CEO of Hattie Jane’s Creamery. “I can’t tell you how many times I have been thanked after letting poisonous employees go. Though it’s a hard thing to do, it ultimately impacts the working environment, which can be felt by not only our employees but also by our [customers].”
Tip: When firing an employee who’s been dragging down your team, ensure you’ve given them ample feedback and time to improve. If termination is inevitable, focus on the facts and make sure you have proper documentation.
2. Improve the lighting in your workplace.
Lighting plays a vital role in workers’ performance and attitude. A 2021 report by researchers at Imperial College London reaffirmed longtime knowledge that exposure to natural light can improve mood, energy and mental health.
If it’s not possible to incorporate natural lighting through windows, there are other options:
- Blue-enriched light bulbs. Blue-enriched light bulbs may reduce fatigue and increase happiness and work performance. Use this type of lighting in brainstorming rooms.
- Warmer-tone bulbs. In meeting or break rooms, use warmer tones to promote calmness and relaxation.
- Middle-tone bulbs. In conference rooms, use middle tones that welcome workers while keeping them alert.
3. Make the office comfortable.
A clean, attractive office can have tremendous effects on the relationships between co-workers and managers, said Mike Canarelli, co-founder of WTM Digital.
“Even if the sun can’t shine into your workplace, make an effort to provide a relaxing atmosphere with comfy furniture, working equipment, and a few extra-mile amenities,” he said.
For example, give your employees the flexibility to work where they’re comfortable. You could fill the office with comfortable chairs and give them a choice of whether to sit or stand at their desks.
“Make it easy for [workers] to purchase things like exercise balls and plants on the company dime,” said AJ Shankar, CEO and founder of litigation software company Everlaw. “We also trust our employees to manage their own time. They’re free to take breaks to play games or just recharge as necessary.”
When employees choose a space that makes them comfortable, give them the freedom to customize their area, as everyone works differently, said John Turner, founder of QuietKit. He suggests getting rid of the “same-issued everything” and giving everyone a budget to customize their own setup.
Did you know?: Open-format offices aim to improve communication and collaboration. However, open-office etiquette, such as respecting privacy and prioritizing organization, is critical to this setup’s success.
4. Improve communication with employees.
Be mindful of how you interact with employees. Team members and upper management should focus on their communication methods – including inclusive communication initiatives – and their effects on creating a positive work environment.
“Employees are motivated and feel valued when they’re given positive reinforcement and shown how their work contributes to the success of the business,” said Dominique C. Jones, chief people officer at BusPatrol. This means developing employee performance plans and offering them specific feedback on how their work contributes to the organization’s broader reach.
But employees shouldn’t be the only ones being evaluated. Managers should be open to feedback as well, said Samantha Lambert, a human resources business partner at Pactera EDGE.
“When you involve your staff in decision-making in an effort to create a better work environment, they feel valued,” Lambert said. “Don’t be afraid to ask employees for their opinion on a new benefit offered or what they think of a new client project.”
5. Host company events to foster engagement.
Hosting company-wide events can foster employee engagement. The more employees socialize, the more they build relationships with each other and their managers. Attending company events can help employees feel like they’re a part of a work culture that values more than completing assignments on time. It can give them a sense of belonging along with opportunities to express their personalities.
The morale boost that often follows these engaging events can give employees more positivity to carry with them each day at work. You could plan a workplace lunch, a scavenger hunt, a day at the fair or an hour at an escape room.
6. Express gratitude to your team.
While you’re working on communication, don’t forget to show gratitude for your team’s hard work. According to David Sturt, executive vice president of marketing and business development at the O.C. Tanner Company, effective employee recognition can transform and elevate an organization.
“It ignites enthusiasm, increases innovation, builds trust, and drives bottom-line results,” he said. “Even a simple ‘thank you’ after an employee goes above and beyond on a project, or puts in a series of late nights, goes a long way.”
Why is a positive work environment important?
Creating a positive work environment motivates and engages your employees, leading to higher job satisfaction and employee retention within your organization. Your employees will experience less workplace stress and be more inclined to share ideas for your company’s success to help your organization grow and thrive.
What does a toxic office environment look like?
A toxic work environment has several telltale signs:
- A lack of proper communication among employees
- Managers who communicate unclear or incorrect information
- An adverse work-life balance among team members
- Employees who take very little time off
- Disrespectful employees and managers
Company culture is perhaps the most obvious toxic office environment indicator. When a company prioritizes business outcomes at the expense of employee retention, job satisfaction, and mental health, the office environment will be toxic.
What does a positive work environment include?
A positive work environment prioritizes business success and employee happiness equally. If you focus on creating a positive work environment, ensure your company’s culture fosters a positive work-life balance. Some ways to do this include:
- Allow remote work. Developing a telecommuting policy that allows your team to work from home occasionally or full-time can improve their work-life balance and contribute to a positive work environment. In 2022, the Pew Research Center surveyed over 5,800 employees in the U.S to assess how the COVID-19 pandemic affected work arrangements. Among respondents who now work a few days remotely out of the week, 64% say their work-life balance has improved.
- Implement flexible work policies. Flexible work policies include hybrid, compressed and varied work schedules that work best for individual employees. Flexible schedules can improve employees’ work-life balance and boost their productivity.
- Practice open communication. To further foster a positive work environment, encourage an unobstructed flow of ideas among employees and management with no fear of harsh criticism.
- Add thoughtful employee benefits. Positive work environments often include generous employee benefits packages with reasonable policies for vacation and paid time off as well as mental health days.
Tip: Encouraging employees to pursue professional development can create engaged workers interested in designing and pursuing a career path and giving back to the business.
What factors should you consider when creating a positive work environment?
When creating a positive work environment, consider your physical office space. Ask the following questions:
- Do your employees have enough space to complete their work without occupying somebody else’s space?
- Are you giving your employees proper privacy while ensuring they remain transparent about how they use their time on the job?
- Are you offering spaces where employees can take breaks or discuss work matters with their co-workers?
You also must think beyond your office space and consider other elements. Ask the following questions:
- What opportunities do you provide for fun team-building group activities that can increase morale and help achieve your company mission?
- Are your employees clear on your company’s mission?
- Do you permit remote work when employees feel sick or must take care of personal needs at home?
- How many vacation, personal, sick and paid days off do you allow?
What are some work environment mistakes?
Avoid the following common mistakes while you’re creating a positive work environment.
- Don’t ask employees to work through breaks. No matter how busy work might get, avoid asking employees to work through lunch or other breaks. Overworking employees can increase their stress. Without breaks, employees won’t be able to disengage and clear their minds. Breaks might feel unproductive in the short term, but in the long run, breaks can increase productivity.
- Don’t overlook learning opportunities. Instead of simply pointing out an employee’s mistake, explain how they can avoid repeating it. Gently help them understand ways to improve, and be open to offering assistance whenever needed. This approach can help your employees feel more comfortable asking you for help.
- Don’t ignore employees’ interests. Disregarding your employees’ interests can make them feel like there’s no room for individuality and expression in the workplace. Instead, find ways to incorporate your employees’ passions into their work. A 2021 survey by Gartner found that the COVID-19 pandemic left 56% of employees wanting to contribute more to society. Merging work and interests can give employees a greater sense of value since they might be more invested in their work. For example, let’s say an employee has expressed a knack for editing videos. In that case, you might find a way for them to help with the company’s upcoming marketing promo or video livestream.
- Don’t underpay employees. Underpaying employees can have detrimental effects on the workplace environment. Aside from increased employee turnover and a negative brand reputation, underpaying employees can quickly lead to a hostile workplace culture. It can also lead to more stress and poorer attitudes among employees. To help your employees feel valued, pay them what they’re worth. Their morale, engagement and motivation will likely reflect how much they enjoy being appreciated.
Tip: When determining employee salary ranges, consider all forms of payment your employee will receive, including bonuses and allowances.
Building a healthy environment
A positive work environment can keep employees present, motivated and happy about their jobs. As you work to improve your workplace environment, stay consistent with the practices you’re implementing. Your employees will likely notice the difference and appreciate the changes – and so will you.
Shayna Waltower, Sammi Caramela, Shannon Gausepohl and Brittney Morgan contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.