Building a Positive Workplace Culture

By: Ginger Brunner

If you were asked to describe the qualities of a positive workplace culture, what would you say? We asked this question in a recent go2HR webinar for tourism and hospitality industry employers and received a wide range of responses. The answers ran the gamut, including high engagement, supportive environment, feeling valued, happy to be at work, work/life balance, fun, rewarding, productive, trusted, inclusive, safe (physically and mentally), and many more. Although there is no one official definition, workplace culture has been defined as “the shared values, belief systems, attitudes, and the set of assumptions that people in a workplace share with the organization.” The range of responses we received demonstrates the variety of what workplace culture means to different people, depending on the business and who is working in it.

In today’s competitive job-seeker market, fostering a positive workplace culture can mean the difference between having highly engaged, productive employees who stay with you for a while, or a group of individuals who show up (maybe) to do a job and leave.  However, efforts to build a positive culture may fall flat if a workplace isn’t psychologically healthy and safe first.

What is Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace?

The National Standard on Psychological Health & Safety in the Workplace (The Standard) defines a psychologically healthy and safe workplace as one that “promotes workers’ psychological well-being and actively works to prevent harm to workers’ psychological health including in negligent, reckless, or intentional ways.”
In other words, it’s a workplace that identifies and addresses hazards to employee well-being (bullying, harassment, discrimination), while also striving to promote positive health and well-being through involvement and input while feeling supported and appreciated.

The Standard is a set of voluntary guidelines, tools, and resources to help workplaces identify hazards and develop strategies to mitigate their risks. It identifies 13 psychosocial factors that are within the influence and responsibility of employers that can impact the psychological health and safety of employees—both positively and negatively.

For example, in workplaces that are psychologically safe, employees feel accepted, respected and that there’s a shared belief of trust. They feel good about their work and how they do it, and they have input into their responsibilities. Expectations are clearly defined, and employees know who they can turn to with questions, comments, ideas, or concerns and that they can do so without feeling fear or intimidation. All these things contribute to an employee’s view of a positive culture, and speak to psychosocial factors like civility, respect, involvement, and influence.

Why Should I Invest in the Culture of My Business?

A positive culture means employees are engaged because they feel cared for and valued. In return, employees are more invested in doing their best and going the extra mile. They are more likely to share concerns and make suggestions for improvements to the guest experience and cost-saving opportunities.

“There’s increased employee retention, productivity, and efficiencies.”

Don’t just take our word for it, research has shown that positive, psychologically safe workplaces spend less time, money, and resources on recruiting, onboarding, and training new employees. This is because there’s increased employee retention, productivity, and efficiencies, so not only is it the right thing to do, it’s also good for business and your bottom line.

 How Can I Build a Psychologically Healthy and Safe Workplace?

Trying to improve the culture without considering psychological safety is like pouring water in a bucket filled with holes and expecting the water to remain in the bucket. As an example, it wouldn’t make sense to focus efforts and resources on designing and implementing a rewards and recognition program if job expectations are unclear and no one knows what a good job looks like.

Start by identifying and understanding your current workplace culture and how it may differ from the desired culture, then seek to bridge the gap. Sounds easy, right? Building culture in any direction takes time and starts with small steps. There may be areas you can start working on right away, while others may require more planning or additional resources.  Here are a few tips to help get you started:

Assess Your Current Workplace Culture. Depending on how many employees you have, this may take a few different forms. Smaller employers may want to conduct one-on-one employee stay interviews to gain a sense of what existing employees value most/least about their work, what they find most satisfying and/or challenging, etc. Larger employers may want to conduct more formal employee opinion/satisfaction (EOS/ESAT) surveys to collect similar feedback on a larger scale. Usually, responses are anonymous to encourage honest feedback.

Identify Opportunities for Improvement. Compare your findings and feedback to your desired culture and identify opportunities to build on positive practices you may already have in place (e.g., open door policy, bonus programs, training, or professional development programs), and areas for improvement.

“Involve your employees in identifying opportunities for improvement.”

Involve your employees in identifying opportunities for improvement. For example, if employees feel there’s a lack of information about short shipments or a lack of inventory, invite suggestions for improved communication—what, how, and when information can be better shared.

Follow Up and Implement (Where Possible). It’s important to note that you need to be prepared to follow up on the feedback you receive. While not all suggestions may be reasonable or feasible to implement, seeking employee input is one way of building psychological safety. However, employees will only feel valued if their input is genuinely considered and implemented where possible. A lack of follow-through will have the opposite impact, likely discouraging employees from participating in the future and negatively impacting the workplace culture.

Building and shifting workplace culture is an ongoing journey that happens whether you put effort into it or not. If you don’t put in the effort, you’ll likely find the culture that develops is less positive than desired. It is important to take the time needed to understand what the current culture is and recognize that you may already have a few good practices in place. Start small and involve your employees along the way. Your employees and bottom line will thank you!

Ginger Brunner is Manager, Industry Human Resources at go2HR, which is the human resources and health and safety association for the BC tourism and hospitality industry. For more information or guidance to help build a psychologically healthy and safe workplace in your business, contact Rachel Udy or Shane Lobsinger, go2HR’s Workplace Learning Coaches – Psychological Health & Safety.