7 Areas to Consider for Building a Positive Work Culture

When it comes to building a positive culture, the Human Resource professional is in a unique position to influence business owners and top management to take the initiatives that cover the entire employee life cycle from hiring to exit. An example is given at the end of this article.

Bar-David Consulting (www.sharonebardavid.com) suggested a 4 point severity continuum of bad behavior at work (incivility, harassment, bullying, physical violence). I will like to propose a 7 point continuum of good workplace management (democratic workplace, corporate governance and corporate social responsibility, collaborative culture, workplace civility, good management behavior, workplace health, safety). To promote business excellence calls for a holistic approach that covers all the 7 points .

To convince management of the needed actions, one has to look within our own organization and justify our proposal to put in place measures of good workplace management. Here is some food for thought.

A Democratic Workplace

We are on the verge of a new era of workplace change. Business owners like those listed in Worldblu’s list of certified most democratic workplaces are pointing out that non –hierarchical structures can be a pragmatic choice. In the democratic workplace, the hybrid model of the CEO and facilitators at the center of a circle and all other employees around them within the circle seems to be the better option for organizational structure compared to that of the hierarchical structure and the manager-less organization.

This workplace change is essential to bridge between the education system and the workplace; to change the education from a mass production system into a boutique system that develops individuals in their areas of interests; and to recognize the workplace as a work community rather than a war field. This change is also necessary to give the workplace the flexibility or organic ability to adapt to the ever changing generations of workers entering the workforce.

Ed Wesley in his article “How Cooperative Learning Yesterday Leads to Democratic Workplaces Today” (14 May 2013 Dreamscape website http://dreamhost.com) wrote:

“I graduated with a BA in Education in 1994. Back then, the world of teacher education focused on high-level achievement through a concept called cooperative learning……. Today’s workforce is filled with former students of this education system—a system where we were taught that our opinion matters. And we were taught the skills to hold each person accountable for their individual contributions.

Ironically, when these same students enter the workforce, many are put into positions where they’re told what to do, when to do it, and have little to no say in the way the company they work for makes decisions. Today’s generation of workers enter into most corporate…. environments and cultures, and find the complete opposite of a cooperative atmosphere, freedom, and democracy in the workplace.

On the HR side of the company, this presents a challenge. We face a changing world and a changing generation of workers—a generation demanding more freedom at work.”

A democratic workplace also gives the opportunity to implement the model of a learning organization. This will help organization migrate from fear of failures (risks adverse) culture to a more entrepreneurial culture.

Corporate Governance & Social Responsibility

The purpose of corporate governance and corporate social responsibility is to keep a check on business leaders. “Transparency, responsibility, accountability, and fairness – these four concepts are now widely quoted as the key principles of good corporate governance.” (Source: “Corporate Governance” published by CIPE and USAID). “Corporate social responsibility is an engine for social progress. It helps companies live up to their responsibilities as global citizens and local neighbors in a fast-changing world.” (www.wbcsd.org)

A Collaborative Team Environment

Organization essentially consists of people working together, all the way from the Board level to the operations and support staff at the first level of the organization. Teams are expected to produce results, but performance is hindered when team members do not work well together. A collaborative team environment is essential for the team’s success. It can be regarded as an extension of cooperative learning.

Workplace Civility

 As reported by Karen Fritscher Porter (2003), rudeness can have a direct effect on employee productivity, morale, and absenteeism. There are 4 ways rudeness may affect employee productivity. Employees tend to: (a) Spend time worrying about the uncivil incident or future interactions with the instigator and waste time trying to avoid the instigator (b) Deliberately become less committed (c) Not involve themselves in tasks outside their job specifications and expend less effort to meet responsibilities (d) Be less willing to help others, and reduce their contribution to the organization (Source article: “Rudeness & Incivility in the Workplace” written by Suzanne M.Crampton & John W.Hodge, Journal of Leadership, Accountability & Ethics).

A Professional Work Environment (Good Management Behaviour)

“Many managers lack fundamental training in managing people. But, even more importantly, managers lack the values, sensitivity, and awareness needed to interact effectively all day long with people.” (Source: “Top 10 Mistakes Managers Make Managing People” written by Susan M. Heathfield www.humanresourcesabout.com)

There are about ten attributes that precede the behaviours that are known to promote

commitment and trust (between managers and their staff). These attributes can be taught but sadly, very few managers are taught these basic aspects of management.” (Source: “Creating  A Stress Prevention Culture” written by Professor Derek Mowbray www.mas.org.uk)

One possibility is to develop a code of conduct to guide manager’s behavior. The Chartered Management Institute has a code of practice for professional managers. It said “Professional managers apply specialist knowledge and skills for the benefit of their organizations, employees, colleagues, stakeholders, and wider society. In doing so

they must: (a) Apply expertise and sound judgement (b) Motivate and support others (c) Contribute positively to the achievement of the objectives of the organization.” (Source:


At one extreme is to have a manager-less organizational structure. In fact, WL Gore & Associates Inc. does not operate in a hierarchy but they have 10,000 staff worldwide. (Source: “Garey Hamel Management 2.0: W.L.Gore: Lessons from A Management Revolutionary”, The Wall Street Journal 20 May 2013 http://blogs.wsj.com)

 A Work Environment that emphasis Mental Well-Being (Non Harassment & Non-Bullying)

“If no or little actions are taken against harassment and bullying, the Company will likely to suffer loss of talent, increase accidents and mishaps, tarnished brand image, downtime & drop in productivity.  Arbitrators and Courts are more lenient toward organizations that have a track record of investing in prevention of harassment and bullying.” (Source: “Incivility, Harassment & Bullying – The Business Case” written by Bar-David Consulting)

 A Safe (Non Violent) Work Environment

Violence is a criminal offence.

An Example of Employee Life Cycle Initiatives

Design of workplace Design the physical workplace for flexibility, mobility and socialization
Recruitment strategy (a)Define staff profiles for hiring(b)Define diversity and rehiring policies
Hiring(Filtering who come to the door) (a) Communicate about the company to prospective employees – Describe the company culture, code of conduct, manager’s job description, company symbols and rituals(b) Market the brand – Describe staff benefits(c) Put the most effort into screening the candidates
Onboarding Induct new joiners into the work practicesAssign a buddy
Work assignment Determine how work is assigned
Training for transition into the work culture Facilitation skillsSelf-management skillsInterpersonal skills

Conflict management skills

Team skills

Development for growth Develop and capitalize on individual’s strengths
Performance Review Review people for their contributions, temperaments, talents, weaknesses
Reward and recognition Team incentiveBreak manager pay into a base salary and a manager allowance

Concluding Remarks

We can sum up what is the spirit needed to create a positive work culture from the University of Massachusetts Medical Center at Worcester credo:

  • Conduct yourself with integrity, courtesy, and respect toward fellow members of our community.
  • Hold individuals accountable for their actions.
  • Promote an environment where individuals feel safe and supported.

(Source: Daniel Goleman’s blogsite  http://danielgoleman.info)

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