How to Create a Desirable and Productive Work Environment
There's no question that happy employees = improved productivity. This is shown consistently, especially by the growth and success of tech companies who have revolutionized the idea of the typical work environment -- from Google's employee concierge services to Facebook's all-encompassing benefits packages and free meals. Companies are striving to blur the lines between home life and work life in order to make their employees feel more relaxed, and by proxy, productive. But while your business might not have the resources or desire to provide craft beer on tap in the break room or organize free concerts, there are some very simple ways to improve employee morale and establish a positive work environment. Here are just a few:
Create Trust Between Employees
When employees trust each other, they feel comfortable with expressing concerns to work through them, working together and striving toward the same goal. Being able to approach a boss or coworker with an issue and talking it out, learning from the experience, and improving your skill set without fear of serious repercussions is invaluable to the productivity of a business.
However, some workplaces take the opposite philosophy: encourage competition amongst the staff. The theory is that if each employee sees one another as a competitor, they are driven to be better; and when everyone does this, productivity increases. But this old-school management method just doesn't cut it anymore, especially if you value long-term employees. Management often strives to create competition through negativity, which in turn results in bad blood within teams. Hypothetically, each employee will strive to be better to get ahead of their peers, but instead, employees often drag each other down to "be ahead" -- backstabbing, sabotage, mistrust and lack of communication are all common results of this management style. When everyone feels they're alone in their mission to be a valuable employee, team cohesion and cooperation dissipate, which is NEVER good for productivity in the long run.
Keep it Lighthearted, But Professional
Employees are with their coworkers for 8 or more hours per day. It only comes natural that friendships will form and this should be encouraged! Fostering a happy, friendly environment and encouraging healthy communication is a good thing for employee morale and therefore productivity. But like everything, there needs to be a balance. While you don't want every moment of the workday to turn into a kaffeeklatsch (you've got a business to run, after all!) you also shouldn't discourage friendships or quash social engagements that your employees plan.
Plus, a sense of "we-ness" is good for mental health:
"In a meta-analysis covering 58 studies and more than 19,000 people, researchers discovered a positive relationship between organizational identification and health, regardless of the type of job you have. Meaning? Your relationship with your workplace affects your health." (source)
Maintain Unique Look and Feel
Sometimes a bland environment = a bland attitude. If you want employees to be active, engaged, and productive, then their environment should reflect it. Many organizations tend to interchange "cohesion" with "blandness", keeping decorations to a minimum and enforcing blank, white walls with fluorescent lighting and limited room for personal creativity at employees' desks. No staff member wants to come to work every day feeling like they're entering a hospital (unless, of course, they work in a hospital). Instead, decorate the office space with branded materials. Paint a giant mural of your logo on the wall, decorate the space with local art, and let employees make their workspace their own. People will feel more comfortable and less monotonous.
Plan Optional Social Outings
Social outings are always a great idea for team cohesion whether it's a company softball league, periodic happy hours after work, holiday and birthday parties, or any other creative way you can encourage a social environment. It will increase overall happiness, relieve stress, and increase engagement and company loyalty. But not everybody is able or willing to participate in social engagements outside of the workplace, so make them TRULY optional -- don't hold it against your staff if they don't want to join in and they should not feel obligated to do so.