It has been validated that a positive work environment (in all industries) leads to dramatic benefits for employees, employers, and customers. Research shows that positive employees make better decisions, are more creative, more productive, and acquire better interpersonal skills.
Even though we know the benefits of a positive work culture, one of the most common complaints I hear from nurses is that the culture on their unit is so negative. Nobody smiles, nobody says hello, nobody says good things – everything is so negative.
While some people might think: “Just get over it.” or “Do your job and stop whining.” There is a problem with that mindset. Just accepting negativity as the norm not only impacts employees in a negative way – it also impacts the patients we serve.
What is the impact of a negative work culture?
Studies show that a negative culture leads to negative outcomes for employees and the patients they serve. Think about the life and death decisions made daily in healthcare. These decisions require a team who communicates well with each other and maintains healthy, collegial relationships with one another. A negative culture destroys the healthcare team. You can create the best strategy for high quality, safe, and effective patient care, but if your culture is negative, you will never succeed – the environment trumps strategy every time.
Is there a connection between employee well-being and a positive work environment?
The short answer is…yes. A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that well-being increases when the culture is positive. When employees are comfortable, happy, and healthy, they perform better. The opposite is true too – you can’t be comfortable, happy, and healthy if your environment is negative.
The researchers in the study identified 6 essential qualities of a positive work environment:
1. Caring for colleagues as friends
People in a positive work culture genuinely care for each other as human beings. They go beyond someone’s role or title and view each other as friends. They might pay for coffee for a co-worker who is having a rough day, surprise them with their favorite snack, or tell a co-worker that they’ve made a difference in your life by giving them a handwritten card.
2. Avoiding blame and forgive mistakes
It’s so much easier just to blame someone else when things go wrong. However, when someone tries to blame a co-worker or another department, shift the focus back onto that person. Say this, “That may be true but what role did you play in this situation? What was within your control?” Also, reassure your co-workers that it’s okay to make mistakes. The expectation is that they admit it and step up as a professional to improve.
3. Inspiring each other at work
People in a positive work environment don’t just focus on themselves, they look for opportunities to inspire others knowing that they can influence others in a positive way. Try going out of your way to spread positive news instead of negative. Clean up shared workspaces even if it’s not your mess! Maybe do something to help the next shift so that their job is easier. Doing these little things can inspire others to be more positive too.
4. Emphasizing the meaning of the work
Never forget why you became a nurse and remind others of their “why” when things get rough. Knowing your purpose gives you meaning and helps you to push through the rough times (and we’ve had our share of rough times lately).
5. Treating each other with respect, gratitude, trust, and integrity
Remember, it takes an entire healthcare team to effectively care for patients the way we would want our families cared for. That can’t happen when disrespect, mistrust, and arrogance are the norm. Treat someone on your support team (dietary, housekeeping, etc.) with great respect, show appreciation by telling a co-worker why you value them and like working with them, or praise a co-worker for a task well done. And of course, always do the right thing independent of what someone else would or wouldn’t do.
6. Supporting each other by offering kindness and compassion when others are struggling
Compliment co-workers to their faces AND behind their backs. Build a kindness board or start a kindness revolution in your organization to encourage EVERYONE to be kind. Speak kindly about others and speak up on their behalf if someone is criticizing them. When in doubt, always, always choose to be kind.
Seriously-kindness is basically the solution to a lot of problems. We are wired for kindness. Some even say there is such a thing as kindness genes within the human genome. We flourish when we are relational. We are connected through kindness. Current relationships strengthen and new relationships develop when we are kind to one another.
Many of us think of work as WORK, and it’s so easy to get caught up in the ever-growing list of tasks that must be accomplished. It’s also far too easy to get caught up in all the negativity, and people generally feel powerless to change their work environment into a positive one. As the research shows, turning a negative into a positive environment is possible. All it takes is a few acts of caring and kindness.