7 ways to create a positive work environment

At most workplaces, the phrase ‘happiness at work’ induces eye rolls. But why should it? The average person spends one-third of their life at work — in quantifiable terms, that’s an average of 90,000 hours. And it shouldn’t be a controversial statement to say that we must not spend 90,000 hours of our life unhappy.

Unfortunately, over the past decade or so, the reactive sentiment has emerged that a work environment is a place to do nothing but hustle and grind. As a result, we’ve seen a lot more pushback against modern office policies aiming to make the workplace a healthier place to be, through initiatives promoting mental health awareness, DEI and workplace wellbeing.

It’s easy to understand why this has happened. As budget cuts, the pandemic, and the cost of living crisis have pressured business leaders to save money, many are concerned about over-investing. But from partnering with countless organisations to build more positive work environments, we’ve seen firsthand that people are one of the most lucrative investments that a business can make.

From productivity, to staff retention, to public relations, it pays for every facet of your company to ensure a satisfied, engaged workforce. But creating a happy work environment goes beyond free snacks and a relaxed dress code. So, as a workplace leader, what best practices can you work towards?

We brainstormed with our Sanctus coaches and put together a set of principles that can lay the foundation for positive employee outcomes — fostering a culture of job satisfaction, wellbeing, and of course, that all-important happiness at work. Here are some highlights from the list.

1. Foster a positive work culture

A ‘positive workplace culture’ is one of those buzz phrases that gets thrown out in job applications to entice the best talent — but it can also be an integral part of your company policy. If you’re going to cultivate a positive work culture, each faction of your workforce will need to feel like they belong at work

Despite this, more than a third of your employees might not feel like they can bring their true selves to the office. Data from a 2023 DEI Report by Hays reveals that 37% of respondents feel the need to hide aspects of who they are at work for fear of judgement. These figures rise further for certain groups, such as 67% of LGBTQ+ employees and 62% of those living with a disability. Evidently, the absence of belonging is a barrier to happiness in the workplace — but what can you do to mitigate it?

One important consideration is how you and other leadership figures encourage open communication, respect, and appreciation among team members. Establishing channels for transparent dialogue will strengthen interpersonal relationships and ensure that everyone feels heard and valued.

As well as deploying diverse hiring practices, it’s important to embrace the different perspectives and qualities that your staff bring to the table. When individuals feel safe to express themselves and their ideas, they are more likely to contribute, setting the scene for a positive work culture. In time, this will help staff feel engaged as valued members of the wider team.

2. Recognise achievements

Another way to create a happy and motivated team is through genuine appreciation. Data suggests that when your staff feel recognised for their contributions, they are 2.7x more likely to be highly engaged. In short, this can be the difference between a member of staff dragging themselves to work during a tough crunch season, and one that shows up to work happy and energised to do the best they can.

This is a straightforward, no-cost solution for rewarding staff achievements — and one that can easily be embedded into the day-to-day goings-on within your organisation. By taking just five minutes out of your day to acknowledge staff efforts and celebrate their wins, you can improve morale. Public recognition isn’t just an ego boost — it validates the worth of a staff member and their work, showcases their impact on wider company goals, and inspires others to strive for greatness.

And it doesn’t have to be reserved for the big achievements either. Sometimes, you’ll be praising a colleague for landing a crucial client, but other times, they can benefit from a compliment just for simply meeting their expectations.

3. Provide growth opportunities

Employee recognition is undoubtedly an effective morale-boosting exercise, but for a truly positive work environment, staff need to see and experience that their hard work will be rewarded with professional development opportunities. In the long term, feelings of stagnation and discontent can develop if your colleagues are giving their all and not being adequately rewarded for their efforts.

Targeted training programmes, mentorship opportunities, and transparency concerning promotion opportunities will each help to support your team members’ happiness at work. In time, the provision of these opportunities can accelerate staff’s personal growth, encourage them to stay with your organisation, and even support you to succeed as a business.

Creating these pathways for career advancement will help communicate your investment in long-standing team members, and encourage them to invest their own talents and efforts back into the company. Over time, this creates a cycle of mutual benefit that will support your team’s happiness and position the business for ongoing success.

4. Promote a healthy work-life balance

Through working with organisations across every industry, we’ve noticed one common thread that links the happiest members of staff — and that’s a healthy work-life balance. For all of the time that the average person spends at work, it’s still just one aspect of a dynamic, multi-faceted life — and it should be treated as such.

From a leadership perspective, this means promoting reasonable working hours, embracing flexible working arrangements when possible, and supporting healthy remote working habits. This way, you can empower your team to navigate their professional responsibilities all while maintaining a fulfilling personal life.

This is integral to preventing constant overworking or burnout — something that 77% of workers have experienced in their current job, according to Deloitte. Staff burnout is unsustainable for a number of reason, as when left unmanaged, it can:

  • Increase the likeliness of illness
  • Suppress productivity
  • Strain working relationships
  • Push unhappy staff to look elsewhere for work

On the other hand, a healthy work environment acknowledges that employees are not just cogs in the organisation’s success, but individual people with lives outside of the office. Setting clear expectations, encouraging breaks, and modelling a balanced approach sends a powerful message to your team that they should put their happiness first — instead of constant overtime and out-of-hours communication.

5. Listen and act on feedback

Open channels of communication are most productive when they flow both ways. As we all know, good communication is a cornerstone of effective leadership — but it’s also one of the vital ingredients that will create a happy work environment.

Communicating well helps to build strong professional relationships and ensure all the important information is efficiently relayed between different members of your team. But the important distinction to make here is that you shouldn’t just be doling out updates, advice and feedback to your reports — you also need to be receiving it from them.

Establish open channels for constructive feedback so that your team members feel heard and valued — and have a route to progress down when they want something addressed. As much as giving constructive feedback is an important skill to master, receiving it is a different kettle of fish. If you can receive, process, and effectively action change in response to employee feedback, you can demonstrate that you value your team’s input and create a more positive work environment.

When team members receive tangible responses to their concerns, it instils a sense of empowerment and trust, contributing to their happiness at work.

For maximum reach, consider several different outlets for feedback, such as:

  • Pulse surveys
  • One-on-one team member meetings
  • Whole-team standups
  • Regular progress reviews
  • Suggestions boxes

Not only will these introductions benefit your team, but you will also be able to improve your own managerial processes, understanding where bottlenecks are occurring and any obstacles experienced by other members of staff.

6. Encourage collaborative decision-making

The onus of decision-making doesn’t have to fall solely on the leader. In fact, it’s often better for everybody involved if you practise collaborative decision-making. Involving team members in these processes is a powerful strategy used by organisations big and small to facilitate the best outcomes for the employees that said decisions affect the most.

This can also help to communicate a sense of trust and inclusivity, keeping your team happy. On the flip side, if all decision-making happens in a top-down manner, staff may quickly grow to resent the decisions they don’t see the logic in, or those they felt they were not adequately consulted for. In time, this can cause unhappiness, increased tensions, and might even prompt team members to undermine your decisions.

But when individuals feel their opinions matter and have a meaningful say in choices that will directly impact their work, it promotes a culture of mutual respect. This approach builds a more positive work environment, embracing the collective wisdom of the team.

And that’s not to say that you’re giving up your responsibility in the decision-making process — but rather ensuring that you tap into the diverse perspectives across your team so that everybody feels valued and invested in its shared success.

7. Create a healthy work environment

How healthy is your workplace? We’ve spoken at length about culture and team dynamics, but when we refer to a healthy work environment here, we’re now talking about its physical surroundings.

Building and maintaining a good work environment for your staff is vital to their overall happiness. It’s wise to ensure that the office or other venue you’re asking them to make the journey to and from every day is worth it.

Design a comfortable, well-lit, organised workspace that promotes productivity and makes your staff feel good while they work. A thoughtfully designed workspace will enhance their focus and contribute to a positive mood among team members.

Ideally, you’ll want to provide all the quality amenities you should expect, like clean desk, kitchen, and social places, as well as extra elements that reflect your company’s values. These could be brand-themed decor or displays showing the company’s important milestones and successes. It’s these extra elements that employees might not have access to at home that can help foster that all-important sense of belonging — as well as boost happiness at work.

A good work environment goes beyond aesthetics — it can directly influence your team’s motivation. By investing in a workplace that prioritises both functionality and employee comfort, you can help staff find joy in their daily tasks.

Put staff happiness first with Sanctus Coaching

One of the most effective ways to provide for your people is to collaborate with dedicated wellbeing coaches. Sanctus Coaching offers coaching services that transform organisations’ happiness in the workplace, helping to guide professional and personal development and support staff through their concerns both in and out of work.

Through 1-2-1 coaching sessions or guided team workshops, our coaches can help your organisation develop a positive, healthy working environment. We call it our ‘human-first’ approach, putting the people at the heart of your business first.

Sanctus Coaches have helped countless organisations turn the tide on team happiness and make sure it’s maintained through tough periods too. Learn more about some of our Sanctus Coaching partners and the work we do, or get in touch today for a chat about your workplace happiness needs.