Instilling positivity in the workplace takes a cultural shift based on values of gratitude, compassion, respect and generosity.

Instilling positivity in the workplace takes more than a mandate — it takes a cultural shift based on values of gratitude, compassion, respect and generosity. (Photo via Hans Peter Meyer, Flickr)


Happy Positive Thinking Day! Have you been inspiring positivity in the workplace lately?
One of the most interesting employee engagement cases of the past year was related to positivity in the workplace — with some fascinating lessons in how (and how not) to pursue it.
Explicitly mandating positivity in the workplace is risky, as T-Mobile recently discovered. The National Labor Relations Board issued a ruling against T-Mobile in April declaring that the telecommunications company had run afoul of the law by including a provision in its employee handbook requiring workers “to maintain a positive work environment in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships.”
Sounds harmless, right? It isn’t, legally speaking.
“There was, of course, a perfectly sound legal reason for this seemingly odd decision,” Maria Konnikova writes in an article for The New Yorker, “What Makes People Feel Upbeat At Work.” In short, the NLRB reasoned that T-Mobile’s policy was “ambiguous and vague” enough to have a chilling effect on the right of employees to speak freely and to organize.
Legality aside, workplace psychology experts agree that mandating positivity simply isn’t that effective, anyway. Nobody likes being told how to feel.
But inspiring positivity in the workplace is a worthwhile (and achievable) goal. Read on to find out why, and how you can create real, lasting positivity without resorting to potentially illegal or ineffective mandates.

Why We Need Positivity in the Workplace

Obviously, nobody wants to work in a negative environment, or even a “blasé” one, as Konnikova points out in her New Yorker article.
Positive working environments don’t just feel better, they’re better for personal wellbeing and better for business.
The research “certainly suggests that people thrive in positive and supportive spaces: they are happy and satisfied; they are motivated and optimistic, setting higher goals and working harder and longer; they are creative; they are less likely to burn out and more likely to stick with a company or project,” Konnikova writes.
Promoting positivity may seem counterintuitive at first, because it goes against one of the core traditional beliefs about employee motivation — that stress and pressure result in better performance. Not so, according to the Harvard Business Review article, “Proof that Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive”:

“… a large and growing body of research on positive organizational psychology demonstrates that not only is a cut-throat environment harmful to productivity over time, but that a positive environment will lead to dramatic benefits for employers, employees, and the bottom line. Although there’s an assumption that stress and pressure push employees to perform more, better and faster, what cutthroat organizations fail to recognize is the hidden costs incurred.”

These hidden costs to negativity include serious health problems, low engagement and high turnover.
So can you actually create positivity in the workplace by mandating it? Not exactly. A positivity mandate can actually make a work environment less positive. Employees tend to perform poorly when there are too many rules or too few rules. One researcher tells Konnikova that “we are all still a bit like our two-year-old selves: tell a toddler exactly what to do and what not to do, and she balks. Let her figure it out within a certain framework, and she is happy.”
Instilling positivity in the workplace takes more than a mandate. It takes commitment from management to support a cultural shift based on values of gratitude, compassion, respect and generosity.

5 Ways to Inspire Positivity in Employees

The NLRB decision on the T-Mobile case has valuable lessons for workplace leaders. The deeper truth, Konnikova writes, is that “we all deserve a positive environment” and workplace leaders are better off “fostering it by example.” Here are five ways to foster positivity in the workplace through action, example and influence:
1. Honor employee autonomy
Employees need a happy medium of regulation and trust to perform well. Studies show that employees performing at the highest levels enjoy a certain degree of autonomy. These employees feel that they’re in control and can decide (within reason) how to go about doing their work.
One of the simplest ways managers can honor employee autonomy is by asking questions and listening. Do your employees feel heard? Are their views taken into consideration in workplace decisions?
2. Bring wellness initiatives into the workplace
Physical activity is a proven stress-buster. But gym discounts may not be the best way to increase workplace wellness. “To really get the full benefits of wellness when it comes to day-to-day psychology … many businesses are upping the ante by actually bringing health to the office  — and encouraging employees to get short workouts while on the job,” according to a Forbes’ bringing positive psychology into the workplace.
A lunch-hour yoga class, on-site outdoor basketball court or meditation initiative engages employees right where they are, instead of making them go elsewhere to experience wellness benefits.
3. Encourage mentoring
Social connectedness at work produces “highly desirable results,” according to the HBR. One of the most productive ways to encourage social connections among employees is with a peer-to-peer mentoring or reverse mentoring program. Not only are employees engaged in learning and improving skills, they’re building the kind of workplace friendships that build retention, engagement and happiness!
4. Learn from failures
A common misconception of positive psychology is that it promotes wearing “blinders” to real issues or problems. In fact, positive thinking is all about context and framing. Instead of burying individual or organizational failure in negativity or a blame game, a positive framework encourages everyone to discuss problems authentically and examine failure for lessons.
Does your company culture promote honest, positive discussion of failure? Are your employees involved in these discussions? Switch & Shift CEO and Inc. contributor Shawn Murphy says leaders are “context shapers” — meaning that employees model their communication on the framework leaders create.
5. Embrace everyday gratitude
Thanking employees with a gift every year at the holidays is great, but is your HR team promoting the kind of day-in, day-out appreciation that builds a culture of gratitude? When leaders model gratitude in everyday work, employees pick up on it quickly. A strong culture of gratitude leads to frequent recognition and a spirit of celebration for workplace wins big and small. It flushes out negativity and makes room for positive interactions.
Gratitude is a major component of sustainable and productive positivity in the workplace! For an in-depth guide to Transforming Your Workplace with Gratitude, download our FREE eBook below and start today.



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