Remember “Spirit Week” in high school? It’s the week leading up to Homecoming that’s filled with fun activities, time-honored traditions and dress-up themes that celebrate school spirit and show support for your school.
Workplace spirit is the grownup version, and it isn’t just one week a year.
It’s the day in, day out expression of a strong and positive company culture. Employees are engaged, happy and productive. Excellent work is celebrated, and every employee understands and is committed to company goals.
“The first time you step foot in a business, you get a feel for its spirit. A company can feel cold, stiff and tense, or to the contrary, it can feel warm, inviting and energetic,” writes Gerald R. Wagner, CEO of the nonprofit Inspired Organizational Cultures, for HuffPost Business.
Workplace spirit is similar to a brand, according to Wagner: “Like a brand, that feeling represents the organization’s culture — its humanness.”
Read on for tips from Wagner and other HR experts in building a workplace spirit that attracts and retains great employees.
Workplace Spirit 101
Workplace spirit is a “tangible quality,” Wagner writes. It can be measured and, with the right information and tools, increased.
So how exactly does Wagner define a great workplace spirit? First, he draws a distinction between workplace spirit and organizational values.
Organizational values are “the overarching commonly-held beliefs and commitments that guide company behaviors, decisions and actions.”
Workplace spirit is similar but more closely and specifically related to employee happiness.
What Wagner describes as “workplace spirit values” are “the things that employees brag about when they talk about their job with friends and family; these are the things that inspire employees to come to work each day — and attract the best new talent.”
One commonly used term for this is “employer branding,” but Wagner says workplace spirit is a “more intuitive and specific” description. It also captures the sense of daily celebration that every great workplace embraces!
5 Signs of Workplace Spirit
How a company and its employees express workplace spirit varies and is dependent on culture and values, but all companies with great workplace spirit share five elements, according to Wagner, the Houston Chronicle and Harvard Business School.
1. Honest, Clear Goals
Honesty is the first step to trust. Everyone in a team needs to be able to trust one another to do great work. The fastest way to build trust with employees is to be transparent and clear about team objectives, including why the work matters. “Because it’s what the boss wants” are words that nobody on your team should ever have to say to explain their job! When you’re honest with employees, you set a tone of trust for the whole workplace.
2. A Culture of Love and Kindness
Yes, love! We’re talking about companionate love: the affection, caring and compassion that employees feel and express toward one another. Again, you as the employer set the tone. Recognize and appreciate employees as people first. Ask about kids, hobbies and vacations. Encourage kindness as a guiding principle of management. When employees talk about their workplace with friends and family, it’s these personal connections they’ll mention first, before traditional benefits such as bonuses, health insurance, 401ks or time off.
3. A Sense of Deeper Meaning
Spirituality may seem like a risky topic in the workplace, but as Harvard Business Review’s Marguerite Rigoglioso discusses in the article “Spirit at Work: The Search for Deeper Meaning in the Workplace,” many businesses are finding ways to embrace it — and increasingly, employees are seeking out work that is materially as well as spiritually rewarding.
One business professor describes this “as a reflection of people’s age-old need to find meaning in what they’re doing … Quite simply, without a sense of purpose, we become alienated from our work and find it harder to motivate ourselves.”
4. Frequent, Personalized Recognition
A once-a-year card or banquet is not enough. Companies with truly great workplace spirit celebrate employee excellence year-round. The most effective recognition programs involve frequent, personalized recognition, train managers in recognition best practices and even empower employees to recognize each other!
5. Daily Gratitude
Gratitude goes beyond simple recognition and “Thanks.” It’s a way of conducting business and interacting with employees on a daily basis. Leaders who manage with gratitude model resilience, problem-solving, positive thinking, productivity and appreciation — and employees pick up this attitude and set of behaviors very quickly!
Want to Build an Everyday Culture of Gratitude?
Download our FREE Day-to-Day Celebration Calendar for expert tips on how to engage, recognize and build a happy and loyal workplace. This one-of-a-kind eBook will help you build everyday workplace spirit with month-by-month guides, case studies, research highlights, how-to recognition advice and celebration ideas for specific holidays and anytime.
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