Written by Jonny Peters
Most of us spend a huge proportion of our lives at work, so naturally it is important that we have a good environment to work in. The effects of work atmosphere on all aspects of a person’s well-being is much further-reaching than most realise.
A recent study (Robert Half International, 2012) found that the work environment is the most crucial factor in employee satisfaction.
In this article we take a look at why work atmosphere is important and how you can recognise the signs that the atmosphere isn’t as good as it should be.
The effects of poor work environment
It is a commonly known fact that if one person is feeling down, they bring everyone else down with them. Negativity is contagious, and it can have a detrimental effect on the workplace. Not only does a negative environment cause employees to be unhappy with their jobs, but it makes them less productive. Plus, if they have other things on their minds, they can be more prone to making mistakes. As a business owner or manager, this is not a good situation to be in. Mistakes equal money!
Not only can a poor work environment slow down productivity, but it can cause employees to consider resigning and moving on to a new job. Once again, this costs your business money. It can also cause current and former employees to spread negative remarks about the business -- which is particularly damaging if you are a small to medium sized business.
Aside from the effect on the business, a bad working atmosphere can have a significant effect on individual employees. Several studies have found that poor working conditions can cause long-term health problems including stress, depression and anxiety.
On the other hand, a good work environment can have a lot of positive effects on not only the welfare of the individual employee, but on the business’ bottom line. If people are happy with where they work and the environment they walk into each day, they have been proven to be more productive and make less mistakes. Just as negativity is contagious, so is positivity.
Signs of a bad work environment
Before you can set about trying to improve your workplace environment, you need to identify what problems there are. It isn’t always immediately obvious that there is a problem. So what are the signs?
Is your workplace so silent that you can almost hear other people breathing? This lack of social interaction between your employees could be a sign of an unhappy workplace. And really, sometimes all it takes is a glance around and a gut feeling of whether you are in a ‘happy’ workplace or not.
This might seem obvious, but if you are finding that your top performing staff members are leaving to work for your competitors, there is a good chance it is because they don’t enjoy the environment they work in – not because of the job they are doing.
Inability to make decisions
If managers have completely differing ideas and goals, there can be ongoing underlying tension in the office. This tension can quickly work its way down the food chain, with other employees feeling unsure about what goals they are trying to achieve. It can almost become a tug-o-war between management.
Of course it is normal and healthy for everyone to have their own ideas, but it’s when agreements can’t be made that problems can occur.
Faith in your product
Whether your company produces cat food or computer security systems, at the heart of every business is a product. Do your colleagues use the product themselves? Do they believe in the product they are, in some form or another, working to sell? If not, this can be affecting the overall environment.
Improving work environment
Whether you have identified serious causes for concern in the workplace or you simply need to make a few tweaks, changes won’t happen overnight. However, there are lots of ways to inject some positivity into the workplace, which over time will make a significant difference to the whole vibe and output of your office.
Sometimes the only way to get a job done is to tackle it on your own! Do you go into work feeling lethargic and unmotivated? If you do, chances are other people do too. So what can you do on an individual level to make a change?
Once you have identified what it is about your job that is getting you down, you can work on fixing those things. No interaction with your colleagues? Why not spark up some conversation, suggest a lunchtime activity or even after work drinks?
Organising an event outside of the office is a good way to get your colleagues into their comfort zone. Outside of the work environment people can be themselves and often interact better. A couple of social events can be what you need to break the ice.
Also working on the idea of self-improvement is your work-life balance. It is important that every employee has a healthy work-life balance. If you or your employees are working overtime every evening or having to cancel personal plans to be at work, then chances are it is affecting your overall happiness at work. You can grow to detest your work, which doesn’t benefit anyone.
Whether its you that’s putting in the extra hours or you know that your employees are doing so, you need to ensure that the work-life balance is maintained. Sometimes people need to be told to go home or be told that ‘it can wait until Monday’.
As a manager, you should not be rewarding those that work late regularly. This makes other employees feel that they can only be seen as a ‘good’ worker, or progress in their career if they give up some of their personal time for work. This can result in stress, particularly in those that have a lot of commitments outside of work.
It is natural for people to want to feel valued and important in their workplace. With technology and business changing at such a rapid pace these days, many people are concerned they will get left behind. By keeping yourself and your employees as well-trained and up-to-date as possible, you can help boost morale and confidence in staff members.
Many types of training courses can also double up as team bonding exercises. Training doesn’t necessarily have to be dull and boring -- many courses these days are very hands-on and involve working in teams.