Most of us have been at the receiving end of poor communication in the workplace, and no doubt berated ourselves for not choosing our words more carefully when speaking to a colleague. Working in a fast-paced environment, where things need to be done urgently, conversations can quickly become heated, or in-jokes create cliques rather than communities.
The language we use with our teams reflects the culture we live in, and the basis for all our relationships. This is as true of the bonds we have with friends, families and partners as it is with our teams and colleagues. Feelings of frustration, apathy and simmering resentment in any relationship, whether that’s at home or work, invariably manifest themselves in someone’s words and behaviour, even if they try their best to disguise them.
Low engagement, high turnover and frequent absenteeism (or presenteeism) and underperformance are all well-known symptoms of a toxic working environment. And poor communication is often the culprit, since it leaves people feeling burnt out, confused and afraid to ask questions or challenge long-held perceptions. They’re likely to grow resentful of policies that don’t seem to make sense, or which contradict each other.
Negative emotions emerged or worsened during the pandemic, with many people reporting anxiety and isolation over the past two years.
Not all their feelings were work-related – but uncertainty about security, poor Covid safety measures and increased workloads due to colleagues being furloughed will certainly have played their part. These factors prompted many to quit their jobs, in what was dubbed the Great Resignation, leaving companies struggling for talent.
Recognising that a department or entire workplace has become toxic is one thing but turning it around is another. A workplace culture doesn’t even have to be toxic. It could just be that people have got into bad habits, such as sending numerous emails to the same colleague out of hours, instead of arranging a meeting or call, or not taking the time to share successes.
People are, rightly, wary of false positivity, an empty compliment and meaningless corporate jargon that doesn’t address the small and not-so-small frustrations they experience each day.
There needs to be open and honest conversations, accountability and a determination to drive forward meaningful changes.
Good communication is at the heart of this – we know how important a brand’s story is for customers but it’s just as important for employees. Encouraging people to celebrate their successes, and learn from their failures, in a positive yet authentic way helps to build connections and brings everyone on the same journey.
Driving the right behaviours
Emotions drive our behaviours and give authenticity to our words. When people’s emotions are harnessed in the right way, it leads to healthy behaviours and discourse that helps people to perform their job well. Every leader wants its people to share common behaviours – for us at The Access Group, these include curiosity, resilience, flexibility and accountability. We also have a caring and supportive community and promote a strong sense of commerciality, so employees understand our customers, the market and the opportunities open to us.
These desired behaviours will differ, depending on the organisation and the sector you operate in, but identifying them is the first step to designing policies and processes that enable people to strive towards them.
Once they’ve become embedded in a workplace culture, everyone can thrive in their role and tackle any challenges that come along, both externally and internally. Don’t be afraid to be bold and ambitious in what you expect from employees, since this is what will help to create healthy working environments that attract the best talent.
By empowering people to genuinely love what they do, and do what they love, the passion will be evident in their words and this will inspire others inside and outside of the organisation, helping to improve recruitment and retention. Whatever their role, anyone can make an impact, as long as the culture encourages it.
Finding joyful moments at work
Work gives people purpose, a routine and social interactions, which many of those on furlough or even working remotely during the pandemic may have missed.
With the right people, in the right roles and equipped with the right tools to do their job well, it can be a source of satisfaction, delight and even euphoria, whatever their role. Solving a problem for a customer or receiving glowing feedback for a report or presentation all contribute to these feelings.
Emotions are complex and nobody can force someone to feel joyful about work. But employers can create an environment where people are more likely to experience those everyday revelations – something we refer to as an ‘aha moment’ when everything clicks.
Psychologist Dr Phil Parker describes it as: ‘Being able to identify the big and small wins allows us to build a sense of efficacy – that special feeling of confidence that you can achieve the task at hand.’
Technology has an important role to play in sparking this feeling, since it removes many of the frustrations associated with excessive admin and gives people time to focus on the most rewarding tasks that deliver value to them and the organisation.
It offers people the flexibility and freedom to work from anywhere and communicate with colleagues more easily, breaking down traditional departmental silos, as long as it’s used strategically. If it’s intuitive and social, like the technology most of us use in our everyday lives, then it empowers them to work collaboratively and build communities with their colleagues, regardless of where they’re based.