A Mandate for Positivity?

August 31, 2016 Derek Irvine

By Derek Irvine

Recognize This! – Encouraging positivity at work can be challenging, but is achievable through a strong culture of recognition and making work human.

Business managerIt’s no surprise that positive workplaces can help contribute to a whole host of beneficial results, from better health to greater productivity. The challenge that many companies face is how to go about creating a more positive and human-centered workplace.

It’s often a goal that requires walking on a fine line between promoting a positive culture and ensuring that positivity remains authentic and unforced. For many leaders, it boils down to one of the core questions behind a recent piece in The New Yorker: “Can you actually create positivity by mandating it?”

The short answer, after reviewing the available research, is a qualified yes.

Leaders can create positivity, but not through generalized policies or broad directives. Instead, it needs to be fostered through calling attention to authentic and specific examples of leaders and coworkers bringing positivity to their own work and work relationships.

The cumulative power of these moments, amplified through social recognition, can help drive a culture of positivity and ultimately, working human.

What makes this approach successful is striking the right balance between establishing expectations while allowing for individual flexibility in how to meet those expectations. Past research, for example, has found that rules or norms in this middle area are optimally effective - neither too vague to hamper action nor too prescriptive to be demotivating.

Social employee recognition hits that sweet spot. At a company-wide level, it provides a shared framework that aligns expectations behind a set of core values. Within each unit or location, leaders and coworkers are empowered to recognize the specific behaviors that are locally relevant but still deliver upon those shared expectations. The combination captures the unique way each person can contribute to the purpose of the overall organization and find meaning in their work.

An additional benefit stems from the collective awareness that is created by those recognition moments, of the number of different ways that employees have brought positivity into the workplace and been recognized for their contributions. Rather than forcing a single exemplar that may not fit everyone’s personality or style, employees can see how their own personal approaches to positive work can fit into the same culture.

Finally, social recognition can help connect this positivity to the bottom-line, ensuring that employees are motivated and energized to contribute their best selves at work, living the core values that drive the organization forward.

What does your organization do to help you bring more positivity to work?

About the Author

Derek Irvine

Derek is senior vice president, client strategy and consulting, at Workhuman.

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