Fostering a positive workplace

A selection panel keen to know if you are an effective manager might come up with a question about how you foster a positive working environment. What does this mean and how do you do achieve this?

All staff have an obligation to create a positive working environment that reflects respect and courtesy. Staff want to work in a place that is safe, where they feel valued, know what is expected, receive training and development, and where people generally get along.

The APSC’s publication on Respect is a useful place to start for ideas on how to address this issue.

As this publication points out, federal legislation includes a number of concepts—respect, courtesy, harassment and diversity—that all relate to the nature of working relationships and workplace culture. However these terms are not defined. Based on the definitions provided respect and courtesy cover valuing others, treating people with consideration, good manners, politeness, treating people fairly and objectively.

Respect provides tips for encouraging a culture of respect and courteous behaviour. They include:

  • Open, clear, friendly communication
  • Building trust in the team or work group
  • Monitoring potential bullying, harassment or low morale
  • Providing constructive performance guidance, including positive feedback.
  • Developing a set of agreed team behaviours that embed the APS Values and Code of Conduct
  • Acknowledging how people achieve, as well as what they achieve
  • Ensuring support for a culturally inclusive workplace
  • Managing workloads and priorities including setting realistic deadlines, helping staff to re-prioritise workloads, clearly explaining expected outcomes
  • Encouraging staff to find a good work-life balance.

The publication is also useful for providing examples of failing to show respect and courtesy, such as yelling at others, not allowing others to be heard, ignoring people who should be involved, expressing offensive views, belittling others.

A section is given to harassment and bullying. While obvious behaviours are readily identifiable, it is the more subtle behaviours that can be overlooked. Respect gives some examples of these behaviours:

ostracism—physical or social isolation; exclusion from work-related activities; not acknowledging or responding to an individual’s presence or comments; leaving the room when a person enters

undermining—persistent and baseless criticism; unwarranted removal of responsibility; ridicule; taunts; hectoring; spreading gossip and rumours (either verbally or by email); including inappropriate remarks in emails about a person sent to and/or copied to others; belittling or derogatory remarks or actions that diminish a person’s dignity (such as eye-rolling responses)

sabotage—giving meaningless tasks, confusing and/or contradictory instructions; inappropriately and frequently changing targets and work deadlines; unnecessary disruptions; deliberately withholding important information; deliberately failing to complete tasks or missing deadlines; insisting on petty work requirements.

There are also behaviours that are not harassment. Supervisors and managers need to understand this so as to respond appropriately.

Examples given are:

  • expressing differences of opinion
  • providing constructive and courteous feedback, counselling or advice about work-related behaviour and performance
  • carrying out legitimate or reasonable management decisions or actions, undertaken in a reasonable way and with respect and courtesy, such as action relating to work allocation, promotions, unsatisfactory performance.
  • making a complaint about a manager’s or other employee’s conduct, if the complaint is made in a proper and reasonable way.

If you haven’t been in a management or supervisory role and/or haven’t had to deal with inappropriate behaviour, it could be difficult to respond to interview questions about how you would handle such situations. Respect provides useful tips about the distinction between using informal and formal processes. Use an informal process:

  • If it is a single incident
  • If it appears the behaviour is unintentional
  • If it appears that it can be resolved within the work area
  • If the person who raised the issue agrees to an informal process

Use a formal process:

  • If informal processes have failed and it is unlikely that further informal intervention will resolve the issue
  • If the behaviour is serious (even if a single incident) or longstanding
  • If there is significant disagreement about what has occurred and what should happen.

If you wish to indicate how you measure whether you have fostered a positive working environment, you can draw on:

  • staff retention/turnover rates
  • rates of sick leave and unscheduled absences
  • information from exit interviews
  • results of 360 degree feedback.

I recommend you read this publication so you can be a person who fosters a positive working environment.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.