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Leadership and Management

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Five practices for a professional workplace

Workplaces can be rife with conflict and clashes, which can cost businesses dearly. So how can you ensure a positive and productive work environment?

Last updated: 02 Oct 2019 5 min read

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1. Focus on outcomes, not hours

The long-hours culture can be a barrier to productivity and professionalism in any workplace, according to John McLachlan, an organisational psychologist and co-founder of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy.

“A prevailing expectation for employees to work beyond their contracted hours places an incredible amount of unnecessary stress on those who do not, or cannot, always stay later, [who] will feel as if they’re failing in their role,” he says.

Instead of clock-watching, he recommends conducting appraisals that focus on outcomes and deliverable goals that show the contribution made by each employee. “Also, remove the element of time from your praise and focus on phrases like ‘well done for delivering’, which focus on their contribution,” adds McLachlan.

He also stresses the importance of encouraging people to have a full lunch break, saying that giving the brain a break from difficult tasks can lead to effective solutions. This also promotes well-being by encouraging people to be active and sociable, if they wish.

2. Recognise efforts

Leadership coach Zoe Hawkins advises business owners to put a recognition scheme in place to show people they’re valued and appreciated. “It doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be as simple as having a stack of postcards, and employees can write personalised messages of thanks for people who have had an impact on them,” she says.

“It’s important to recognise people for what they do – for instance, ‘That was a great presentation’ – and also for who they are – ‘Thank you for listening to me, you’re a great team player.’”

Start by holding short sessions explaining why recognition is important at work and encourage everyone to participate in the scheme. “The important thing here is keeping it going, so regular communication and celebration of people’s achievements will underpin a successful recognition scheme,” she says.

David Selves, broadcaster and founder of business advisory firm The Selves Group, agrees that effort must be noted to make staff feel valued. “Unfortunately, some business management training overlooks the positive impact of appreciation,” he says, “but it’s crucial, as it motivates people to achieve more and helps to build company loyalty.”

Ian Feaver, a director at workplace culture specialist OC Tanner Europe, says a culture of appreciation and recognition must be promoted across organisations. “When people feel appreciated and valued, they’re generally happier, more engaged and highly motivated,” he says. “In fact, 53% of employees would stay at their jobs longer if their employers showed them appreciation.”

3. Communicate

Regularly check in on how the company is doing with its long-term goals and objectives – and how employees feel that the company is living up to its core values, suggests Johnny Warström, CEO and co-founder of interactive presentation and meeting platform Mentimeter.

“Engaged workers will be more enthusiastic and productive, while becoming less passive and taking responsibility for their performance”David Selves, broadcaster and founder, The Selves Group

He recommends face-to-face meetings and digital tools that allow people to respond anonymously. “The key is to make everyone at the company, at whatever level, understand the overarching missions and values of the company,” he says.

Daniel Ball, director at software company Wax Digital, says high employee morale can only be achieved when staff are comfortable to air grievances to management. He has found that managers with an open-door policy or who offer regular sessions for employees to discuss any issues they may have help to keep staff satisfied and encourage them to stay put in their jobs.

4. Engage employees

Feaver says that an organisation that lacks focus and direction will exacerbate any unrest. “This is why a clear organisational purpose is so important,” he says. “Understanding a company’s vision, how it’s positively effecting change and how each person fits into the bigger picture will help staff to feel more in control and calmer.”

Indeed, employees who are alienated often fall into a dangerous spiral of not caring about their job, which can affect productivity and morale across the team, says Selves.

“To combat this problem, managers need to take the time to find out how to make their employees care about the company’s vision,” he suggests. “Ultimately, engaged workers will be more enthusiastic and productive, while becoming less passive and taking responsibility for their performance.”

He adds that meetings provide a business with a regular forum on core values, allowing members to realign principles and give perspective on business practices.

5. Lead by example

While a checklist is valuable, business owners should not be lulled into a false sense of security. John McLachlan says that if a business leader has ticked everything off the list, they may feel their part is done. However, professionalism and productivity must be constantly examined.

He advocates having clearly articulated company values and a company culture that embodies them. “Alongside these values, it can be useful to have a list of guidelines and tips that encourage professional and productive behaviours,” he says. “These guidelines are not just for employees. It’s essential that leaders model the behaviours they wish to see from their employees so that everyone knows what is expected.”

If conflict arises, it doesn’t mean that professionalism has been lost; stopping ‘healthy’ conflict from arising could stifle innovation and ultimately affect progress within the organisation, says Alison Watson, undergraduate business programme team leader at Arden University.

“However, when instances such as this occur, managers must take the lead and ensure that issues are dealt with objectively and both parties are heard,” she says. “The manager needs to understand the problem and draw out the ‘terms of reference’, or the facts rather than the emotions.

“The best possible solution would be for the manager to facilitate a discussion between the parties involved in order to jointly seek a solution. This will demonstrate to all employees that feedback and ideas are encouraged, as well as collaboration.”

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Leadership and Management