Why a Positive Work Culture is Good for Business

If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard people brush off the idea of a positive work culture, I’d be hanging out on my own private island, sipping cocktails.

Seriously, so many people think that a positive work culture is just a bunch of hooey, with people running around smiling all day, whether they feel happy or not.

News flash: it’s not.  If you think this is soft stuff, think again, because there’s a whole lotta hard data to the contrary.

Let’s start by looking at what is often a typical work culture.  Usually, it’s leaders trying to “fix” their staff by having them work on weaknesses, or simply being uncivil or disrespectful in how they treat their staff.  Any of these sound familiar?

  • Being told your work is that of a kindergartner.
  • Being yelled at for doing a bad job in front of the whole team.
  • Having your work torn up in front of the team.

Ouch, ouch, and ouch.

Believe me, I’m no stranger to this type of disrespectful culture.  I once worked at a company where it was standard practice to find someone hiding out in the copy room crying because they had been so severely berated by their boss.

Now, you might be thinking, so what?  Those companies still get the work done.

Actually, that’s very true in my experience—that company was like a factory, just grinding out the product, regardless of how people felt.  But they missed the bigger picture, which is that it was costing them way more than they realized.

There’s a ton of research on this, and most of it has been pioneered by the amazing Dr. Christine Porath.  She has studied what she calls “incivility in the workplace,” which covers all manner of behaviors such as rudeness, mocking people, disrespect, belittling, and offensive jokes.

What she has found is that people who are disrespected at work are less motivated.

In a survey of business alumni students who were working in a range of industries and described being treated disrespectfully, 66% cut back their efforts at work, 80% lost work time because they were worrying about what happened, and 12% left their job.

When she published that work, she got a bunch of calls, one of which came from the organization Cisco.  They had crunched the numbers and estimated that incivility was costing them $12m/year.

If that ain’t hard data that captures your attention, I don’t know what is…

And, it gets worse.  It turns out that people who just witness incivility demonstrate 25% worse performance and produce 45% fewer ideas.

Wait, it gets even worse: incivility is contagious.  You can catch it anywhere, not just workplaces.

It impacts motivation, performance, relationships, and it even steals our brainpower.

But how did we get here?

Well, Porath found that the #1 reason people were rude or disrespectful was stress

The #2 reason was people being concerned that if they’re too nice they won’t be seen as leaders and respected.  I mean, seriously, are you kidding me??? 

That’s where this gets really crazy because her research also shows that  those who are seen as civil are twice as likely to be viewed as leaders and perform 13% better than those who are not. 

Plus, the #1 thing people want from their leaders is respect, and when employees feel respected, they are:

  • 56% healthier
  • 92% more focused
  • 55% more engaged

And, no surprise here—more likely to stay with their organization.

Okay, I think the picture is become pretty clear now, right?

Incivility = BAD for your organization.  Civility = GOOD for your organization.

If you’re still not convinced by the research, here are a few real-life situations that demonstrate the power of simple civility.

  • A hospital that started a “10-5 movement.”  If you’re within 10 feet of someone you make eye contact and smile.  If you’re within 5 feet you smile and say hello.  The hospital found that these simple actions led to greater employee and customer satisfaction.
  • In 2001, the incoming CEO of Campbell Soup had to deal with the company’s market share cut in half, people laid off, and declining sales.  In 5 years, he turned those numbers around, and within 9 years they were achieving all-time performance records and awards for best place to work. He did it by telling people they would meet high standards but do it civilly.  He said he was tough-minded on standards but tender-hearted with people.  He made it his mission to have touchpoints every day with people throughout the organization, so they felt valued, and he handwrote over 30,000 thank you notes to employees.
  • The incoming CEO of a Prudential company took the organization from an $80 million dollar loss to a $20 million dollar profit in ONE year!  How?  By creating a positive work culture.

The bottom line: You can’t afford to NOT foster civility and positivity in your workplace.

Why would you choose to lose money and talent, or settle for mediocrity, when you could make some simple changes and start reaping the benefits?

For the smart leader, there is only one option: a civil and positive work culture.

If you want to dig into more of Christine Porath’s work, check out her TedTalk “Why Being Respectful to Your Coworkers is Good for Business” or go to her website, ChristinePorath.com.

And, if you want more on how you could start shifting to a positive work culture and getting better results for you, your team, and your whole organization, grab my free book: 25 Tips for Leaders: How to Leverage the Science of Happiness to Increase Performance, Productivity, and Profitability

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