There are a number of different words that could be used to describe a happy, productive workplace. I chose “flourishing” because I want to emphasize the links between well-adjusted employees, dynamic teams, and organizational success. (And yes, if you know about my philosophy background, you will probably have picked up on the nod to Aristotle!)
Flourishing workplaces share a number of features, whether the work environment is industrial or white-collar, academic or professional, generation-Y casual or established and staid.
These are some of the differences between flourishing and non-flourishing (withering?) workplaces:
In a flourishing workplace people feel free to speak their minds. They share reservations about plans and projects. They ask hard questions without fear of reprisal. In a non-flourishing workplace, people feel they have to “tiptoe” around others and they keep their concerns about workplace issues to themselves. The whole organization is weaker as a result.
In a flourishing workplace meetings are lively. Everyone is engaged. Employees understand that if they speak up, their concerns will be acknowledged, even if decisions do not always go their way. In a non-flourishing workplace, meetings are painful. They may be boring, with “surface harmony” masking a lack of engagement. They may be acrimonious and hostile, indicating a lack of mutual respect. Or meetings may seem continually to cover the same ground, because a consensus about basic issues has never been achieved.
In a flourishing workplace “water-cooler talk” is social. Employees do not engage in negative gossip about one another or about the organization. When casual conversation is work-related, it is constructive and in a spirit of problem-solving. In a non-flourishing workplace, casual conversation is fueled by rumours, back-stabbing, and fear of possible change.
In a flourishing workplace people deal with one another (and with other divisions) directly. If a conflict arises, people try to solve it face-to-face rather than by e-mail or by phone. (I’ve written previously about the dangers of email communication.) They understand how to raise concerns in a respectful manner. In a non-flourishing workplace, employees may turn to elaborate back-channel strategies rather than confront one another directly, wasting effort and time that could be spent more productively.
Most important of all, in a flourishing workplace employees are engaged by their work and motivated to do their best. They feel that what they are doing is important and that their contribution matters. In a non-flourishing workplace, morale is low. Employees do not feel connected to one another or to the work that they do. This may be evident in higher-than-average rates of sick leave, unexplained absenteeism or low employee retention rates.
Which better describes your workplace, flourishing or non-flourishing?
Note: I formulated these ideas with the help of Dr. Pamela Hudak.