Imagine a world where all employees wake up excited to go to their job, collaborate with colleagues who they genuinely enjoy, and work toward a common goal. This goal isn’t achievable without a positive workplace culture. While your work may be challenging, stressful, or demanding at times, your company culture shouldn’t add additional stress to your life.
Allie Treske Ahearn, a content manager, shares what the positive workplace culture at her employer, Nugget, feels like: “Rest and creating space for team members to show up as a whole person—not just ‘another employee’—are very important at Nugget. We are encouraged to use our PTO, set boundaries with work hours, and truly sign off from work when the day is done. … The culture is people-first, employee-second—people genuinely want to know how you're doing and get to know you— and I think that makes us a stronger team!”
That’s just one example. Here are 13 more signs of a positive workplace culture.
Read more: 13 Must-Have Inclusive Workplace Practices
13 signs of a positive workplace culture
1. Employees talk about their families
A positive workplace culture means people feel safe talking about their lives outside of work. If a company prioritizes a sense of belonging and acceptance—and a work-life balance—employees are likely going to feel more comfortable bringing up the jaw-dropping final score of their kid’s soccer game or what their weekend plans are with their partner. Nearly a third of working parents don’t feel comfortable talking to their boss about their childcare needs, and 39 percent of employees say they worry they could be let go from their jobs if they did, signaling a need for change in how we talk about our families.
Genivieve Glynn, director of HR Programs at eClerx echoes the sentiment of how sharing tidbits about her family adds to her happiness at work: "I'm all about personal connections, and becoming a mom has allowed me to build even stronger relationships with my coworkers who are parents. Throughout the pandemic, I've missed connecting with coworkers in person (there's just no substitution!), so being able to bond over our kids’ milestones during the first five minutes of a Zoom meeting makes my day!”
Read more: The Best Work-Life Balance Companies & What They Do Right
2. People actually take vacations
In a positive workplace culture, people take advantage of flexible work hours and their guaranteed paid time off to rest and recover. Companies should support and encourage their employees to destress and empower them to own their schedules and have autonomy over their lives outside of work.
Paid time off and flexible work hours build trust since workers are entrusted to get their work done in whatever way that works for them, and research shows that employees value paid time off just as much as a good salary. In a positive workplace, workers should feel comfortable taking paid time off regardless of whether they still have work to do and feel safe to work when and where they feel most productive.
In 2021, we asked women at our partner companies to share the ways their employer or manager had encouraged them to take time away from work. Tamara Jennings, a quality assurance engineer at Penn Interactive Ventures, shared how her vacation helped her come back to work energized: “This year, PI management organized our release schedule to allow employees to take time off this summer. When I told my managers I wanted to take advantage of this by booking a week-long trip to Colorado, they said to go out and have fun and that they’d have things covered while I was away. I came back physically tired from hiking, whitewater rafting, and other adventures, but mentally refreshed and ready to get back to work!”
3. There isn’t a social hierarchy
Obviously, some type of hierarchy is necessary for decision-making, but positive workplace cultures are rich in collaboration and open-mindedness—meaning leaders don’t have an inflexible, autocratic leadership style where they call all of the shots and expect everyone to follow without input.
Positive cultures create a psychologically safe workplace where employees at every level of the organization are encouraged to speak up and share ideas. Leaders don’t dominate meetings—they lead with empathy, listen actively, and thank team members for their contributions.
Read more: 4 Leadership Roles Every Great Manager Should Improve
4. Everyone practices good communication skills
A resounding 97 percent of employees believe communication impacts their task efficacy on a daily basis, and McKinsey & Company found that improving communication within organizations could raise workers’ productivity by 20 to 25 percent.
For instance, you could talk about how managers and direct reports set up communication plans when switching to flex work hours or how companies keep calendars visible to provide transparency of when people are away. Or pull some over-communication examples of asynchronous work, like recording virtual meetings so everyone can view them.
Read more: Lack of Communication: 5 Strategies Leaders Should Use ASAP
5. People feel safe elevating concerns
In a positive workplace culture, visionary leaders include employees in decision-making and creative processes—they’re inclusive and invite their employees to contribute to the big picture. In other words, employees should feel like it’s perfectly acceptable to give feedback about what’s not working in their job or give a suggestion to their manager about a new way of doing things.
A few tactics that create a listening culture include regular, effective 1:1s, training in active listening, town halls, and opportunities for employees to provide anonymous feedback. For example, through routine auditing, computer software company Databricks has created a positive workplace culture by listening to employees. Employees have direct access to executives across Databricks and feel comfortable voicing their concerns and providing feedback on ways to approach fairness and equity. They even admit that the strides they’ve achieved as a company wouldn’t have been possible without the help of the employees who hold management accountable.
6. There are high levels of trust
Employees working in high-trust companies enjoy their jobs 60 percent more, are 70 percent more aligned with their companies’ purpose, feel 66 percent closer to their colleagues, have 11 percent more empathy for their workmates, and feel a greater sense of accomplishment.
When employees trust their managers and bosses, those bonds can lead to a greater sense of comfort and stability in the workplace. “You may feel more confident and it may enable you to be more communicative with your boss when you have a problem, need assistance, or have new ideas,” says clinical psychologist Dr. Jessica January Behr.
Read more: Ask a Recruiter: How Can Leaders & Managers Build Cultures of Trust?
7. Transparency is the norm
Transparent relationships between leaders and teams create an atmosphere of safety and trustworthiness. About 80 percent of workers want to know more about how decisions are being made by their employers, and studies have found that transparency is the number-one factor contributing to employees’ overall happiness.
More specifically, InHerSight data show that pay transparency correlates with higher satisfaction among women employees. That means initiatives like supermarket Whole Foods’ wage transparency, wherein every employee knows what everyone else makes, contribute to a positive workplace culture. On Whole Foods’ career path page, there’s a job description and average pay for all employee levels, from entry at team member ($30,000) to store team leader ($99,000). Cofounder and CEO John Mackey says that for employees who don’t have a college degree, seeing how much they can make as a team lead, for example, gives them something to strive for and aspire to, and they can trust that they’ll have the same shot at achieving their goals as everyone else.
8. Employees are regularly recognized and appreciated
Gratitude is essential for creating a happy, healthy company culture. Good leaders show appreciation and recognition for hard-working employees and offer opportunities for growth. Plus, gratitude reinforces positive qualities like self-control, patience, and honesty in the workplace.
For example, human resources consultant Rebecca Mazin used weekly staff meetings to encourage other leaders around her to practice gratitude. She says, “I brought blank note cards to senior staff meetings, and we never left without each person writing at least one note. It was important to steer clear of 'attaboys' and write notes that expressed specific gratitude for actions taken on behalf of guests and fellow staff.”
9. Office friendships are made
Positive workplace cultures are conducive to friendships, and those friendships reinforce positive culture itself. A LinkedIn study found that 46 percent of professionals believe that having work friends enhances their overall happiness, and a separate study found that 70 percent of employees say having friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life.
“People are more creative and productive when they experience more positive inner work life, including more positive emotions, stronger motivation toward the work itself and more positive perceptions of the organization,” says Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile, coauthor of The Progress Principle. “And one of the things that contributes to positive inner work life is a sense of camaraderie with teammates and close coworkers—a sense of bonding and mutual trust.”
10. Toxic behavior is called out
In positive workplace cultures, toxic behavior like microaggressions, gaslighting, discrimination, bullying, and gossip are called out and never tolerated. Saira Gangji, a licensed workplace investigator, says, “The most significant duty that a manager has is to create a healthy and safe work environment for their employees. In many jurisdictions, this is a legal obligation and, at the very least, you have a moral obligation.”
Toxic behavior can occur even in cultures that seem positive from the outside, and if leaders are truly dedicated to creating a healthy and inclusive workplace, they’ll bring in organizational consultants or workplace experts who can offer a new perspective on best practices to fixing the environment. Detailing specific changes, goals, timelines, and who will be accountable for making sure the company stays on the right path is imperative in order to maintain a positive workplace culture and eradicate any toxicity.
Read more: 7 Toxic Traits & How to Deal with Them in the Workplace
11. Meetings are quick and efficient
Meetings are essential for keeping everyone up to speed in an organization, but only if the meeting time is used appropriately. The number of meetings has steadily increased over the past several decades, and employees who attend multiple meetings throughout the day report feeling more tired and rushed to complete their other job responsibilities. Respecting employees’ schedules and time is a great way to foster a positive workplace culture, and meetings that are efficient yet still embrace a few minutes of small talk in the beginning or end are key.
Cofounder and director of operations at Cuttlesoft Frank Valcarcel says, “Our company has a lot of young families, and we've embraced that parent life can be unpredictable. So many of our calls include a curious crawler or tenacious toddler in the background. Even as a remote team, this has allowed us to watch each other's kids grow up and celebrate those proud, precious firsts as a team.”
Read more: 5-Minute Team Building Activities for Virtual or Hybrid Teams
12. Employees are able to work flexible hours
Our data shows that 31 percent of women say they need additional employer benefits like schedule flexibility to achieve their goals, and 67 percent of women say that benefits such as paid family leave, flexible work hours, and remote work opportunities most strongly signal to them that a company supports women and has a positive culture.
Sam Hamilton, senior UX designer engineer at CrowdStrike, says, “I am so grateful for the flexibility that CrowdStrike offers me as a working parent. I can't imagine working somewhere where my success is measured in hours spent sitting at my computer rather than by the quality of work I produce. This flexibility is essential to me and helps me balance my family life with my work life in a way that makes me truly happy and fulfilled on both fronts. Being able to set my own schedule and work remotely has been such a huge quality-of-life improvement.”
13. Mental health support is a priority
Two-thirds of employees have symptoms of anxiety or depression, and research shows that 39 percent of employers have updated their health plans since the start of the pandemic to expand access to mental health services like telehealth counseling, in-person therapy sessions, and Headspace or Calm subscriptions. Healthy work cultures champion and look after employees’ mental health, and reap many benefits in the process—higher employee productivity, retention, engagement, and so on.
“Providing health support leads to higher performance and productivity. Staying ahead of condition symptoms mean the employee is less likely to be distracted at work, absent, or on disability. These are real dollar savings,” says Amy Robertson, a CEO who provides HR consulting services. “From a human perspective, taking care of your employees’ health leads to loyalty and engagement. People want to feel their employer and manager cares for them just as much as the top and bottom line. Employers can help avoid costs related to recruiting, onboarding, and turnover by being authentically concerned for the health and welfare of all people.”
Read more: 20 Restorative Ways to Spend a Mental Health Day, According to Experts