Is a Positive Work Environment exaggerated or underestimated?

by: Katre Trofimov, Board Member of Estonian Coeliac Society

We are all human beings with emotions. One day we are in a positive vibe and the next day, any little thing can trigger us to snap at someone. This is especially true when we are working with an emotional field of patients while trying to protect their interests. Yet, at work, whether as a volunteer or paid employee, it is expected to have a positive environment that enables some good emotions to help accelerate our performance. While these are more hopes rather than reality, it begs the question: can happiness in a collaborative team-working environment be enforced?

In general, who are the people demanding for a positive work environment? It can be upper management who feel that the stable ground is starting to shake, it can be the staff who feel that their ideas are not being heard and  their responsibilities taken away, it might be the people with “happy masks” who can’t stand negativity or failure. Usually, each one of us needs to look in the mirror when we think that the environment is not positive enough. Something is probably making us feel unsafe in the existing surroundings. By creating positive rules for others to follow, we hope that they will not get to our “weak spot” which hurts and differs from others’ concept of positivity in that moment.

This New Yorker article refers to studies which bring out the demotivating effect of overly prescriptive or overly vague positivity rules and show that moderate guidelines with implementation flexibility created the best environment. But how do you ensure that positivity is not forced? I would suggest to simply trust your feelings and allow yourself the freedom to express them while listening and respecting the views and feelings of others. We all have a difference of opinions and emotions, after all, this is the joy of life!

Typically, organisational leaders set the emotional example for the team, which usually reflects the working environment. Ultimately, empowerment is the key. The result of a trusting environment where people are allowed to make mistakes, learn and have free discussions with differing viewpoints is that they will take responsibility for their own work. Allowing autonomy in the work process helps to foster emotional positivity.

Alicia Grandey, an organisational psychologist, says in the article: “We are all still a bit like our two-year-old selves: tell a toddler exactly what to do and what not to do, and she balks. Let her figure out within a certain framework, and she is happy.” In order to make this happen, openness and trust from the top-down is needed to create and maintain safe boundaries for teamwork. That only comes once we really start listening to other people and show genuine interest in how each individual “works” in terms of communication, work pace, motivation and even to know how to support them at low points. Instead of forcing the positivity we need to foster it by being an example!