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How to Create a Happy Productive Workplace


Rebecca Cushway
Rebecca Cushway

There are all sorts of claims about how to create happy, productive workplaces. Many top tier organisations offer sleek work spaces, that look like Star Trek sets, Nespresso coffee stations and free fruit every Friday.  Although these perks are a gesture of appreciation, the underlying relationship employees have with the organisation and its leaders delivers the real productivity difference!

Organisational Psychologists have reported the strong links between positive employee engagement (the tendency for employees to want to stay in a work place, say positive things about a workplace and strive to over achieve), and its impact on productivity. Getting extra effort without having to push, bribe and negotiate constantly, comes down to how you structure work and how you lead! The great news is that it doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming; it just means shifting our efforts to focus on:

1. Take Care of the Basics
When employees start a new job, they hold secret unwritten expectations not found in employment contracts. So do employers! This psychological contract is crucial in upholding and maintaining healthy productive relationships. Key ways to break a psychological contract include:
• Not paying employees correctly or on time
• Continuing to shift meeting times because you are too busy
• Not keeping them in the loop
• Not giving opportunities to try new and interesting things that were promised; then not explaining why
• Continually expecting people to work beyond normal hours because it is the culture
• Not honouring sick or carer days and tolerating office gossip around these issues
• Behaviour that sends a message that maybe “they are not up to scratch” without direct feedback.

2. Structure Work Smartly
Work is often set up in small businesses to take care of all the things the boss does not have time or doesn’t like doing. As the business grows, work tends to align with star employees who get the interesting work as they are more likely efficient and dependable. Poor and inequitable work structure tends to create rifts in workplaces, bottlenecks in workflow and burn out in star performers over time. To avoid this ensure:
• Every role has a clear purpose, outcomes and task that can be measured
• Everyone can see how their part contributes to the whole
• People have some influence over how the work can be tackled and can contribute ideas
• The work is not too broad or too narrow in variety
• There are clearly defined agreements between different staff contributors, hand over requirements and deadlines
•  Align tasks to people’s strengths but don’t make this a permanent arrangement, share opportunities and evaluate staff progress when given a new task to tackle
• Create both team and individual goals to foster cooperation and contribution.

3. Lead More than Manage
Many Australian workers are over managed and under lead! This becomes obvious when employees stop making suggestions because they are scared, or say “we have always done it this way”, and stop asking “why” or “what difference do we need to make here?”. When leaders and staff are focusing more on justifying the status quo rather than the improving their impact on customers, poor management or leadership is becoming entrenched.

Ideally we need to lead about 80% and manage about 20% of the time. Management is taking direct action to ensure tasks get delivered to meet goals. If we “Take Care of Basics” and “Structure Work Smartly”, we are in a better position to deliver this balance.

Leadership is how we relate and inspire, challenge followers to deliver sustained performance and create an environment of striving. “Push, Push, Push” does not deliver this. Leading Transformationally enables greater staff satisfaction, engagement and productivity requiring simple shifts in leader behaviour:
• Build Trust by being consistent, honest, keeping confidences and being fair
• Acting with Integrity by operating consistently with values and role model

• Inspire and Motivate staff by showing each person how they make a difference and how their part contributes, offer challenges and share your journey, even failures
• Allow staff to innovate and come up with ideas, rather than answer questions for them. Ask questions that make them think and challenge their assumptions
• Show genuine gratitude and give positive, constructive meaningful feedback regularly
• Coach individuals and build their confidence giving direct, compassionate feedback.

4. Create Connected Cohesive Teams
Often employers unwittingly create competition rather than collaboration in teams, then wonder why staff are not working together. Setting your team up for success and collaboration requires leaders to:
• Create a purpose that impacts customers not just the business results
• Have the team understand what success and failure looks like and how this impacts customers
• Build or improve processes
• Set team standards for communication and problem resolution
• Validate different strengths and styles in the team to understand different perspectives
• Share tasks around and continue to set new challenges to avoid the team stagnating, giving them a bigger purpose and more responsibility when they achieve goals.


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