Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Warm & fuzzy the workplace?

A few ways managers can make it happen

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February is Valentine month, the time when we traditionally celebrate romance and intimate spousal/partnership relationships.

As well, February has become the time when the issue of workplace romance becomes the annual topic of hot debate. "Should you or shouldn't you" is always the question. Yet we all know that since people are spending most of their time at work, the opportunity for romance is naturally there. However, from an organizational perspective, so is the threat of potential repercussions.

While many workplace romances end in marriage success, many do not, and so organizational leaders are always very concerned about potential fallout. These include damage to team morale and productivity and the creation of a sense of unfairness or perceived favouritism.

At the same time, many managers are not only reluctant to intervene, they are genuinely confused about how to handle the situation. As a result, most organizations have created guidelines and policies on how to deal with the matter.

On the other hand, organizational leaders want their employees to develop strong bonds and have good relationships. They want employees to have common interests and a focus on a common mission. They want a strong, harmonious workplace that fosters improved collaboration and stimulates innovation for profitability and success. In other words, what these leaders are referring to is the importance of building a strong, positive workplace culture.

At the same time, in my view, organizational culture must be designed, developed and nurtured rather than left to a life of its own. If that's the case, what are some steps a leader can take to develop a positive work culture where in-depth, non-intimate relationships dominate? The following 10 steps will provide helpful guidance.

1. Build on values and purpose. Helping employees understand your organizational values and mission is critical to motivating them to align their personal behaviour with your overall goals. Individuals want to understand why they are doing something and what's in it for them. Understanding purpose gives focus and motivates people to succeed. Define your purpose and communicate it at every turn.

2. Integrate culture into training. Take advantage of internal training programs, particularly those in leadership and team-building. Use them as a prime opportunity to teach and reinforce the various elements of your workplace culture. This helps participants talk about formal and informal ways in which the culture can be implemented through everything thing employees say and do.

3. Apply effective human resource policies. Employees are very cognizant of fair and equitable treatment, whether it's related to salary and benefits, access to promotion, equal opportunity and/or reward and recognition. Train managers and supervisors to understand and effectively implement these policies. Create handbooks for employees and review the policies with them. When an employee raises an issue about the inadequacy of a policy and/or issues surrounding a misunderstanding, immediately investigate their concern and keep them informed.

4. Facilitate team spirit. Employees want to feel valued and want to feel a true part of their peer group. Take every opportunity to foster team feeling. Create some fun by engaging in periodic team activities. Involve everyone in group discussions. Ask for feedback and encourage input while developing respect for diverse opinions. Help team members effectively present their ideas.

5. Reward and recognize. While there are many opportunities for informal recognition, it's wise to develop a formal reward and recognition program. Whereas monthly employee recognition programs are still effective, there's no need to go to any large expense. Use social media and the Internet to boast about employee accomplishments.

6. Keep the communication door open. While many managers suggest they have an open-door policy, they have to really demonstrate they are indeed accessible. Get out there and mingle with employees, join in conversations, get close to the action. If someone does drop by the office, be sure you know their name and take a moment to listen to their concern and/or their idea. Sit down with groups of employees on a periodic basis and continually communicate your vision and goals.

7. Provide the resources. It's very disturbing to encounter an employee who is hampered in their work because a boss won't provide the resources to do their job. It just doesn't make sense. Go the proverbial extra mile to make sure your team's work-related resource needs are looked after. After all, when you care, they'll care.

8. Overcome procrastination. Many managers fear conflict and therefore do not effectively deal with either employee and/or customer problems when they arise. Employees spot this failure a mile away and when issues are continually not dealt with, they stop raising issues and simply hunker down into career survival. So much for a positive workplace culture, and once gone, it is terribly difficult to win back.

9. Hire for cultural fit and attitude. An employee can have all the technical skills in the world, but if he/she doesn't have the right attitude or live by the same values, they will simply not fit your culture. Typically, this misalignment can be seen within three months of employment, but it's often ignored until it's too late. Focus on hiring for attitude and cultural fit to avoid the risk of damaging morale.

10. Be a role model. There is nothing more disheartening than seeing all the clichés about teamwork and employee value in the workplace and then running headlong into a boss who doesn't live up to the corporate standards. Morale and productivity will plummet and employees will adopt a care-less attitude. Being a positive role model in the workplace has the same value as at home -- people learn and follow the behaviour they see and experience.

In my view, a better focus for the month of February would be ensuring strategies are in place to develop and sustain positive and harmonious relationships. It is this type of relationship between workers that not only creates individual career success but is one of the critical keys to employee productivity, high morale and ultimately, organizational success.


Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC, CCP. M.Ed. is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 15, 2014 H1

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