One thing is clear about the current state of work: employees are exhausted. Take it from the increased number of resignations and the trend toward quiet quitting, even at a time of economic uncertainty. We spend most of our lives working and have become increasingly aware that our work environment plays a big role in our well-being.
A healthy work environment is one that integrates multiple factors to provide social, physical, psychological and organizational safety for employees. It attracts the brightest minds to companies, fosters communication, encourages collaboration, and provides people with a sense of community, which improves engagement at work.
In this article, I highlight how some companies with impressive work values have designed healthy work environments. I chose these companies based on employee feedback in articles and job boards, media coverage of their approach to work, my assessment of their values against their actions, and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Healthy Workplace Model, which emphasizes the need for personal health resources, community participation, and physical and psychosocial safety.
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1. Bring Your Values to the Door
Skills are often the default measure when assessing potential employees. It’s understandable because the best teams are made of talented people working toward a common goal. But while it’s normal to focus on a candidate’s abilities, your company might benefit best from a values-based approach to hiring.
Float, a collaborative resource management software, approaches hiring from a values-based standpoint. They screen candidates using a Hell Yes rule that allows them to hire for value add — a combination of both functional and value fit, rather than a single side of the coin.
Linda Biggs, Float’s talent partner, notes that “at the most basic level, hiring is about finding the right people and putting them in a position to succeed. Yet, it’s not enough to fill positions with people who have the requisite skills to do the job adequately.” She explains that Hell Yes is less about an individual’s specific skill set and more about homogeneity. “It’s about setting people up to succeed because they have the skills, goals, and values that align with the rest of our team.”
Float prioritizes capability, capacity, and alignment, asking important questions like;
- Capability (skill set): Can the person perform the role successfully based on skill set and experience?
- Capacity (goals): Is this someone who will thrive in their role for the next several years?
- Alignment (values + mindset): How does this person approach work and life individually and as a member of a team?
This style of hiring is not about culture fit — that vague term that often relies on gut instinct and shared experiences, and is used to justify biases even though diverse teams are more likely to distil biases and drive innovation. Screening candidates for your values allows you to identify people who will be as content at your company as you are with their abilities and mindset. It’s a process that requires reciprocity. You have to make room for candidates to assess their values against your company’s. This way, candidates can make better decisions about working with you. As Biggs explained, “Interviews should be reciprocal, and candidates need to get answers to the questions they have in order to make the best decision for themselves and to do their best work.”
When you take a holistic approach to hiring, you create an environment teeming with talented people that show up engaged at work. You sync your team’s effort with your vision and unlock the door to long-term growth.
2. Design People-first Policies that Encourage Rest
Burnout is a growing threat in the workplace. 52% of workers in Indeed’s Employee Burnout Survey reported feeling burned out at work. In Deloitte’s Workplace Burnout Survey, 77% of respondents experienced burnout at their jobs. That’s an unhealthy thread that all leaders should take seriously.
For your team to perform optimally, you need to incorporate policies that encourage rest. One such policy is remote work. 56% of respondents in FlexJobs and Mental Health America’s survey say that having flexibility in their workday is a good way for employers to support their mental health. Remote work, when done well, reduces stress and improves mental health. It also ehances productivity. Slite, a knowledge management software company with a remote-first team, notes that “with remote management, the emphasis is placed on every employee’s output, rather than their perceived abilities or characteristics. This can lead to less bias towards those who ‘show up’ or ‘show off’ and favor those who simply do great work.”
Family leave benefit is another people-first policy to consider. Parenthood is a life-changing event that requires adjustments, and research has found that for mothers who worked prior to childbirth and return to work in the first year, having less than 12 weeks of maternal leave and less than eight weeks of paid maternal leave are both associated with increased depressive symptoms. Parental leaves also have a profound effect on children and their future. Studies have shown that maternity leaves decrease high school dropout rates, while paternity leaves improve children’s school performance particularly in families where the father has higher education than the mother.
Help Scout, a software company that provides an email-based customer support platform, introduced twelve weeks of paid parental leave for all new parents in 2019, including for adoption and foster care. In an article on supporting working parents, their team notes, “With so much focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts right now, it’s important to include parents and caregivers in that conversation. Parents are an integral part of the D&I movement, and creating a secure and safe place for them to do their best work will naturally cause them to excel.”
The company also takes a family-friendliness approach to building their culture. They have a Slack channel called #cubscouts, which is dedicated to sharing family-related photos or stories, citing that “It’s fun to read through the funny stories the team share about their kids, while others ask for advice, or share helpful articles. It’s a safe place to talk about all things little people-related.”
Your employees are integral to the success of your business. They’re human, and looking past their humanity affects their capacity at work. Choosing one policy that is valuable to your people is a good start for helping them make the most of their time and improving their wellbeing and work quality.
3. Create shared experiences
Buffer, a software company Known for its people-centred approach to work, has a program called Build Week. It’s designed to get people to collaborate on creative ideas and drive innovation in the workplace. CEO Joel Gascoigne wrote in Buffer’s Open blog that “We want to drive more connection across the team in a time where we’ve felt it lacking for the past couple of years. We’ll form teams, work with people we don’t typically work with, and work together on an idea we feel called towards.”
During Build Week, employees from different teams gather in Slack groups to develop ideas previously collected and voted on in a Trello board. As Gascoigne explains, “The highest level goals of Build Week are to inject into the company and team a spirit of shipping, creativity, and innovation, making progress and decisions rapidly, comfort with uncertainty, and ultimately going from idea to usable value out in the world in the space of a week. Build Week can also be a time where strong bonds, both in work and personally, are formed. My dream would be that after Build Week, people within their teams hit each other up in Slack and jump on a spontaneous catch-up call once in a while because they’ve become close during the week.”
Design ways for your people to connect through shared experiences. It builds a sense of community, which has many benefits like increased ease of communication between employees, better engagement, and improved productivity.
You can introduce in-person activities like company retreats, anniversary celebrations, community engagements, and even shared meals which researchers have found to have a positive effect on job performance. Or curate virtual experiences like more engaging team meetings or programs like Buffer’s Build Week, which allows team members to connect by working together on projects.
4. Create growth opportunities for your team
Only 20% of respondents in LinkedIn’s 2022 Workplace Learning Report agree that their organization’s leadership values learning now more than ever before. That’s a sour percentage. People want growth in their professional lives. It provides a greater sense of fulfilment and achievement, which eventually simmers into your company’s output. Professional development programs are a great way to help your employees grow. You can provide stipends, benefits, and incentives that enable them to stay up-to-date in their fields, get internal promotions, and move closer to their career goals.
Different companies support Learning & Development (L&D) with different programs. Squarespace, a company with tools that power website creation, has a learning platform that offers customized employee development options. They provide up to $5,000 in tuition reimbursement to support employees seeking to further their expertise.
Jason O’Neill, Director of L&D at Squarespace, told The Muse that “If you are a new employee joining Squarespace or moving internally to a people management role for the first time, the team does a great job in offering a robust, white-glove experience to support and accelerate your transition into your new role. There is also a broad array of offerings in place for employees to navigate their growth, from self-paced learning resources to open enrollment professional development sessions to employee education reimbursement benefits.”
While Buffer provides a Growth Mindset fund for its people, Etsy, an e-commerce company, is known for Etsy School, a series of workshops and projects aimed at improving employee skills and transforming them into lifelong learners and teachers.
Learning and development programs can take many forms. You could adopt in-person group lectures, self-directed online learning, in-person or virtual coaching, internal or external mentoring, blended learning, or a combination of methods. Whichever you decide on, it’s important to keep it accessible, detailed, and relevant to employees needs. Respondents in 360Learning’s L&D survey expressed that they either had inadequate time for training or the training provided isn’t comprehensive and relevant to the job or situation.
Take a lean learning approach to your L&D efforts and make space for your team to actually learn. This way, you show them how valuable they are to your team. They gain the right skills and apply them to real-world situations, ultimately preventing stagnation and improving commitment to your business.
5. Practice Transparency
Building a healthy work environment requires openness. Tiny Pulse reported in a 2013 survey that workplace transparency is the number-one factor in employee happiness. In a 2010 study published in The Leadership Quarterly, researchers found that leaders who practice transparency and positivity are perceived as more trustworthy and effective. Transparency leads to trust, and trust enhances collaboration, problem-solving, and creative thinking, which can positively impact your business.
Gitlab, the open-source DevOps platform, is known for taking a transparent approach to operations. The company makes public their team handbook and a repository of the Gitlab website. They live stream and share recordings of some of their meetings, and are transparent about risks, strategies, security incidents, team member profiles, marketing and infrastructure, and product direction. They also publish a compensation calculator like Checkly, Codacy, and Buffer. And In 2021, the company took its DevOps Platform public.
With transparency as a core value, everything at GitLab is public by default. They explain that “The public process acts as a filter and allows others to benefit from the conversation. By making information public, we can reduce the threshold to contribution and make collaboration easier.”
But it’s not only about making information accessible to all. Gitlab uses transparency as a growth tool by ensuring that information “flows to the correct places and is findable by those who need it. Focusing on information flow will ensure you, for example, utilize multi-modal communication, or that you keep your stakeholders informed of changes by posting links to MRs in Slack. This also helps with institutional memory: a year from now when you want to know why a decision was made, or not, the issue or MR that has the decision also shares why the decision was made. This is related to Chesterton’s fence — it’s much easier to suggest removing or changing something if you know why it exists in the first place.”
Of course, being transparent has its limits and pitfalls. As Caryn Hubbard, Buffer’s vice president of finance, told Kevin J. Delaney of CharterWorks, aspects like pay transparency can “introduce the human behavior of comparison and judgment about why someone is achieving more. Some of those sidebar conversations and concerns that can exist in any company culture, they don’t go away with salary transparency.” Also, sharing confidential information about customers or team members would be a breach of privacy.
If you’re concerned about the side effects of transparency, work with other leaders in your company to create measures against them. And if you’re concerned about sharing too much in public, consider taking a slow approach to transparency. Explore one area before another as it gives you time to learn from its impact on your organization.
Transparency encourages your people to share their ideas and concerns openly. Companies that are open about their operations are more likely to attract investors, engage employees, drive creativity, and improve productivity. But transparency isn’t about leaving everything out on the table. It’s an intentional practice that requires clear principles and guidelines on your part.
Getting Your House in Order
It’s never been more necessary to have a safe and healthy work environment. Doing so not only helps your corporate image but also builds trust between you and your employees, which can improve loyalty and performance.
There are many ways to design a people-first work environment. But one of the common threads between the companies on this list is that they have clearly defined values that drive their approach to work. Values are important for designing the right policies and redirecting your steps when you need to make adjustments to your programs. You can practice transparency or create a flexible work schedule, parental leave policies, shared experiences, and growth opportunities. But it’s always important to lead with your values, implement in stages, and improve as you go.