No matter what our individual job description, we are all contributors to the culture in which we live and work.  For those of us who find ourselves in a workplace where we feel encouraged by our co-workers and inspired by our work, celebrate it; and for heaven’s sake don’t take it for granted.  A positive and healthy workplace culture is a living organism that can be fragile and requires proactive care and attention from every member.

A healthy workplace culture is a living organism that can be fragile and requires attention.

Most of us will find ourselves, at one time or another, in a challenging season where we feel discouraged or demoralized at work.  Maybe the company is going through a difficult transition. Maybe your workgroup is made up of individuals who operate differently than you. Maybe you’re struggling to understand the goals and objectives you’re working toward.  At times like these, it can be tempting to feel like a victim of a toxic workplace culture.

But what if we took a different view?  What if we saw opportunity in the hardship.  Whether we acknowledge our contribution or not, each of us has an affect on the culture around us. And as long as we stay, we make a choice. We can use our voice and our actions to contribute in a positive way…or not.

Whether you are enjoying a healthy workplace culture and want to keep it that way, or you are striving to make a difference in a less-than-positive environment, allow me to offer 7 ways you may be able to shift perspective toward your role as a culture maker.

1. Be on a mission

“You were born to do so much more than pay bills and die,” says blogger Becca Martin.  Find your own personal mission within your workplace.  Use your corner of the world to do good and do it well.  No matter what your role entails, you were born to add unique value.  Every decision you make can be an extension of your personal mission – where you eat your lunch, the level of commitment you put into your day-to-day duties, your tone of voice, the words you choose to express your perspectives, the words you choose not to say.

2. Add kindness to your work routine

My friend Pam, who works in shipping at Terryberry, is sometimes the one who packages mail from the company’s headquarters in Grand Rapids and sends it to my office.  She often will handwrite a note on the back of an envelope:  “Come back and visit soon,” or “Hope you’re having a good day! 🙂 ”  This never fails to make me smile and add some warmth to my day.  She doesn’t have to do it. She chooses to do it.  And it makes a difference.

3. Look for what is good

For many of us, it’s easy to see what’s wrong or broken. It takes discipline and training to teach ourselves to look for what is good and right.  We need to see both.  It’s certainly important to be able to identify areas where we can improve and get better.  But if that’s all we focus on, it’s easy to become discouraged.

Let’s also look for what’s going right. Ignore what is good, and you’ll get less of it.  Highlight what is good; praise those who do their job well or go above and beyond.  You’ll generally get more of what you appreciate, recognize and reward.

4. See people, not just tasks

My colleague Danny welcomes everyone who passes by his desk.  He does it in such a way that people feel seen.  He’ll look up from what he’s doing, give a high five, use their name and smile.  I’m pretty sure he’s genuinely a joyful person.  We don’t all have to have the same personality, but we can all take a minute to lift our eyes from our phone or computer and notice those around us.

While writing this post actually, I received a call from one of our department heads. He’d learned that a new intern that had joined his team had an interest in marketing.  He wanted to see if we had opportunities to help this new team member learn our marketing process.  By listening to the interests of his staff, and then taking the time to make connections, Drew demonstrates to his team that he sees each one as a whole person and wants to help them grow.

I am often impressed by how Mike, Terryberry’s managing partner, does this.  The company has grown to hundreds of employees around the globe. Still, Mike knows each one of us by name, specifics of what our job role entails, and often personal details about family and interests.  This kind of culture helps people feel like part of a team instead of cogs in a wheel.

5. Celebrate one another’s successes

Yes, I am writing this in my role working for an employee recognition provider, but that doesn’t make it less true.  Recognizing and appreciating one another in the workplace is important.  When a coworker does something remarkable…make a remark.  It doesn’t  have to be a novel or a poem. Sincere words that say you noticed and you appreciate it will go a long way toward building a kindness culture around you.  Promo alert: if your organization is looking for a structured employee recognition program, Terryberry can help!

6. Choose empathy

When a colleague is struggling, choose empathy. Whether it’s a personal struggle or job-related, knowing your coworkers have your back is, in my opinion, one of the defining characteristics of a kindness culture.  Send flowers; take time to listen; share the load. Whatever your language, use your voice and your actions to help your teammate get through it.

7. Give each other the benefit of the doubt

We’ve all muddled things up from time to time.  Most of us have acted in ways we regret.  We’ve been preoccupied or forgetful, missed the mark on a project, miscommunicated and misunderstood.  If we perceive that a coworker has dropped the ball or missed expectations, consider a conversation before criticism.  There may be more to the situation than is apparent at first glance. Chances are, you’ll both come away with a broader perspective.   “Crucial conversations” are necessary in all relationships, but when we approach them with the goal of finding understanding, we’re more likely to achieve a positive result.

Finally, give yourself some slack.  As I’m writing this, I think of all the many ways and many times I’ve fallen short on these 7 items.  Let’s all help each other up when we fall and spur one another on toward healthy ways to work and live.