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Shifting Workplace Culture

by Jocelyn Plakas-Lock ASEBP | July 28 2016

I recently read The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha and was struck by the unscientific—but highly effective—bench test. The bench test involves finding a place to sit in the middle of a place/group you think you want to be part of and observe. Listen to the people around you talking to each other, look at how they have structured their space. Within moments you’re either saying, “Yes! This is where I want to be,” or you’re looking for a different bench to sit on.

The Mechanics of Culture

Culture can be a tricky, slippery thing to describe and yet we can define how we feel about it from a few minutes “on the bench.” So how do we go about building a healthy organizational culture that passes the bench test? Here are three practical tips to get us started. They are all free, none require management approval, are hopefully contagious and require only seconds to implement.

  1. Apply the 10-foot rule. When you are within 10 feet (3m) of someone, make eye contact, smile and/or say hello. Humans are hardwired to respond to smiling faces. Traditionally used to boost retail sales, this rule also contributes to a culture of civility. I consistently apply it in my workplace and not only does it say, “I see you,” to the people around me, it also makes me feel much more connected to my co-workers.
  1. Use the word “together”. For many of us, even when part of a team, the work we are doing is done alone. We are teaching in separate classrooms, driving our own bus route, or delivering our piece of the project work from our own desk. Research has shown that simply by using the word “together” in goal setting, we can create a feeling of team, in spite of our solo work. It signals we belong, are connected and that we are working toward the same goal, which in turn, leads to better engagement and work outcomes. Check out this great blog by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson for more on this topic.
  1. Don’t hide behind busy. The reality is that we are all busy and it’s not likely to change in the near future; however, busy can make us feel lots of different things like excited, engaged or overwhelmed. When someone asks you how you are, don’t hide behind busy. Tell them what is in your heart. Are you joyful, excited, nervous or scared? When you ask someone how they are, don’t accept busy for an answer either. Say empathetically, “I know. Things are really busy but how are you?” When we engage with each other on a real level, even for a short moment, we build our capacity for empathy and connection and that lends itself to a culture of caring.

If these already occur in your workplace, good for you! You are well on the way to a healthy culture and can begin building on that by adding culture-enhancing activities to your wellness planning or, as leaders, integrate culture into your strategic agendas. After all, as Peter Drucker once said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

Jocelyn Plakas-Lock

As ASEBP’s chief operating officer, 'JPL' (as she is affectionately known) has a vast wealth of knowledge and experience in health promotion with a focus on mental health issues. While she is a great support in this area, JPL is, sadly, utterly unable to execute a cartwheel—a flaw she more than offsets by being a baker of the finest chocolate cupcakes on the planet.