Four ways to create a great workplace culture

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Australian employers lose billions of dollars each year due to staff turnover.

However, a great working environment can help counteract employee churn, reducing the cost and time associated with finding and training new staff.

A happy team is a productive team, so here are SmartCompany’stop four tips for fostering a positive culture in your workplace.

1. Hire the right people and put them in the right positions

Margaret Harrison, managing director of Our HR Company, says a good workplace culture is something business owners have to get right from the get-go.

“I think the staff turnover question can be reduced by recruiting the right people in the beginning,” Harrison told SmartCompany.

“In this day and age, you can assume people have the skills, but you can’t assume they’re going to fit.”

Harrison says she is amazed at how much a business’ problems can be solved when the right hiring processes are put in place.

“The big question is what can you do to help me in my company, and a lot of people don’t ask that during a recruitment process either, which I find quite extraordinary as it’s one of the things I ask all the time,” she said.

“The skills on paper are usually quite correct and you don’t need to worry about that. But getting it right in the beginning saves an awful lot of angst and pain later on. So recruit carefully.”

Melanie Flintoft, the co-founder of Australian Fashion Labels in Adelaide, told SmartCompany hiring people with the right values and enthusiasm is critical for her company’s success.

“We choose people who love what they’re doing and are passionate about it and then they’re very easy to manage,” she said.

“We love our jobs and we want everyone to love them as much as we do. You attract good people by having a good culture.”

“It starts from the minute they sit at reception and the way they are treating the girls at the front desk … I always ask them [the receptionists who are also international sales managers] how did that person treat you when they walked in the door, did they clean up after themselves?”

2. Give your employees flexibility

Harrison says one of the magical ingredients to a positive workplace culture is flexibility. While it may seem like a simple solution, a lot of businesses have a natural aversion to flexibility.

“One of the greatest things that I used to do in corporate life was give someone who had done something really well a day off,” she said.

“Go get your hair done, play with your kids – have fun.”

Flintoft says she and her husband have worked hard to bring flexibility into the workplace, and it pays off.

“Every year we celebrate Melbourne Cup and give everyone the day off and book a restaurant,” she said.

“We even did that when we had a team of four. We continued those traditions – for example, on birthdays we have cupcakes. It’s no mess but they’re really special.”

3. Show leadership and let people know when you are grateful

Flintoft says the desire to have a positive working environment has to come from all areas of the business, but especially from the very top.

“Make sure you’re talking to people,” she said.

“Go out on the floor and set a good example. Work with them, not in a room on your own. How are you meant to create a good culture if you aren’t there on the floor?”

Harrison agrees, saying business owners need to “walk the talk”.

“A constructive culture equals good productivity, which equals good growth and profit – there’s no question about that,” she said.

“Quite frankly, a constructive culture is based on human interaction – where a person gets a good sense of achievement and good human interactions. The behaviour of an owner of a small business and managers are paramount to that because they have to walk the talk every day. And if they don’t walk the talk … forget about it.”

One of the best but simplest ways Harrison has seen a time-poor manager show appreciation is by leaving a post-it note with a thank-you message on an employee’s computer after they go home.

“When they came back in the morning they’d find the post-it notes saying you did a great job yesterday,” she said.

“Everyone was pumped and happy and he created the culture himself – he didn’t wait for a guru to come in and tell him to do it.”

Another nice thing to do is to give an employee flowers, but have them delivered to their home rather than the office.

“That’s really important because the whole family sees they’re appreciated and wanted,” Harrison said.

“It’s the whole thing of feeling good in your family, which is more important than feeling good at work.”

4. Celebrate and build friendships

With a relatively young workforce, Flintoft says it is important to build friendships. However she would encourage any business owner or manager to make sure their employees have fun together.

“We have wine time at 4.30 on a Friday where everybody has to meet in the boardroom and have chats,” she said.

“That will be a good opportunity for people who wouldn’t normally talk to one another to have conversations.”

Australian Fashion Labels also regularly schedules team-building days, functions and fun activities like Jenga and yoga.

“We’ve made lifelong friendships with people in the office.”


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