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Work Culture: HR’s Guide to Cultivate a Positive & Productive Workplace

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The days when money and designations were the essential factors motivating employees to perform in a job are long gone. Highly competitive work environments and the fact that opportunities are made available to promising talents irrespective of their experience and background means employees are expecting a lot more from organizations and that is not in terms of just money. Things are quickly and dramatically changing in today’s organizational landscape and that means the promise of a fat salary, a year end bonus or an expense account are no longer attractive to potential employees.

Today, employees are looking for a positive and productive work experience more than anything. Employees are wary of taking up high paying jobs that will subject them to a toxic work environment and stress them out.

What are the factors contributing to a toxic work environment?

Don’t be a hire and fire organization

Unlike shopping for shoes and clothes, shopping for potential talent cannot be done on a trial basis. Creating an organizational environment where people are regularly replaced with others can cause major damage to a brand’s reputation. If word spreads that your organization has a hire and fire work environment, fewer people would want to interview for available opportunities and the ones who are already working for you will be highly insecure- thereby hampering productivity. But it is not just productivity that is at stake in a hire and fire work environment.

In any work environment, employees can work together only by developing a sense of mutual respect and trust toward one another. With employees being regularly replaced, the cycle of building respectable corporate dynamics within departments seems to abruptly end and start again. This just adds fuel to the fire in an already toxic work culture.

Lack of recognition

Employees are constantly seeking a sense of satisfaction from their work and recognizing their work is an impactful way to boost their confidence. Very often, an employee’s work can go unrecognized. This is especially true for mid to large organizations. Lack of recognition can create feelings of resentment.

In a recent video that went viral on social media channels, a man was filmed having a conversation with his organization’s HR and the HR personnel asked him to explain why there was a dip in his productivity in comparison to the previous year. The man goes on to explain that when he performed above and beyond what was expected of him in the previous financial year, he was not given a raise and his efforts went unrecognized. At that time HR had stated that he was being paid in line with the industry standards. The man stated that his performance for the current year was in line with the average industry standards.

While the video was filmed as a satirical comment on the double standards of organizations, very few employees will stay back another year and offer feedback. If they see that their efforts are not recognized with rewards or a timely pay rise or even a promotion, they are likely to start looking out for greener pastures.

Silo culture

Ever since the pandemic hit three years ago, remote working has been encouraged by businesses. While remote working has its proven benefits, a huge disadvantage of remote working is that it helps establish a free reign for silo culture. Let’s briefly understand what is silo culture.

Essentially, silo culture is where business functions work independently rather than working hand in hand. The belief is that if each team responsible for a specific goal achieves said goal then the business will be able to achieve its overall vision. In a nutshell, every business function will work as a cog in the wheel. While the establishment of a silo culture might have value, it also has specific disadvantages. For instance, silos usually lead to lack of inter and intra communication between business functions. It also hampered productivity of inter-dependent functions which might sometimes lead to independent decisions. For instance, if a team is responsible for all digital marketing functions but doesn’t work in tandem with the offline marketing team, the probability of missing out on marketing opportunities will be higher. There is also a chance of telecommunication at the customer level. This in turn will impact the performance of other teams like sales and customer care.

Maze communication

Very often, large organizations tend to have elaborate internal communication procedures and protocols. While some communication protocols might have value, there is a possibility that a complicated system can become a barrier. This can result in good ideas being lost in the chain of communication or the wrong communication going across.

Let’s give you an example. Every organization runs on a specific budget that is decided at the very beginning of the financial year. Goals are also set as per this budget. Let’s say the HR executives of an organization say they need X budget to hire X number of employees in the upcoming financial year. They prepare the budget and share it with their supervisor. Now, organizational hierarchy dictates that every person who is one designation above will want to add their two cents toward any decision. What if the HR supervisor has a look at the budget and goals plan and decides ‘we can do better for less money’ and makes changes without discussing it with the team. Now imagine, what would happen if every level up did the exact same thing? By the time the budget was approved, the team at the bottom will be facing a humongous, probably unmanageable goal. This in turn will create unnecessary pressure, dampening productivity and overall performance, results of which will be seen during the year end appraisals. Without the right communication in place, there will be a vicious circle of toxicity in place ultimately leading to a work crisis.

While there are several factors that can contribute to a toxic work environment, the above mentioned factors usually contribute immensely. Let’s take a look at what human resources teams can do to cultivate a positive and productive work environment.

What can organizations do to cultivate a positive and productive workplace?

If you picked out a list of ‘best places to work’, you would find that those organizations do much more for their employees than just offering competitive pay. These organizations tend to garner insights into employee concerns and issues and work toward resolving them in order to ensure a higher degree of employee happiness. What can your organization do to cultivate a positive work environment?

Realign your hiring and firing strategies

It is essential that organizations realign both, their hiring as well as their firing strategies. While hiring, organizations need to be more inclusive. No matter how strong the code of ethics, human bias always leads to hiring of people who are more or less alike. Someone’s background, race, gender or even sexual orientation should never factor into their ability to perform at work. Using AI software to shortlist potential talent is a great way of removing human bias and becoming an equal opportunity environment.

Additionally, non performance should not be a durable offence without putting the employee on a performance improvement program. If an employee needs to do better, they need to be nurtured first. This tactic will not create unnecessary pressure and will allow employees to understand how they can do better in the workplace. If an employee doesn’t perform even after remedial lessons or performance improvement programs, they can mutually part ways with the organization.

Optimizing employee onboarding from the get go

During the hiring process, the employer usually deduces whether or not a potential employee is a good fit for the organization. But during the onboarding process, an employee has the chance to figure out whether or not they will be comfortable during their tenure at an organization. That is why it is important for HR teams to ensure a smooth and flawless onboarding process. This helps employees understand their role, responsibilities as well as the functioning of the organization from the get go. Additionally, the use of AI programs can ease up the onboarding process. Employees can easily upload any required documents and even take up any educational programs to brush up their skills. AI can also be used to understand and remove any redundant steps in the onboarding process. Also prediction analysis can help create a happy path for smoother and easier onboarding.

Establish and adhere to a strong code of ethics

Human morals can make or break an organization. That is why it is essential to establish a strong code of ethics and follow it to the t. These codes of ethics range from professional behaviour within an organization and professional competence to maintaining confidentiality and integrity.

Professional behaviour in a work environment ensures that the office space is a safe space for everyone. This means employees will conduct themselves in a civilised manner – there won’t be shouting matches, gross insubordination or even unnecessary displays of power. Employees will be well dressed at all times, will not come into work wearing outfits that might make everyone uncomfortable. For instance, wearing provocative outfits or dressing shabby. Employees will not force their opinions or their own interests on other employees – this means an employee who has taken to smoking will not coerce another employee into smoking. Remember the scene from popular sitcom Friends where one of the main characters Rachael took up smoking because all the important work decisions were being discussed and decided during smoke breaks. Employees must also be protected against any and every forms of harassment – physical, mental or even sexual. Employees must refrain from creating unnecessary pressure by working late or sending out work communication at odd hours and forcing their teams to work over the weekend – this severely impacts work life balance.

It is also important for employees to maintain professional competence so that other team members do not have to step in and take up their responsibilities. This also ensures that new team members are not lost when they step in to take up responsibilities of a departing team member.

Employees must not disclose confidential information about the organization. That being said, if an organization is deliberately operating unethically – for instance, if the accounts team is aware that senior management members are siphoning company funds for personal use – they should not be afraid to act as whistleblowers.

Garner insights on staff

Unless organizations do not actively listen to employee concerns, there is a high probability that they won’t actually know about employee concerns. Hosting timely town hall meetings, engaging in informal chats over a cup of coffee or even installing a suggestion box can give HR teams meaningful insights into employee concerns. This in turn will give HR and administrative teams better direction and help them prioritise and resolve employee concerns. It also establishes a premise that HR is open and available to discuss any and every issue. From something as simple as, the ladies washrooms could do with a sanitary napkin dispenser and the cafeteria could encourage more plant based meals to complicated concerns like better employee health insurance coverage and setting up of horizontal growth avenues within the organization. Taking efforts to listen to the employees can go a long way in realigning old strategies that hinder productivity and performance.

Promote education while working

A great way to keep employees active and interested in their field will be to give them an opportunity to keep learning. This can be done by introducing periodical workshops that will help them enhance their skills. It will also be a good idea to introduce mentorship programs that will allow less experienced or inexperienced employees to bond with those who are experts in their field. Not only do workshops and educational programs enhance productivity, they also ensure that the workplace doesn’t stagnate. E-learning programs often award certifications – this is a highly lucrative technique to keep employees constantly improving their performance as the organization is helping them boost their resume.

Creating a positive and productive work culture can be difficult but once a team gets started on the path to developing a positive work environment even the smallest efforts can go a long way in ensure happy and productive employees who will not only put in efforts to stay within the organization, they will work toward self and organizational growth.


What contributes to a toxic work environment?

Factors include a hire and fire culture, lack of recognition, siloed teams, and maze-like communication.

How does a hire and fire work environment impact a company?

It damages reputation, creates insecurity, hampers productivity, and perpetuates toxicity.

Why is recognition important at work?

Recognition boosts confidence and satisfaction, while lack of it can lead to resentment and employee turnover.

What is silo culture and how does it affect productivity?

Silo culture occurs when teams work independently, resulting in poor communication, hampered productivity, and missed opportunities.

How can organizations foster a positive and productive workplace?

By reevaluating hiring and firing strategies, optimizing onboarding, establishing a strong code of ethics, listening to employee concerns, and promoting ongoing education and mentorship.

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