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Creating Healthy Work Environments

This blog is a revised and updated version of a previously published blog.

Healthy work environments are perhaps the most important asset an organization can have. Healthy work environments means your team is strong, they work well together, communication actually happens and projects are completed. This means that as a leader, you lead your organization and build your team, not manage them.

Many would say that I am at the beginning of my career, I am in my 16th year, 12th as a leader, but I would argue it’s the miles, not the years that make me feel like I am in my 200th year. Until 2018, my career was spent working in nonprofits and leading them. For the past 5 and half years, I have built a business. In that time I have managed contractors and family members. TO be 100% honest, maintaining a healthy work environment while managing my family was the most challenging.

During my nonprofit tenure, my specialty was turning failing organizations around. I am a fighter who thrives no matter where I land, and yet, I have more battle scars than Attila the Hun. I have learned more from other people’s mistakes than my own, which is why I decided to change my career and create a business designed to help leaders and businesses. But I digress. In three organizations I was hired to turn around, well, one I was hired to close, but the board failed to tell me this. I discovered the importance of a healthy environment through the lack of health.

In my first turn around, the board openly admitted they felt I was hired to maintain or close the organization, they had absolutely no expectations of growth, I inherited a group of employees who did not think they should have to work, did not want to work a schedule, could not follow directions and specialized in being mean girls. Cue Taylor Swift’s “Mean” song. Talk about trial by fire. I set to work creating schedules, routines and organization. I was fought on every step, at times, even having to fight the board. Through dogged determination, or youth and stupidity, I managed to get a new staff eight months into my tenure. Having a staff I hired, who worked in the environment I created made everyone healthier.

In one of my last turn around situations, I truly learned the importance of a healthy work environment. The previous director of thirty plus years, lacked a backbone and had a talent for hiding. Being one of the only males in an organization of over 30, when he was often faced with quarrels, he cajoled, bribed, and purchased peace. Rather than working through the situations, he hid and ignored them, or worse placated each offending party, creating tension, division and animosity. It was so bad, you could see the tension. When I arrived, I felt like I had inherited a cheap soap opera rather than a nonprofit. This is where I learned the most important lesson of my career. If your employees will not join your team within the first six months, cut them loose. It does not matter how much money they generate, how long they have been there or the threats they and/or the board make. Their continued presence will result in continual turmoil. This is also the organization I was hired to close, but the board failed to tell me this. It seems they hoped I would not discover the gross mismanagement of funds and abuse of nonprofit status.

Healthy work environments are set by the leaders, just as the tone of the work day or project. It is vital, we as leaders, choose to be healthy and positive in every situation. Notice I say positive, not happy. Being positive is a frame of mind, not an emotion. It is also easier to choose to be positive than it is to choose to be happy. One can simply not be happy all day, every day. No matter how perfect my first cup of coffee is, no matter how good my morning workout is, no matter what wonderful insight I gain from my morning meditation, I simply cannot be happy all day. I can be positive and content, but not necessarily happy. Please note, not being happy every minute of every day does not mean there is a problem. If you find more than half of the time you are unhappy, seek the help of a counselor or coach to identify the challenge, remedy it and move on.

In my current work environment, I work from home. I had to learn how to positively manage my dogs. I reframed commands and cues to be positive. Interestingly enough, my happy dogs became even more happy and content. My plants are thriving. Healthy environments truly matter.

I find creating beginning and ending routines to be the most effective way to create a healthy work environment and quite frankly the easiest. No matter what sh** hit the fan since I left the previous day, I always take a minute to walk through the office and have a positive interaction with every employee. Some days, this takes five minutes, other days it takes 5 hours. This investment in time shows my employees they are important and matter, it also sets the day. It lets each one know they have time to speak with me daily. Conversely, I end my work day with quiet meditation and solace. I reflect on the day, what went well, what needs work, and what I did not accomplish. I then review emails, my calendar and my to do list. I update my notes for the next day, pack my briefcase, and head home. This end of the day routine leaves me prepared to face whatever comes my way and allows me to control my time, lessening my stress. These routines, lessen my stress and indirectly lessen the stress of my staff, creating a healthy work environment.

Now that I work from home, I end my work day by updating my notes, prepping for the next day and then cooking a huge meal. This process allows me to shift my mindset and enjoy a quiet evening.

My other secret, I have an open door policy, always. I don’t care what day of the week it is or what time of the day it is, come talk to me. This can be in my office, over the phone or at my home. My priority is to hear from my employees. That’s right, to hear them. Often, all a person needs is to be heard, nothing more, nothing less.

These secrets learned through the trials and tribulations of inheriting unhealthy work environments dominated by mean girls, have helped me to create healthy environments. Self reflection is very important. As a leader, if you are out of the office too much or for too long, or allow petty meanness and gossip to prevail or come in, it does not matter how great your team is, your environment will be unhealthy. Never be afraid to act, and most importantly never be afraid to apologize and start over.

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