Work Positive: The Impact of Positivity in the Office

Work Positive: The Impact of Positivity in the Office

January 12, 2017

Most of us spend 40 hours a week (at least!) in the office with our coworkers. So it’s important to engage in office culture as well as to cultivate a productive environment within your work space. Developing an appreciation for your workspace, your office, your tasks, and your colleagues isn’t just a work style choice – it’s crucial to your success. For one-third of your life, the office is your home, and these people are your family.

The importance of positivity in today’s workplace can’t be overstated due to the real-life impact it has on profits, productivity, and our daily happiness and personal career fulfillment. Eager to hear a professional perspective on the power of positivity at work, I reached out to Melody Wilding, LMSW, recognized career psychologist, for her take.

KW: What are the top environmental factors that affect coworkers in the office?

MW: There are a number of factors that can influence the happiness and wellbeing of coworkers in the office. For example, offices that have no windows, bland walls, are furnished with uncomfortable chairs, desks, etc. can instantly zap creativity and motivation. Then, there are personal preferences – while some personality types work better in open floor plan spaces, others who may be more introverted need to be able to have time alone to think in order to thrive.

Melody has a great point. A workplace must provide an environment that is clean and productive, and ideally, reflects its mission. And for your personal space, you have the power to make it work for you. For me, if I have to sit at a desk, I’m going to make sure I feel comfortable and that I have supplies that allow me to feel that I have all the materials I need (and usually ones I enjoy using), a water bottle to fill several times a day, and photos of my loved ones to remind me why I’m here in the first place… in addition to LOVING my job, of course. ☺

A sense of camaraderie, teamwork, and positive office spirit are also significant factors that can affect the office environment.

KW: What are the top communication factors that affect coworkers?

MW: Positive office culture is fostered in trust and fair communication. This means that there are clearly defined lines of communication throughout different parts of the company (i.e. you know who is responsible for what) and at varying levels of power. If coworkers feel comfortable bringing issues to their supervisors, it can create a culture that is growth-oriented and open to change and transformation. If there is secret-keeping, gossiping, or blurred lines of communication and responsibility, it can be challenging to do your job. The way feedback is given and received can also significantly impact a coworker’s happiness. Constructive criticism that is delivered with empathy by leaders fosters trust, whereas harsh, blaming criticism that feels like a personal attack can breed fear and disengagement.

KW: What behaviors can make or break a coworker’s day? What are the long-term ramifications of a hostile office culture?

MW: Feeling a sense of ownership over their work can make or break someone’s day. If we feel personally invested in our work, it energizes us. We are excited to work on it, and it positively contributes to our self-esteem, which has a generative effect, improving the office culture and productivity as a whole.  

You can establish a sense of control by creating systems that enable you to do your best work. For those of us who are Type-A personalities (card-carrying member, right here!), creating templates, timelines, manuals, checklists, and the like, are a way of maintaining control and putting yourself at ease.

Hostile, toxic cultures are a surefire recipe for burnout. High turnover and rampant disengagement will damage productivity. Not only will the work atmosphere be unpleasant, it can erode leadership, productivity and profits. Coworkers who are in toxic environments also carry that unhappiness home, and their dissatisfaction can significantly negatively impact their personal relationship and physical health. 

The unfortunate truth is that, when something goes sour at work we carry that home with us. We sleep with it, we wake up with it, and we sometimes allow it to dictate our mood back at the office. In these instances, we might not realize how much damage we’re doing by “feeding” the frustrations that we experience at work by rehashing it in conversation, dwelling on it, and generally allowing it to affect our mood.

Easier said than done, I know.

KW: How essential is an engagement and recognition program for coworker morale?

MW: Engagement and recognition programs are important for acknowledging people’s efforts and making people feel validated and a part of the team. When people feel valued, they perform better. The best engagement and recognition programs are designed to support coworker’s goals, rather than as bait to try to get them to behave in certain ways.

KW: What elements of engagement and recognition programs/reward interactions would you consider essential versus luxury offerings?

MW: There are decades of psychological research that prove a carrot-and-the-stick model is ineffective at motivating people over the long term. That means that external motivators like money and bonuses are not sustainable ways of motivating and rewarding coworkers. The research instead points to the importance of “intrinsic motivators” — things that people deeply value such as greater freedom, more control, or enjoyment. The three key types of intrinsic motivators are: autonomy (freedom and self-directed work), mastery (getting better at stuff), and purpose (serving a greater vision or purpose).  

So anything that taps into a coworker’s intrinsic motivation would be most effective at boosting morale and fostering positivity and productivity. Letting someone work from home for one day a week may boost their sense of freedom and lead them to be more productive, while also contributing to their work-life balance. Undertaking a corporate initiative to support a cause can tap into coworkers’ deeper purpose — their “why” — for doing their job and can help create a culture of positivity.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a stunning 65% of the American workforce reports feeling under-appreciated in the workplace (American Psychological Association, 2013). That’s because for many of us, work is personal and we expect that, to some degree, the scope of our “blood, sweat, and tears” is understood and acknowledged. I’m fortunate to work in a company that acknowledges its employees with open communication, office engagement, regular events, and a points program that recognizes team members for a job well done.

Melody Wilding, LMSW is licensed therapist and coach who helps entrepreneurs and young professionals overcome the emotional challenges that come along with having a successful career. Melody has worked with CEOs and executives running some of today’s biggest startups along with published authors and media personalities. Her advice has been featured in Forbes, New York Magazine, FastCompany, Inc., and more. She has a degree in Psychology from Rutgers University and a Masters from Columbia University. For more on Melody’s career insights, visit