The Characteristics of a Positive Work Environment

person in a wheelchair sitting at the computer and talking on the phoneYour work environment can have a positive or negative effect on your daily life.  “Positive” work environments can be defined as those workplaces where there is trust, cooperation, safety, risk-taking support, accountability, and equity.

Respectful Workplace

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There are some abstract concepts when thinking about a positive work environment.  You want to strive for shared purpose, values, and trust.  However, there are practical ways you can start building a positive work environment immediately. Below are some concepts to consider and implement into your workplace.


What is trust?  “Trust definitionally, is the willingness to rely on someone in a situation where you are vulnerable so it’s, in a sense, the absence of fear” (Weiss, 2018).  When you are not scared, you feel like you can speak up.  A positive work environment is a place where everyone is heard.  Safety and equity are two important components of a positive work environment.  In her interview with Dr. Michele Williams, Lydia Weiss talks about how psychological safety allows people to take risks and people can speak up which is part of a strategy for building trust.  Dr. Williams talks about how inequitable treatment – e.g. penalizing women for engaging in flex schedules – can add a gendered aspect that creates a barrier to trust.


What is cooperation?  The standard dictionary definition refers to cooperation as the act of people working together toward the same goal(s).  Working together toward a goal, like collaborating on a project, requires a lot of communication.  There is a big difference between the quantity and quality of communication in the workplace. It is important that you and your team members have a shared purpose. If you do not share the same purpose and values, then you might be talking about two different things, pursuing two different goals, and that leads to problems when communicating with team members.  Agarwal (2018) describes some cooperative elements of a positive work environment:

  • Institutional Level: Establish clear values for the organization
  • Director Level: Create an inclusive work environment
  • Project Leaders: Create clear goals and rewards for team members
  • All Team Members: Foster collaboration and communication

The WorkLife Office and Jaimie Hutchison, Deputy Director, can provide many great workshops to help you build better teams and colleagues in many ways, at many different levels.  You can find more information about these workshops or request a workshop.

Positive Behaviors in the Workplace

How do you exhibit trust and cooperation in the workplace?  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  It is one thing to say you promote a positive work environment.  It’s a bigger challenge to practice the behaviors each day.  Burke (2017) outlines some ways you can start to build a positive work environment right now:

  • Model positive and respectful behavior in your interactions - Be accountable, don’t play the blame game.  Instead, take responsibility and risk being vulnerable, to encourage others to be honest and responsible.  Encourage an environment where it’s okay to make mistakes and move forward.
  • Show your gratitude and appreciation - Send a thank you note or say it during a meeting.
  • Celebrate wins - Look for ways to celebrate whether it’s an employee birthday or recognizing a milestone or achieving a goal.  Honoring wins and milestones improves morale by encouraging the person and showing team members that important events are noticed and praised.

Of course, those actions should be genuine and authentic.  Those individual qualities should be within you.  But, if you are still looking for ways to act out positivity, Geue (2018) outlines a few tips:

  • Listen - Be open and encouraging to hearing other’s opinions, ideas and solutions without judgment. This encourages team members to speak up and feel heard and valued.
  • Communicate often - Keep employees in the loop with frequent updates.  This helps keep people connected and feeling part of the larger team.  Provide regular feedback including constructive feedback and not just at performance review time.  Employees want to know how they are doing along the way.
  • Create clear goals - By creating goals and how each person is responsible for achieving them, it motivates and inspires an air of striving for betterment in the workplace.
  • Foster collaboration and diversity - Teams are at their best when they are able to make the best use of their strengths and welcome different perspectives, ideas and opinions of their team members to extract the best solution or result.

Working in a positive work environment is great.  There is a quote from Zig Zigler that says, “Positive thinking will let you do everything better than negative thinking will.”  That can be applied to the workplace: A positive work environment will let you do everything better!


If you would like to learn more about building a positive work environment, contact the WorkLife Office and make sure to revisit our 2020 Annual Conference where you can watch recordings of several breakout sessions and hear a keynote presentation from Dr. Barbara Roberts, Executive Director and Senior Advisor to the Provost.

Visit the Toward a Respectful Workplace website for more information, resources, and a toolkit to help identify and clarify bullying in work environments.


  • Agarwal, D. P. (2018, August 30). How To Create A Positive Workplace Culture. Forbes
  • Burke, M. (2017, August 28). Creating A Positive Workplace Culture - A Little Kindness Goes A Long Way. Huffpost
  • Cameron, E. S., & Cameron, K. (2017, May 08). Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive. Harvard Business Review
  • Geue, P. E. (2018). Positive practices in the workplace: Impact on team climate, work engagement, and task performance. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 54(3), 272-301
  • Sakai, K. (2014, January 11). New Guide Offers Bold Ideas for Making Work “Work” During Challenging Economic Times and Spotlights Great Workplaces.
  • Weiss, L. (fall 2018). Building Trust in Higher Education: An Interview with Dr. Michele Williams. Quarterly Review of Work-Life Policy and Practice, 1-13.