How to create a contagious culture in the workplace

Blog, 02/02/18 Image

The vibe or environment of a workplace which includes (but is not limited to) the office layout, co-worker dynamics, and even the break-room has a huge impact on your team’s overall performance and satisfaction.

The reverse is even more significant: If your employees are physically, mentally, or emotionally unwell in the office, they’re most likely to deliver lackluster performance or have a poor work ethic.

That’s why you need a contagious culture in your office; a culture that is bubbly, welcoming, and more importantly, a place where your employees can feel at home.

In today’s blog post, we’ll talk about the importance of a great workplace as well as tips and techniques to implement in creating a contagious workplace culture.

Why do I need a workplace that does not suck?

The rough approximate of a full-time employee’s schedule for a week is about 40 hours; with this statistic, it’s important that their place of work is an inspiring and pleasant environment to be in.

A study by a group of American researchers showed that employees who were comfortable in their office environment were 71%more likely to be satisfied in their job.

A similar study also showed that in a survey among 100 employees, more than 50% of the participants said that a comfortable workplace would increase their productivity while 64% of the participants feel that a better working environment would make them more organised as well as providing greater job satisfaction.

This also resonates with the fact that many successful companies (especially startups) tend to be the ones with the happiest employees.


Employees who are happy are more motivated, more productive, and extra creative – they will also put in more effort in their work, not because they have to, but because they want to.

Happy workers are 61% more likely to stay in a company for more than 5 years which reduces turnover costs. We’ve mentioned this in a lot of our blog posts about the costs of employee turnover; paying and promoting your existing staff is actually cheaper than hiring new staff.

Also, staff who are not satisfied at work costs businesses over $800 billion per year in sick time, requested off-days, and mistakes during work.

A happy workplace is not an accidental event. It’s the achievable product of both physical and emotional changes that can produce a harmonious and contagious workplace culture.

Having a great working environment often times results in higher productivity and a higher rate of engagement among employees. This means that employees in happy workplaces are more focused on their work – they feel that they are actually important in achieving the goals of a business.

Research also suggests that employees who have co-workers who are also good friends result in drastically improved job satisfaction all around the business.

The research which was published by Gallup showed that just one having close friend was to boost job satisfaction by 50%. Employees who’s best friends are in the same workplace were also 7 times(!) more likely to fully engage in their work.

The benefits of building friendships in the workplace are incredible. People work better together when they are friends because they have a shared vision and mission together.

It is very easy to achieve this when you have an environment where your employees are able to behave like people, not cogs in a business machine; as a business owner, you must embrace the social nature of positive group dynamics.

When that happens, employees are more likely to become friends with each other; they feel like they are working for a common goal that they are personally invested in instead of another KPI by CEO’s and executives.

The beauty of these findings is that it is relatively easy and inexpensive to create a social, friendly environment in a workspace. At the core, it requires those in leadership roles to embrace a set of ideals, and then lead from the front by embracing them on a personal level.

If you want to foster an environment that is friendly, then you need to spend time with your employees, treat them with respect, allow them to have fun, have fun with them, and most importantly, put them first.

The benefits of having a highly-contagious workplace

You may argue that there are certain downsides to having friendships in the workplace which make the traditional office workplace a better alternative for growth.

There could be too much fun in the office which would reduce efficiency as well as the possibility of cliques; these downsides, however, are easily manageable.

The benefits of having a great workplace environment also far outweighs the negatives.

Increased productivity and efficiency: You want your company to be more productive and efficient as the more of these two things that you have among your employees, the faster your company and revenues will grow and.

Cheerful staff relationships: With a positive work environment, your staff will learn to work well together as well as understanding and appreciating everyone’s needs and opinions. This results in better decision making among your staff, more innovative and creative ideas, as well as greater efficiency.

Reduced sick leave and off-day requests: When your employees are happy in the workplace, they are less inclined to take time off. If you can promote healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle in your workplace, staff sickness is reduced which means that there will be less time off.

On average, employees who do not work in healthy environments cost businesses about $3,500 per year on absent days. Reducing those costs would mean more money for your business to grow and scale. Of course, your employees will inevitably fall sick, give them some time off if they need it.

Increased ability to attract and retain productive employees: News of a company with an amazing workplace spreads like wildfire; new employees will be eager to come on board and escape their current work life.

As for your current employees, the happier they are in the jobs and the more support and appreciation they receive, the less likely they are to move on and the more likely they are to contribute significantly to your business.

Improved corporate image: The way that you present your workplace and treat your employees portrays your corporate image. A company that has a reputation for having a great workplace as well as a good employee satisfaction score shows that it takes its business seriously.

Improved concentration: By encouraging a healthy diet in your workplace, it improves the level of concentration and energy among your employees. Diets that are unhealthy drain energy quickly and leave your employees feeling unmotivated and lethargic. Getting the right nutrition and a little exercise will help your employees to become more fit, concentrated, and effective.

Better mental health: While physical health should be a focus for your employees (and yourself), a healthy mental health is even more important in the workplace. Extended periods of working may cause stress which can bring a detrimental effect to an employee’s mental health.

According to studies, about 15% of men and women who had depression cited job stress as one of their biggest issues. When provided with the correct support (your workplace) and platform to handle job responsibilities, your employees will have improved self-esteem and a positive outlook on life.

The vision and mindset to have as a business owner

Yes – you can follow the techniques and tips that you’ve read to promote a healthy environment in your workplace.

What is more important that is that you have a vision in place to achieve that goal. Without it, your efforts are useless; you are trying to achieve something that you don’t understand – what is your understanding of a contagious work culture?

Ultimately, everything drives down to one thing – value.

Value is something that we endorse all the time to our clients. Make a business that gives value, make something valuable; and the same goes to promoting a work culture for your office.

You need to base it on the values of your business.

What gets you up and running in the morning? Is it running and scaling your business past a certain point? For a business owner like you, growth may be an important factor in your business value but growth alone is rarely going to be the only driving factor of your business.

You want something that makes your work that doesn’t feel like just another “work” – and that’s what your employees want to feel too. They don’t want to feel like it’s just a regular 9-5 job.

A visionary leader will always try to motivate their employees to get out of bed every morning. How do you do that as a business owner?

You need values.

The values of your business are the philosophies or visions that are in place at the core of your business. It’s the personality or image of your company.

However, it’s not enough to just have values in place. You need to define it. Like it or not, the values of your business are often vague enough for your employees to not understand it clearly.

You NEED to define your values and let your employees understand it 100%.


A value that is not defined will be cannibalized and butchered.

The statement sounds brutal but it is true.

Even if you don’t know it, every business has a set of values behind its operation.

Here’s why you need to define it.

Imagine that you start a clothing brand with 2 close friends of yours who share the same goals and vision as you. The business is growing great and you start to add more employees over time – but you did not define your values to them.

What happens after 5 or 10 years later?

The founders (you and your friends) will naturally understand the goal and vision of the company without much trouble. What about the people that you hired along the way, though?

That’s right; they don’t know the true values behind the business.

You and 2 friends believe that the brand is something that represents the roots of your culture. Your sales manager may falsely assume that the brand is about appealing to as many audiences as possible to generate sales. Your logistics manager may assume that the brand is all about identifying with the Generation Y audience.

Do you see what’s happening? Everyone in your business has a different assumption of the goals and vision of the company. This causes misunderstandings to happen regularly which will affect your business negatively.

You have to remember that culture is not necessarily intuitive or natural to everyone. That’s why you must define it and make it clear if you expect people in your business to actually work it out.

Work values that are not clearly defined leads to a lot of effort with no results.

It makes hiring competent employees more efficient

Defining your values allows you to gain and retain wonderful employees for your business. You want to define your values to attract employees who also share the same goals and ideals as you.

Something that you may realise is that your turnover rate may be concerning recently. Why do we have to hire so many new people in the past 6 months?. This the surprising fact; most of the times, there are no issues with the performance or competence of the employees.

The big issue is that they do not conform to the values of your business.

When you or a member of the staff is adding a new member to the team, it’s not a good idea to waste your precious time in determining if the person is a fit for business or not.

Save your time and define your business values to them. The overall culture of your workplace is just as important as the competence and abilities of your employees – you need people who strive for the same ideals as you.

So, if you haven’t defined it your business values, do it now. If you have already defined your values but still face issues from time to time, you might want to go back to the drawing board to find out what’s wrong.

Values allow you to leverage your weaknesses.

The truth is, you have (and should admit) some leadership habits that are affecting the business negatively. Don’t worry about that; it’s normal to have some weaknesses in your leadership. What is important is that you must realise that your weaknesses can and will impact your workplace culture.

You may be a leader that wants to please people. Sometimes, you might keep quiet on certain topics and issues. What you’ll notice is that over time, the people in your business will actually follow your habits and personality.

What happens in meetings where everybody is afraid of speaking up about the real issues in a business because they are afraid of offending someone?

Confusions and misunderstandings happen. No one is brave enough to talk about the issues and problems that a business needs to overcome.

By setting values for your business, you can avoid this happening. For instance, you can tell your team that meetings are channels for self-expression and opinions about the business.

They can address their concerns about the business and voice out their opinions on what should be done to improve the business. Everyone’s opinion will be respected and decisions will be made based on their input.

By using values, you have effectively leveraged your weakness to your advantage. Without it, your employees are just like getting lost in the woods – clueless and unsure on what to do next.

Understanding your role as a leader in maintaining a wonderful work culture

Before we move on to the topic of tips and techniques to establish a contagious work culture, it’s important to understand your role in developing that.

Aside from the work culture, your mindset, how you treat and view others, your attitude, your influence – all of it is. Being contagious is not all about a happy workplace; it can be: a) how you make others feel as a leader or b) how much you influence others just by your presence in the room.

Your presence, influence, and overall personality has a massive impact on the people around you. It’s so important that how your employees view you as a leader can literally make or break their motivation.

What do we mean by influence?

The moment that you step into your workplace, you are setting the mood in the office for that day; if you are feeling awful, there will be a sense of dread and demotivation among your employees.

If you are feeling great, your employees will be just as optimistic as you. Whether you notice or not, you always have an impact with your presence as a leader.

Still unconcerned about your influence as a leader?

A 2015 survey from Gallup found that more than 50% of the 7,200 adults surveyed left a job because they could not stand their managers or bosses anymore.

More than 50% of the survey participants agree that they do feel great at work. In almost all cases, employees quit because they feel that they are not important to the business.

What you can do as a leader to improve your workplace culture

The first step always comes from you – and it’s no exception in this case.

Your qualities as a leader are going to matter a lot in this aspect. Great leaders often have these important qualities:

  1. They motivate employees with a compelling mission and vision.
  2. They have the assertiveness to drive outcomes.
  3. They create a culture of clear accountability.
  4. They build relationships that create trust, open dialogue, and full transparency.
  5. They make decisions based on productivity, not politics.

Simon Sinek, the famous motivational speaker and coach, wrote a book in 2014 that is titled Leaders Eat Last (which should be at the top of your reading list if you are serious about becoming a great leader).

Why the name?

It comes from a period in Sinek’s life where he spent time with the Marine Corps to have a better understanding of what makes the Marine family so close and tight-knit – in other words, an amazing team culture.

Sinek had the assumption that if he could transfer the culture of the Marines to other professions; lawyers, doctors, and business owners like you – if and only if he could find out how the Marines work together.

In an inspirational excerpt from the book, one of the higher-ranked officers in the Marine told Sinek to go to the Marine’s mess hall and have a look at how they line up to get their food.

Surprisingly, the juniors ate first followed by the next rank and so on, with the highest-ranked Marines eating last. This wasn’t done as a media ploy, they do it because the Marines believe that the responsibility of a leader is to put others’ needs above their own.

Having happy, engaged employees mostly comes down to treating them with respect. In order to be able to treat your employees with respect, you need to be able to understand them, what they’re going through, and what’s really on their minds.

Great leaders don’t just take care of their employees business-wise; they also take care of them personally as well.

Improving Your Communication Skills

Trust is the basis of employee happiness. Trust also goes hand in hand with communication. You need to build trust with your employees and the way to do that is to be open, honest, and straightforward with them.

Here’s an example in where having effective communications skills is an advantage.

The tone of your speech as well as your choice of words can have a major effect on how your words are accepted by your employees.

Picture this – one employee walks into a room and in an upbeat tone of voice you say “thanks for joining us.” Another employee walks into the room 20 minutes late and you say in a regular tone “thanks for joining us.”

Same words, different tone, totally different meaning.

You want to be calm and confident, you want to speak slowly and clearly, and you want to be careful about which words you choose to use or exclude.

Good leaders speak, great leaders listen

Listening is not a strong point in people. With the rise of technology, the tone of your voice, body language, and eye contact have been replaced with texts, emojis, and Instagram stories.

Technology has improved life a lot such as making long distance business calls an easy (and free) process; it has, however, affected our ability to communicate properly.

Skillful listening allows you to catch out details that others miss. It’s so valuable that billion-dollar businesses have been created thanks to a good listener’s ability to pick up on hidden gems and undiscovered niches.

One excellent way to immediately improve your listening ability is to practice empathetic listening. Simply put, you want to listen and really feel what your employees are feeling with each word that comes out of their mouth.

Try to feel excited when your employee is excited, or concern when he or she is concerned. Reflect their emotions not only verbally, but also with your body language and facial expressions.

You may think that it’s too subtle to get their attention but you’d be surprised at how effective listening can spread in the workplace. It isn’t always easy, and it takes a bit of practice and focus, but it will help you to empathise with emotions of employees (and customers).

When you speak, speak clearly and effectively.

As we’ve mentioned earlier, a large portion of the people you work with are poor at listening (not intentionally). It’s your job as a leader to speak as clearly and effectively as possible to adapt to their weaknesses.

Just like marketing, never use words that are jargon and aren’t understood by most people. Not only will your message be lost, but you’ll be seen as snobby and arrogant by your employees. The goal of communication is clarity – not to be clever.

Another good tip to remember if you are not a natural speaker is to prepare your conversations ahead of time. While improvised conversations are great, there’s nothing that says that conversions have to be spontaneous all the time. When you know you are going to have an important discussion, take as much time as needed to plan your words and sentences.

Motivating your employees to create a contagious culture in the workplace

Let’s put your employees aside for a second and consider the other people in your life. You probably agree that you make your friends and family happy.

Now think about how you do it.

Sure, you might send them mushy birthday cards or pay for the good wine, but strip all of that away and you make your friends happy by being you.

Now strip away the bonuses, benefits, and perks that you offer your employees. While all of that might make them happy in the short term, they ultimately want a boss who’s human.

Identify the good employees and get rid of those who are not

You should know that a good work environment starts with hiring (and retaining) the right people.

You need to make sure you’re hiring people who are professional, can work in a team, understands your values and goals, as well as contributing to a positive work environment.

You don’t want someone who brings a toxic attitude to the company or someone who makes everyone else feel uneasy – even if the person is a competent worker. The trade off of having a poor working environment is just too much for a business to handle.

When employees are working alongside employees who are toxic, it is very likely that they’ll become toxic too. That’s right – just like how happiness and effectiveness are contagious, toxicity is also contagious.

You’d be surprised at how relieved your current employees will be for letting negative employees go. Though it’s a hard thing to do, it can not only improve the workplace culture but also improve your customer’s experience with your business.

You may decide to give a bad apple a chance to prove themselves, but remember – if things don’t change after a while, it’s best to refocus your efforts on scaling the business and your good employees.

Make the office a comfortable place to work in

Beyond cultural changes, there are other, simpler solutions that can improve the atmosphere of the workplace. Working in a clean, attractive office can have massive positive effects on your employees.

There are some things to consider when deciding whether your workplace has the potential to become a great place to work. The workplace layout is very important as it can affect how your employees interact and communicate with each other.

Large open space offices that are in trend nowadays seems great for communication; what if your one or two of your employees need a quiet space to work in?

Hence, you should think long-term about the design of your workplace. Blindly following the latest startup trends and following what is “cool” is not always the solution.

Remember, trends come and go. Office blocks were the trend 20 years ago, “cool” startup offices with foosball tables and open beer taps are cool now – something else will come up in the future.

Our advice: find a design that works for you and your team and stick with that.

Once you have a preferred design in place, the next step is to furnish it. Over 63% of workers cited a comfortable chair as one of the more important elements in a workplace.

You have to make sure that you choose chairs, desks, storage and equipment that will help your employees to complete tasks efficiently and comfortably. Decorations such as plants and paintings may also be added depending on your creativity.

It is also a good idea to give your employees some freedom in the workspace. For example, allowing them to add their own decorations to their desk or giving them the freedom to add some drawings to the wall may improve the atmosphere of the office.

You don’t necessarily have to give them the freedom to wreck your office but a few personal furniture won’t harm the efficiency of the workplace.

Acknowledge your employees; let them know that they are the people who will make the business great

People want to be acknowledged and appreciated for their work.

Your employees crave acknowledgement, but they are more subtle than you think. Casual nods and expressions of appreciation are more than enough to achieve employee happiness – you don’t have to go all out.

There are so many simple ways to acknowledge your employees other than appreciating their work.

Showing an interest in an employee’s hobbies, personal projects, and professional development is another useful strategy in boosting employee acknowledgment.

When you show interest in someone else, it makes them more interested in you which of course translates to greater loyalty, productiveness, and efficiency to the business.

Giving feedback another useful tool for motivating your employees. However, asking for their feedback is going to be an even more effective approach in cultivating a wonderful workplace culture.

Ask for their thoughts on the direction the company is taking, or how a current project is progressing. This acknowledges them by showing that you value their work, but you also appreciate their opinions and insights and hope to find inspiration from their feedback.

For employee recognition to have the greatest impact, you need to offer it as soon as the work is done – no more than 10-minutes. The old-fashioned and honest laughable Employee of the Month awards are useless because the recognition comes so long after the work is done.

It must also be authentic. An insincere compliment is even worse than a direct insult and that applies to employee recognition too. Whenever you acknowledge the work your employees do, remember: be open, honest, and sincere.

Embrace the failures of your employees

Here is an interesting anecdote on embracing the failures of your employees.

Once, there was a very successful company in the computing industry. One day, an employee made a mistake that cost the business over $600,000 (which is in the millions today when inflation is taken into.)

Was the employee fired?

No. Here’s what the CEO of the company said about his decision.

“Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000.

“No”, I replied.

“I just spent $600,000 training him – why would I want somebody to hire his experience?”

That quote was from Thomas John Watson Sr., the former CEO of IBM – one of the pioneers of modern computers.

Why should you embrace failure instead of avoiding it?

You need to think of mistakes as learning curves for your employees as well as yourself. After all, failure is an inevitable outcome of any risk-taking. And in today’s business world, not being risky is a way to quickly kill your business.

Just so you don’t get confused, we’re not talking about silly mistakes like typos or error-riddled spreadsheets. We’re talking about attempting something – a marketing idea or a product innovation and failing, analysing the cause of the failure, then using it as a lesson to improve the business.

Punishing failures, on the other hand, is a double-edged sword. Too much criticism can discourage employees, and create a terrible workplace atmosphere. If your employees view you as an obstacle, they’re much more likely to seek opportunities elsewhere.

When an employee makes a mistake, don’t see it as a window to punish them; instead, treat it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and move forward together. Some mistakes don’t need to be repeated individually; we can all learn collectively from a single mistake and learn lessons from each other’s experience.

Every mistake will set your business back for a short period. While these setbacks may be impossible to ignore, it is important to not think of them constantly. Focusing on an employee’s mistakes will only make them increasingly afraid of failure and less likely to take the necessary risks to do truly outstanding work.

It’s also important to let your employees know that they can express concerns and fears about their work. Being receptive doesn’t mean that you have to set KPI’s and goals based on your employee’s concerns, but it will help you encourage them to do their best in their responsibilities.

This management philosophy will not only make your employees more confident and productive, but more loyal as well.

That is how you grow a contagious workplace culture.

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