Research by business leadership expert Kim Cameron and psychologist Emma Seppälä identifies six essential characteristics of positive workplaces. Such workplaces:

  • Eschew blame and rapidly forgive mistakes.
  • Care for, remain interested in and sustain responsibility for colleagues as friends.
  • Provide mutual support, including compassion and kindness when others are struggling.
  • Emphasise the meaningfulness of the work.
  • Treat colleagues with integrity, trust, respect and gratitude.
  • Inspire one another at work.

Drawing from culture change research, Cameron and Seppälä suggest four steps to bring these characteristics to line by creating positive workplace cultures.

  • Encourage social connections. A US study found that while obesity increases the probability of early death by 20% and excessive drinking by 30%, poor social relationships increases it by a massive 70%. Toxic, stress-laden workplaces have poor social relations; there are clear implications for employee life expectancy. When people at work enjoy good social relations together they get sick less frequently, recover twice as quickly from surgery, learn faster and remember longer, tolerate pain and discomfort better, experience less depression, and are more productive at work.
  • As a leader, show empathy. Research from the University of Michigan found that leaders who demonstrate compassion toward employees also lift levels of individual and collective resilience during tough times.
  • Offer gratuitous help. A study by leadership researcher Jonathan Haidt found that when leaders go out of their way to help others, when they are self-sacrificing as well as fair, their employees become more loyal, committed and productive, and they embrace the same qualities in relation to one another.
  • Practise open door compassioning. A Harvard study found that leaders who are humble, inclusive, ready to listen to their employees’ problems, and who encourage them to ask for help when they need it created a culture of safety that actively enhanced employee performance.

The evidence is overwhelming. Positive workplaces are more successful than high-stress, cut-throat workplaces – and they don’t endanger employee health; they enhance it.

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