Building a positive workplace culture

Here, Mark Scanlon, chief executive of Personal Group, discusses how to create a great working environment for every single employee in your business.

Every working environment is different. Whether you’re on your feet all day or sat in a chair tapping away at a keyboard, there are certain qualities that make somewhere a great place to work. These qualities are often different depending on who you are speaking to; it might be the flexibility of remote working, or the fresh fruit on offer; it could be the ability to bring your dog to work or the monthly social events which bring you together with colleagues.

Ultimately, though, the ability to create a great working environment for every single employee lies in your ability as a business leader to ensure team members feel appreciated for the work they do. It doesn’t matter if you run a drycleaner’s or a call centre, if your employees feel undervalued then you will not unlock their full potential. As a study from Warwick University found, happy employees are 12 per cent more productive on average. The business benefits of engaging your workers speak for themselves.

When it comes to making employees feel valued, small businesses are in an interesting position and have a number of advantages over bigger companies. Thanks to the relatively small number of employees in a small business, the leadership usually enjoys a personal connection with each and every member of staff – and that counts for a lot. It helps employees feel connected to the company and its values. It also enables the employer to be flexible when necessary. This is because personal relationships foster trust. Managers in bigger companies, in contrast, are restricted by internal rules and procedures.

While there are big advantages there are also some disadvantages. Small businesses have historically lacked the economies of scale to provide certain perks that big corporates can provide with ease. These benefits packages go a long way in making employees feel cared for.

However, that is changing. There are now new ways for small businesses to provide their employees with first class benefits, perks and services that cost less than a comparable raise in salary. This means that small businesses can combine the best of both worlds – and integrate a benefits system that makes the most of the advantages small businesses already have to create a workplace that employees love to come to each morning.

So, how do you create that positive work culture? Let’s begin with recognition:


The first step is simply to say thank you. Many business leaders forget to project this positivity in every day conversation as they’re often looking forward to the next challenge or opportunity, rather than what has already happened. That said, showing appreciation through saying thank you is a crucial first step. It is also infectious. Leaders set the tone of a workplace so if you make sure to recognise good work then your staff will begin to take note and follow suit. Before you know it, the rest of your team will be going out of their way to make sure their peers know how much their contribution is valued. The result is a happy workforce which perpetuates a happy culture.

Keeping employees healthy and happy

Another great way to improve your workplace culture is to support your team’s physical health. Every day we learn more about the link between physical health and wellbeing. Good health and exercise creates a virtuous cycle that improves productivity and satisfaction whilst also reducing illness and absenteeism.

There are a number of ways to boost your employees’ physical wellbeing. For example, one of our clients recently gave every member of their team a fitness tracker and encouraged them to monitor their steps. Alongside this, they ran a competition throughout the year and awarded gift cards to those who were the most active. This was incredibly popular with staff and helped promote exercise and good health across the office. It fostered stronger relationships between teammates as they supported each other’s efforts, worked towards common goals and chatted about their progress over tea breaks. That positive atmosphere even helped one member of staff lose two stone!

One perk that can be provided to small businesses is a cycle to work salary sacrifice scheme. This is available to SMEs through Sage Employee Benefits, and enables employees to make big savings on bikes and accessories, and spread the cost over a 12-month period through pre-tax salary deductions. Benefits like this can support your employees’ hobbies, help them keep fit and ensure that they come into work each morning feeling energised and engaged.

Through Sage Employee Benefits, small businesses can give their employees piece of mind by giving them access to a Hospital Cash Plan, which provides a cash benefit for overnight hospital stays. Alongside a range of insurance products, SME’s can help staff through the good times, and the not so good times.

Fighting presenteeism

Naturally, every company worries about illness and absenteeism. Both are a drag on productivity. However, people don’t spend as much time thinking about presenteeism: when employees who are genuinely unwell come into work anyway. This can often be a problem in small businesses as there are sometimes fewer people to pick up the slack when a member of the team finds themselves ill or needing to take time off work.

The problem is that when people come to work when sick they are less productive, take longer to get better and can make other members of your team sick too. This is bad for business. Not only does it make people sicker for longer – it can create resentment among staff who wish they could be tucked up in bed recuperating but feel they would be letting the side down if they do not finish that report or attend that meeting. With this in mind, it is important not to create a workplace where taking time off is vilified.

So, as important as it is to reduce absenteeism, it is also important to identify the signs of genuine illness and encourage staff to take time off to recover so they are happier and feel that they can be open and transparent. One way to help create a culture of trust is to give staff access to a programme where they can seek anonymous assistance in a time of need.

Looking after mental wellbeing

Our collective understanding of mental health has come a long way in recent years. Stress and depression are approached very differently in the workplace and good employers are increasingly taking a proactive role in safeguarding the mental health of their team.

Providing access to first class Employee Assistance Programmes is an important step. Once you have that crucial communication platform in place, you can build on it by providing face-to-face support sessions. These do not have to cost a fortune and they can make an enormous difference to people’s lives. We provide an EAP service that staff can access anytime, anywhere via our app. We’ve embraced technology to ensure that it is as accessible as possible, as it is crucial that there should be as few barriers as possible for staff to get help when they’re in need.

Mark Scanlon is chief executive of Personal Group

Further reading on workplace culture

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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Workplace Culture

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