By nature, laboratorians are results-driven people who thrive on tangible facts and irrefutable information. Workplace culture is a little more esoteric, and can be an elusive concept to define and understand. Culture encapsulates not just measurables such as employee handbooks, lab rules and modus operandi, but also the overriding beliefs, feeling and vibe of the environment itself and those who work within it.
So what exactly comprises good workplace culture? And, even more importantly, how do you go about building and maintaining it?
Patty Eschliman, Laboratory Manager of Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Neb., describes workplace culture as the lens, or view, through which employees interpret all of the interactions that take place within an organization.
“Every interaction we have throughout the day creates an environment of experiences that everyone around you either fosters or inhibits,” she explains. “People’s beliefs regarding those interactions then determine their actions, and actions are what drive results. So either you manage the culture, or the culture will manage you.”
Consider this: How does the thought of going in to work make you feel? If you don’t feel good about it, your employees won’t either.
Here’s how to take control and start a positive cultural revolution in your lab.
Think about the kind of culture you want your workplace to embody, then hire employees who buy into your mission. Team up with your human resources staff early on during the hiring process so they can keep an eye out for prospective candidates who will do well in the kind of environment you’re striving to build.
“I often tell my recruiter, if you don’t think they’re going to live the mission, don’t even bring them over here, because they won’t fit in the culture that we’re trying to create in our laboratory,” says Josephine Foranoce, Laboratory Director of Operations at Florida Hospital Altamonte.
Once you make hires, educate all new employees upfront about what your culture entails and what you expect from them in the workplace. Jennifer Dawson, Vice President of Quality and Regulatory Affairs for Sonic Reference Laboratory in Austin, Tex., initiates new staff with a two-hour onboarding session that focuses on systems thinking and just culture.
“And I empower them in order to report,” she adds. “That's very important to our culture. I'm not the one sitting at the bench doing the work, so you have to get them to understand how important their role is in laboratory improvement.”
Positive workplace culture doesn’t happen by accident; it trickles down through the actions and behavior of management. As a leader, it’s up to you to take a proactive stance in modeling good behavior and being accountable for what happens in your lab. Saying what you mean and following through both go a long way toward establishing a positive workplace atmosphere.
“There’s a lot of literature out there that says a culture of accountability really drives results,” Eschilman says. “As a leader, every interaction we have creates experiences and beliefs within our team — feelings that about how we're treated and how we're regarded.”
Ask yourself, what kind of feelings are YOUR actions creating among your team members and staff? Could you be more open in discussions? More or less involved with day-to-day activities? Be mindful of your team members’ individual work styles and tailor your approach to what works best for them.
Accountability counts for a lot, but trust means even more. As Stephen Covey says, “Trust is the one thing that changes everything,” and Eschliman heartily agrees.
“If you have high trust in your relationships, things will go much quicker and will be much less expensive,” she says. “If you have low trust in your relationships, then it just takes a whole lot more time to get things done, and it becomes more costly and expensive for the organization.”
As you think about the example you’re setting for your group and the culture you’re creating, constantly be on the lookout for ways to earn the trust of your staff and colleagues every day through your words and actions. Ask for feedback, from superiors and employees, about what you can do to be a better manager. Don't just sit there and listen to suggestions, take action to let your others know they’re being heard and supported.
Lab employees spend a great deal of time together in very close quarters, and not everyone is going to get along all the time. But, encouraging staff to respect each other’s opinions and work collaboratively can contribute a great deal to building a strong workplace culture.
Executive coach, speaker and workshop facilitator Calvin Guyer suggests looking for opportunities to pair up employees who are dealing with the same problems to learn from each other.
“You’re not looking for commiseration, you’re looking for — how do I help you overcome this failure and find an opportunity to develop?” he offers. “What happens is you improve two people in that scenario. You just put the resources together, and maybe they become friends and gain a deeper appreciation for what they do and how they’re operating.”
Everyone makes mistakes from time to time, and your reaction when an error occurs speaks volumes about your workplace culture. Do you immediately blow up and blame, or do you calmly address the problem in a nonconfrontational way? You want to build an environment where employees feel comfortable enough to speak up when things go awry and come to you with a problem instead of sweeping it under the rug for fear of recrimination.
Maintain an open-door policy and encourage staff to enlist your help the moment trouble arises, not after the fact or down the line.
A healthy workplace culture values and recognizes staff members for their accomplishments. After all, who wants to contribute if you feel like your opinion doesn’t matter?
There’s nothing that says you can’t have a little fun on the job. A catered-in lunch during a particularly busy week, an after-hours team-building activity, employee-appreciation tickets to a ball game or event, or a friendly workplace contest all create opportunities for bonding.
“We work in a very stressful situation,” Eschliman says. “Play a little bit of music, laugh, or cut loose when your shift is over and go out for a beer. Whatever you can do to understand that we’re in this together. It’s so important that we work well together and make it the best experience we can. Those interactions, driving those beliefs and creating great results is where we can add value in the laboratory, and make everybody the best they can be every single day.”
A big tenet of workplace culture is remembering that your employees also have lives outside of it. Be mindful of the demands you make, and watch employees for signs of burnout. Happy, well-adjusted people with full, rewarding lives make positive employees you’ll be proud to have on your team.
Building a positive workplace culture is a gradual process. It doesn't happen overnight, and trying to do much too soon feels false and comes across as insincere. Think long-term, and trust that if you model the kind of behavior you want to see and give employees the tools and support they need to feel valued, you’ll succeed in creating a workplace culture everyone feels good about being part of
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