As a woman of color working in a predominately white male industry, I am often put in uncomfortable and awkward situations.

At a previous job, I was berated by a woman Vice President, blamed for something outside of my control, and questioned my intellect and work ethic. While this VP was known for her bluntness, her tone, attitude, and demeanor differed that day while speaking to me. It was highly unprofessional and inexcusable behavior. However, one thing that stood out to me during the experience was my colleagues’ intervening and objecting to the VP’s behavior and coming to my defense.

One colleague in particular explicitly told the VP that this one incident should not question my ability or intelligence, and others on the team would have done the same thing in my situation. This experience taught me how individual employees could contribute to a positive work environment.

While there are many reasons a workplace can be toxic and employers bear the most responsibility in creating and nurturing a positive work environment, each individual employee can do their own part to contribute to a positive workplace. Read on for five simple ways employees can help foster a positive work environment.

Do Not Be A Bystander

You may be familiar with the phrase, “if you see something, say something.” The homeland security national slogan can be adopted in your workplace to help address workplace harassment and unprofessional encounters.

Intervening when no one else is responding can feel challenging. However, silence is how inappropriate behavior and harassment thrive. When you encounter workplace discrimination, inappropriate jokes, harassment, or unprofessional social confrontations, speak up.

Bystander intervention can play a powerful role in creating non-hostile work environments and help drive out destructive behaviors.

Encourage Active Meeting Participation

It can be difficult to lead or contribute to a meeting when there are different types of meeting attendees: extroverted, loud, outspoken, and opinionated vs. introverted, quiet, shy, and reserved.

Sometimes these meeting dynamics can make it difficult for the quiet people to contribute, causing their ideas, feedback, or concerns to go unheard. To help circumvent this there are three things you can do to encourage active meeting participation:

  1. Send the agenda ahead of time to help people prepare talking points.
  2. Make it clear that people should not interrupt each other. Encourage the hand-raising feature if you’re using zoom.
  3. Always end the meeting by asking everyone individually if they have something else to add. This is super valuable when you have participants joining remotely.

Help Others to Be Heard

If I had a $1 for every time a male colleague repeated my idea or feedback in a meeting, I could retire early. I wish I can say this has improved with working outside the office, but it has not. And with today’s remote work culture, 45% of women business leaders say it’s difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings.

Positive workplaces are created by sharing and hearing different perspectives. You can help others to be heard by doing the following:

  1. Reinforce the no interruption rule. Direct attention back to a colleague if he/she was interrupted or ignored by something as simple as, “Excuse me, ______ what were you going to say?”
  2. If a colleague says something you agree with, give him/her credit and feel free to build on it by adding your own ideas.
  3. Invite colleagues to contribute. You can try something simple as, “____ you’ve worked on this kind of project before. How do you usually solve this issue?” This prompt can help colleagues feel supported and create an inclusive atmosphere.

Practice Receptivity

Being receptive requires receiving knowledge, ideas, and inspiration from your colleagues and other sources. This can be extremely valuable as it allows others the space for growth and can help uncover new solutions when current processes do not work.

In the workplace, failing to practice receptivity can send the message, “I’m superior. I know better than you, and what I say, think and feel matters more” even if it is not intended that way.

When someone offers a new idea or feedback, instead of immediately getting defensive, try to reply, “Interesting,” and asking additional questions to engage and encourage collaboration.

There is always room for growth. Receptivity allows for growth opportunities. If you are unsure how to practice receptivity, start here.

Show Gratitude

Showing gratitude can go a long way in the workplace. Enhanced moods, stronger relationships, and improved productivity, gratitude plays a vital role in fostering a positive workplace.

Show gratitude by thanking your colleagues for their help, contributions, allyship, and other things you were not expecting. Be specific about why it was helpful or important to you. If you want to go above and beyond in showing your gratitude, copy their manager or say thanks through LinkedIn Kudos.

What are other ways you contribute to a positive workplace?

If you are reading this and directly impact workplace culture and company policies, check out this article that covers the dos and don’ts of creating an exciting workplace culture and equip you with actionable tips to use in the office.

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