What a healthy workplace looks like

What a healthy workplace looks like

by Nathaniel Whitestone // October 21, 2023  

Introduction

We know that there are healthy workplaces and toxic ones. But what actually makes a healthy workplace? This is the question I’ve asked myself for years as an employee at a cooperative business and as a consultant for other companies. As it turns out, there’s no one recipe for what makes a healthy organization or team: every one has its own unique ingredients—but they share some common themes that make them stand out from their peers.

We all know about toxic workplaces

What a healthy workplace looks like

You may have worked in a toxic workplace before. You might have been the victim of bullying, harassment, or discrimination. Or maybe your company has treated its employees poorly, perhaps by putting unreasonable demands on them and not paying them enough to make ends meet.

In any case, it’s clear that a healthy work environment is better for everyone: employees are happier and more productive; customers get more value from their purchases; investors see more returns over time; society benefits from fewer people suffering from stress-related illnesses like depression or anxiety disorders (which cost our economy an estimated $200 billion per year).

In a healthy workplace, people accomplish their goals together in a way that enhances the power and wellbeing of everyone involved

What a healthy workplace looks like

A healthy workplace is one in which people accomplish their goals together in a way that enhances the power and wellbeing of everyone involved. In a healthy workplace, it is not only possible to accomplish your own goals while helping others toward theirs; it’s necessary. You are richer for having helped someone else achieve their dreams, and they are richer for having helped you achieve yours.

Think back on some of your favorite projects at work:

  • How did they come about?
  • What was unique about them?
  • Why did they succeed where others failed?

How it works

What a healthy workplace looks like

The way this looks is different for every business, but there are some common elements.

  • Employee engagement: This means that your employees feel valued, challenged, and happy at work.
  • High functioning teams: Teams that work well together produce better results than those that don’t; team members should help each other out as needed with tasks and projects—even if they’re not directly related to their jobs.
  • Mutual care: Treating other people the way you’d like them to treat you will help build trust between coworkers. It’s important not only in terms of the company’s culture but also when it comes down to negotiating salary or raises (or even buying lunch!).
  • Sense of shared purpose: Everyone in the organization should be working toward a single goal or mission—whether it’s making sure all customers receive excellent service at all times or shipping out products as soon as possible so no one misses any deadlines around Christmastime!

Example: Multistakeholder Cooperatives

What a healthy workplace looks like

An example of this is the Mondragon Cooperative system, which is a large group of cooperatives in Spain. There are many types of organizations that fall under the Mondragon umbrella, but they all have these things in common:

  • The board of directors includes representatives from different stakeholder groups (employees, investors, management, and the environment)
  • Each individual organization has workers who own their own shares and elect representatives to their board

The Mondragon Group closed only one business (among hundreds) during the 2008 recession, and due almost entirely to the activities of this cooperative group, the Mondragon region flourishes even when other areas of Spain are economically struggling. 

Example: Agile and Lean

What a healthy workplace looks like

If you want to see what a healthy workplace looks like, look no further than some of the most successful companies in the world (Toyota is one of the best known). Agile and Lean management principles have transformed organizations into more effective and efficient workplaces.​

Agile teams are 300% to 400% as productive as they would be using traditional management methods. The secrets of these high-performing workplaces are respect for people and continuous improvement (Kaizen). When you treat your employees with respect, they will do their best work so that you can succeed in meeting your goals. And by continually improving what you do, you’ll always stay ahead of competitors who aren’t doing this work every day!

Example: Purpose-led Business

What a healthy workplace looks like

A purpose-led company will be guided by a higher purpose, and its business decisions will be made with that in mind. The triple bottom line (3bl) refers to how companies should measure their success by looking at three areas: profit, people and planet. This means that they need to think about how their decisions affect both the environment and society as well as shareholders.

Companies such as Ben & Jerry’s implement 3bl strategies into their business model; they’re known for making decisions based on what’s best for society and the environment rather than just profits alone. They donate 1% of sales from every pint sold back into communities around the world — this helps fund projects like homeless shelters or water wells for communities lacking access to clean water supplies – which makes them an example of a company using triple bottom line thinking effectively within its operations.

Example: Sociocracy

What a healthy workplace looks like

The Sociocracy method of governance, in which each decision is made with the consent of all stakeholders, can be a powerful tool for creating a healthier workplace. 

Unlike some kinds of consensus (there are too many variations to list – unanimous agreement, supermajority votes, informal agreement, etc.), sociocratic consent does not require everyone to agree that a proposal is a good idea. Instead, participants simply need to agree that a proposal is “good enough for now and safe enough to try.”

If a participant identifies an unacceptable cost or risk, the information is welcomed. Skeptics are celebrated alongside visionaries in Sociocracy. If the cost or risk can be managed or reduced enough to make the proposal an affordable experiment, the default answer is “Yes.”

This combines the ability to rapidly evolve with an attention for social and organisational safety which simply cannot be matched by a majority-rule or authoritarian system of workplace governance.

This commitment to being guided by consent is built into the structure of sociocratic organisations through double-linking, the practice of combining the top-down leadership delegation of traditional bureaucracies with the election of bottom-up representatives selected by the teams reporting up their hierarchy. 

This two-way (or double-linked) system of leadership means that every part of the organisation has the ability to steer every other part. It is truly a system of circular power.

Conclusion

What a healthy workplace looks like

Whether you’re leading a large organisation or working in a small business, you’ll benefit from creating a healthier workplace: a place where everyone can accomplish their goals and increase their wellbeing without harming their broader society or environment. Numerous examples exist, and they are enriching their employees, their owners, their customers, and the world as a whole. I hope you can join us.

Help to spread the word about Better Places to Work. Follow, like and share our mission across social media.

Nathaniel Whitestone
Co-Founder of A Fairer Society | + posts

Nathaniel Whitestone is a governance expert, OD/OT consultant, executive coach, and angel investor, committed to fostering Healthy Power in organizations. He thrives on unraveling complex systems, guiding leaders to innovate with integrity and playful revolution. His passion lies in seeding societal transformation towards empowerment and fairness.

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