Workplace Harmony Isn't Just About Following the Rules
Creating harmonious workplaces goes beyond merely checking boxes for compliance. Here are some ways for employers to foster a harmonious work environment.
Making people feel included, taking time to listen and respecting those who are different are the hallmarks of organisations that recognise the importance of harmony in the workplace.
Singapore’s new Workplace Fairness Legislation will strengthen protections against discrimination and is crucial in maintaining a workplace culture that is harmonious, but this alone is not sufficient.
To foster harmonious workplaces, we must take ownership and do not merely undertake a check-box compliance exercise.
What is a harmonious work environment and how can organisations create such a culture? For starters, they can pay attention to three elements that define progressive employers – collaborative networks, holistic care and employee voice. These are building blocks identified in a research commissioned by TAFEP to be integral to a progressive workplace.
Cultivating Collaborative Networks
Workplace harmony is premised on nurturing understanding, trust and fostering relationships among employees. This social capital can also be termed as “collaborative networks”.
Organisations can start by increasing interaction to foster greater understanding and trust through cross-team collaboration; team-bonding activities that include all employees, including those working offsite or remotely; or through informal interactions that allow colleagues to get to know one another better.
Building such relationships or networks encourages employees to work as a team towards a common goal, rather than competing with one another or engaging in a blame culture. However, employers should be sensitive to the diverse cultures, values and beliefs of employees when developing and implementing events or programmes that are not related to work.
Providing Holistic Care
The second key to workplace harmony is “holistic care”. Employers who adopt a holistic approach to caring for their employees’ well-being implement adaptive workplace programmes to better meet their career and life stage needs.
First, employers need to respect and recognise diversity in needs at work. They could, for instance, provide reasonable accommodations to cater to the needs of employees who have disabilities or mental health conditions. This can be in the form of flexible work arrangements which may also benefit all employees or adjusting the work processes.
Correspondingly, employers should also avoid making assumptions about employee needs, even if they mean well. For instance, assigning an employee fewer projects because they are a young parent or assuming employees with mental health conditions require accommodations to do the job. Instead, an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect should enable honest conversations about one’s work capacity and struggles, resulting in appropriate support.
Employers should also recognise that employees may have different career aspirations, offer various career pathways and establish effective performance management systems that ensure fair assessments, even for employees who opt to work part-time or other work arrangements.
Fostering Employee Voice
Finally, employees must feel heard, with the third important criterion being “employee voice”. Business leaders can do this by valuing their feedback and having multiple platforms – formal and informal – for employees to share their views in a safe environment.
This comes through communicating more, not less. Embracing an open-door policy plays a pivotal role in encouraging employees to share their perspectives and concerns, whether through face-to-face meetings with managers or via online feedback forms. Managers should also take time to understand individual employees’ communication styles and motivations. For example, recognising if an employee is a passive communicator, or assertive speaker allows managers to tailor their communication approach to effectively engage them.
Leaders should also promptly acknowledge employees’ opinions when they are raised, to set a good precedent for others to air their feedback and fostering a culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. Implementing improvements based on feedback is crucial in establishing trust and accountability, while rewarding those who give suggestions that helped improve work processes or introduce favourable and implementable ideas can further motivate employees to speak up.
There should also be clear grievance handling processes in the organisation. This will help aggrieved employees and employers to resolve disputes amicably and maintain a non-litigious workplace culture.
In a harmonious work environment, employees are more likely to be happy and engaged. Whether or not there are laws in place, employers should constantly assess and foster workplace harmony, as they stand to benefit from better-quality work, a good reputation in the industry and lower staff attrition rates.