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This article appears in the June 2021 issue of the

PE GI Journal

July 1, 2021

Building a culture of optimism

After the year that employees and employers alike have had, it is no surprise that everyone is hungry for a company culture that has a positive outlook for future growth. As humans, employees value hope and are growth-oriented by nature. Fatigue from the past year’s health, economic, and personal woes only push people further to look for a more hopeful future—an end to negativity. Employers can choose to build a culture around various positive values, but the most important to meet this moment is optimism.

Inspiring optimism in a workplace, whether the size of a two-physician practice or a mid-sized management services organization, is easy in theory. The challenge is building long-lasting optimism—a culture that exceeds the life of a small employee appreciation gift. Here are some strategic actions you can take to encourage a long-term, workforce with a positive outlook:

  1. Value human connections above all.

Building, maintaining, and valuing personal connections in your workplace is the simplest avenue to achieving an optimistic workforce. Luckily, this does not require extensive training or technical skills—it requires you to genuinely show up in your daily interactions. Authenticity cannot be taught, but there are a couple things you can remember while conversing with your staff:

  • Ask questions to learn more about them and find connections.
  • Remember details they share to follow up on next time.
  • Practice active listening, rather than listening with the intent to speak.
  • Be willing to be vulnerable and share your own personal stories, too.
  • Leave assumptions at the door.
  • Reach out and follow up authentically, not because you are forcing a networking connection.
  • Prioritize resolving any workplace conflicts as they arise, and do not minimize any employee frustrations.
  • If time is keeping you from maintaining connections, set specific time aside, even if small and infrequent, to connect with employees—perhaps over lunch or coffee.
  1. Remember that titles are subjective.

Many employees, of all levels, place too much significance on titles and levels within a workplace. While levels can provide clear definition of day-to-day responsibilities, they should not define who is responsible for inspiring optimism. Draw in employees of all levels, and inspire them to value an optimistic outlook. Often, low-level employees will make the most valuable contributions to the culture because they build the foundation. In GI practices and centers, low-level employees typically are the visual representation of your workplace culture to patients—their positivity is seen at the front desk, in cleaning the areas around patients, and in the quick phone conversations they have with patients. If you are inspiring these workers, the results are two-fold: employee satisfaction and retention and better patient interactions.

  1. Feed off people’s desire for normalcy.

Renewed hope from vaccines is bringing reopenings and a desire to get out into the world safely. Use this to your advantage, and have face-to-face (or mask-to-mask) interactions.

  1. Don’t try to buy optimism.

Rewarding employees and buying “appreciation gifts” is only a short-term solution. When employees don’t have a positive outlook in their day-to-day work but are receiving material gifts for “employee appreciation,” they are able to see through the gesture. Strive for long-term recognition and appreciation of your staff by compensating them fairly and offering competitive benefits every day, not just on a special day. Even more worthwhile are meaningful connections with your staff, especially in a small practice or center setting.

  1. Define the type of engagement you are looking for.

“Employee engagement” can be a buzzword that is not very useful. Engagement should not be your goal. Engagement can be forced or negative. Set a higher, more specific target for your workplace by encouraging people to share their positive outlooks. For example, instead of asking for comments on work experience, start asking what someone’s favorite part of their position is, or if they have specific growth goals you can help them achieve.