Creating A Positive Work Environment

A positive work environment can make you happier, more productive, and more in-tuned with your coworkers and participants. So how can you thrive when your work environment is less than ideal?

In my last blog post, we discussed factors of a toxic work environment and how we may be contributing to it. So how can you turn things around? Of course, the things you do may not completely change a toxic work culture. But, with a little practice and effort, you can ensure you are doing your part to make a positive impact at your workplace. After all, the happier you are with what you do, the more resilient you will be to the common pitfalls of a toxic work environment.

What are the Signs of a Positive Work Environment?

Last time we talked about what makes a workplace negative. Let’s take some time to focus on the positive. Even in some of the most stressful health care settings, coworkers band together to successfully help each other and their participants. So what does this look like? Here are some signs of a positive work environment:

Good Communication

While this may seem obvious, we often overlook the importance of communication. Recreation Therapists and other Activity Professionals often rely on the help from other disciplines. Maybe it is the dietary program providing food for an event or the collaboration with other allied health professionals. Maintaining clear communication–in every form–is essential to a positive work environment.  
image of coworkers in a positive work environment

Making Things Fun

Cultivating positive work environments means enjoying being on the clock. As Recreation Therapists, we have an intuitive sense of how important fun is to a person’s well-being. It may take a little extra effort, but we can be at the forefront of increasing everyone’s morale. Maybe it is a fun bulletin board, social opportunity, or even a friendly competition between coworkers.

Acknowledging Everyone’s Efforts

As mentioned earlier, successfully pulling off some events, activities, and outings requires the efforts of multiple staff. Showing your appreciation for their contributions can go a long way creating an environment of mutual respect. Even small gestures, like just showing up or clearing off a table, deserves some acknowledgement. Why? The more someone feels appreciated, the more they may help in the future.

Developing a Team Mindset

Does your Recreation Therapy program involve team sports? If so, you probably know how important dynamics are to a team. Our participants certainly have their strengths and needs–our coworkers are the same. A positive work environment often takes into account each worker’s unique abilities. When managed effectively, the team can thrive and enjoy a higher moral.

image of a team succeeding

Building Trust

Ever ask someone for something and wonder if they will actually pull through? In a previous job, I needed some of my team to deliver daily notes to the gym when they were finished so I could complete mine. While this seems like a simple, mundane task, more often than not I was stuck in the gym without the opportunity to complete my notes. There were, however, a couple staff I could always depend on to take the extra effort to walk daily notes down to the gym. I knew I could trust them for this–and, of course, more important tasks. When you trust your coworkers, you feel better about working as a cohesive unit that cares about each others’ needs. If someone asks you to do something, even something simple, follow through. This builds trust and the likelihood that they will help you out when needed.  

How Can You Thrive in a Toxic Work Environment?

Let’s face it, we don’t always work in ideal settings. Being short-staffed, burdened by budget constraints, and ineffectively managed can be devastating to a work environment. In addition, our participants often struggle with significant physical, mental, and emotional issues that certainly make work more stressful.

If you ride the tide of a negative status quo, work will be more of a burden than an exciting opportunity to help others. Even if your workplace falls far short of a positive work environment, there are still ways to protect yourself from the negativity and help your department thrive.

As someone that worked in a residential setting for over 19 years, I’ve had my fair share of times when the work environment was less than ideal. In fact, there were some times when I dreaded punching in for a shift. I learned a few things along the way to help when times were tough.

self care for caregivers

Practice Self-Care…Often

Self-care looks different for everyone. I can’t tell you to go for a jog or get a massage and the stressors of your job will melt away. You need to find activities that help you regain balance and put you in a better frame of mind. You may find reading a good book or doing something with your hands is a great way to get your mind out of work mode. Or maybe a long weekend outdoors can help you shift perspectives for a better mindset. As you continue in the field, you will find the activities that help you recover from a particularly difficult work week. When you find the activities that help best, don’t deny yourself their benefits. Practice them often.

What Self-Care Activity Would I Recommend for Everyone?

I believe there is one activity that can be helpful to just about any Recreation Therapist or healthcare professional. Meditation. I say this because I noticed significant changes shortly after I started a meditation routine. They included:

  • Less reactive to stressful situations. When I started my meditation routine, I was working with adolescent boys in a substance abuse treatment facility. Most of them had ties to the criminal justice system. As you could imagine, the work environment could get pretty stressful. While establishing my meditation routine, I noticed I was much less reactive to the things they did and said. As a result, I handled situations calmer and with more control.
  • More compassion. There is a particular type of meditation, sometimes called metta, that helps you see people in a different light than your everyday interactions. During this meditation, you project love and good will to people you care about as well as those you find difficult. While initially it may be hard to do something like this with a particularly troublesome coworker or participant, the practice can help transform your thoughts.
  • Better perspective. Taking some time to quiet your thoughts each day makes it easier to take a step back from the constant chatter in your head. As a result, may gain perspectives and insights helping you with even your most difficult work-related problems.
  • Develop gratitude. When we work in a toxic work environment, it’s easy to get stuck in a constant loop of negative thoughts. As a result, the stress takes a toll on our minds and bodies. By taking a little time out of the day to be truly grateful for the opportunities we have, it slowly shifts our mindset. There are several meditations out there to help cultivate gratitude in your everyday life.

These are just a few of the ways meditation can help. In my first year of writing this blog, I actually wrote an article about meditation for caregivers. Sadly, it was one of my least viewed posts that year. Of course, you could still check it out here.

Want to get started meditating? I tried a couple things early on, but I found the Insight Timer app was my best option. Many of the features are free. You could use it as a simple timer or listen to one of the thousands available guided meditations. In addition, it keeps a record of your meditation history which may help with your personal accountability. To date, I have over 1450 consecutive days of meditation sessions logged.  

Understand Other’s Differences

A little bit of empathy can go a long way. Of course, this will take some reflection and effort. It may, however, save you from several headaches in the long run. You are just one personality among many in your particular setting. Once you begin to realize other personalities exist and are wired to think, act, and react differently, you set the framework for creating a positive work environment.

Think about that coworker that always has something negative to say about what you do. Even if you ran an activity that painted an exact duplicate of the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling of the facility’s dining room ceiling, something would still be wrong. Is it because of you? No.

Take a moment to think what the person may be going through in their personal or professional lives. Maybe he is struggling with a divorce or aging parents facing mounting health problems. Perhaps she is truly unhappy at work. Is it right for these people to unload their negativity on you? No. Is there anything you could do about their actions? Maybe, but unlikely.

So what do you do? Remember (especially those of us in behavioral health) a person can’t make you feel bad. Your reactions to a person’s behavior makes you feel bad.

Way, way back in the infancy of my career, I took a home study course about understanding others’ personalities. It completely changed my perspective. At the time, I was in my early twenties and really had no idea about how different people can actually be. The course included a book entitled Please Understand Me which used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality scale to explain the dynamics of each personality type. After reading that book, I can’t tell you how much easier it was to understand people. In fact, it gave me a better understanding of myself. Maybe it was because I was so young when I read it, but, in all honesty, it changed my life.

Set Clear Boundaries

Want to know the secret to longevity in your career? Setting boundaries. Recreation Therapists and other helping professionals sincerely want to help others. In a positive work environment, fulfilling these needs seem easy. When things are less than perfect, however, it can leave you drained and wondering if your hard work is doing any good.

Our participants come to us with significant issues. Unfortunately, as much as we want to help, sometimes their problems are beyond our scope of care. While we do what we can, it is not always enough. You need to know it’s not your fault–especially if do your best every time you come to work.

Unfortunately, the difficulties of our jobs sometimes bleed into our personal lives. This is especially true if many of our friends and acquaintances work in the healthcare field. Have you ever had a get-together with coworkers and found the topic of conversation always seemed to lead to your facility? Do you find yourself thinking about your job or participants even when you are doing a leisure activity you love? It’s more common than you think. Of course, constantly thinking about your job when you are not on the clock can lead to burnout.

As Recreation Therapists, we know our leisure time is an opportunity to refresh and restore our personal well-being. When we set clear boundaries, we leave work at work. Of course, it may not always be easy. Try this: next time you find yourself doing something you love and thoughts about your job start to distract you, take a couple deep breaths and re-orientate yourself. Remind yourself that this is your time to enjoy. Work will still be there after you finish YOUR leisure activities.

More Tips on The Next Blog Post…

Whoa, I just checked my word count and realized just how much I wrote. If you made it this far, thanks for your attention. I know you probably have a million other things to do at work or home. It looks like I should break this topic into one more section. Next time, I will explore some ways to promote the value of your work to help you get respect in the profession and some (somewhat) unorthodox ways I’ve dealt with difficult coworkers and participants. Check back in a week or two.   

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