As our Simply Irresistible Organization™ model shows (see below), there are five essential elements of employee engagement success: meaningful work, supportive management, positive work environment, growth opportunity, and trust in leadership. In this article (the third of five, you can read the first two here), we’ll discuss the issue of a positive work environment (aka Fantastic Environment).
Let’s start by stating the obvious: your work environment can make or break your experience at work. And by “environment” we don’t just mean the physical space, we mean the space, the culture, and the way you are appreciated.
In our research we’ve developed a simple model that identifies four key elements of a positive work environment. Let’s walk you through them.
1. Flexible work environment
The first element of a positive work environment is flexibility. A workplace can’t aspire to be “irresistible” if it isn’t flexible. Studies show that 68 percent of women say they’d prefer more free time to more money, and 80 percent of men would like to work fewer hours.
Flexibility can mean many things. At one of the largest telecommunications providers in Asia, the company’s “All Roles Flex” policy is an example of flexibility. At this telecommunications and media company, any role is eligible for some virtual or remote work by default. This is not insignificant for a company with so many sales and service locations throughout the region.
Flexibility also means offering a workspace that accommodates different modes of work, including a focus on productivity, innovative space (often called creative space), exercise, outdoors, and passion activities. For those of you interested in viewing the art of the possible, here is a video of how Deloitte leveraged workplace design trends in our Amsterdam office, The Edge, one of the greenest office buildings in the world. This building lets people work wherever they want; they can use their mobile phones to order coffee and food; and the lighting is automatically designed to keep people energized while conserving power throughout the day – employees can even adjust the lighting in their area via a smartphone app.
In terms of actual office or workspace design, you can consider a model like the following to decide who needs an office, a desk, or other workspaces, like a team room.
Identify the Workstyle of Each Employee
Fig 1: Four Employee Workstyles
Not everyone needs a full-time office—but some people do.
While there’s been a lot of effort to reshape environments to make them more enjoyable and flexible to accommodate changing worker preferences and needs, massive societal and economic disruptions are making the transition to the future of work an issue that is top of mind for many of our clients. Click here for more on this subject.
2. A humanistic workplace
A workplace should also be humanistic. Some anecdotes are well-known. For example, a global technology leader, consistently rated in the top ten of Best Places to Work, has a pet-friendly workplace where their employees are extremely well fed—for free; and employees can give each other “massage credits” for a job well done on projects, redeemed for a free one-hour massage on campus.
At Deloitte we have an empowered well-being subsidy covering 50 percent of wellness/fitness activities up to $500 each fiscal year, a “Corporate Athlete” Program taught at Deloitte University, meditation/yoga classes to keep us centered, and an extended Family Leave program that offers US employees, both women and men, 16 weeks of paid family leave. We don’t all work for these companies, but food, celebrations, internet-enabled commuting shuttles, and even laundry services are all becoming more common across a wide range of industries. These are no longer just “perks;” they are essential elements of helping us make work fit into our lives.
3. Culture of recognition
This gets us to our third area of a positive work environment: a culture of recognition. Continuous recognition, both monetary and non-monetary, is a powerful engagement tool, even if it’s as soft as a “thank-you.”
The Harvard Business Review has cited “recognition given for high performance” as the most impactful driver of employee engagement and The Aberdeen Group has found the No. 1 way leading organizations improve employee engagement is through employee-recognition programs.
We also studied this topic and found that “high-recognition companies” have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than companies with poor recognition cultures. These companies tend to build a culture of recognition through social reward systems (tools that give people points or kudos to reward others), weekly or monthly thank-you activities, and a general culture of appreciating everyone from top to bottom.
Key to enabling success here is to create a social environment where recognition can flow from peer to peer, freeing managers from being the “gatekeepers” of praise.
Companies that build this culture can see tremendous impact. For example, when JetBlue implemented a peer-to-peer recognition system focused on company values, employee satisfaction surged by 88 percent. And there are physiological effects as well: Researchers have proven that when you thank someone, it releases oxytocin, a hormone that makes people more relaxed, collaborative and happy.
4. Fair, inclusive, diverse work environment
Of course, a workplace should also be fair, inclusive, and diverse. This isn’t an HR strategy, it’s a business strategy—teams within inclusive cultures outperform others by a staggering 80 percent. People perform better when they’re comfortable being themselves.
In a study we did a few years back, we found that while 71 percent of organizations try to foster diversity and inclusion, only 11 percent had such an environment. Even worse, only 23 percent held their CEOs accountable for building a diverse and inclusive environment; instead leadership often delegated this work to a director within HR.
While most business leaders now believe having a diverse and inclusive culture is critical to performance, they don’t always know how to achieve that goal. We urge you to read more on this topic; here are eight powerful truths that can help turn aspirations into reality.
Stay tuned for part 4, where we will discuss the attributes of an environment rich in “growth opportunity.”
 Juliet Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline Of Leisure (New York: BasicBooks, 1992), pages 20-25.
 Work environment redesign – accelerating talent development and performance, June 03, 2013, https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/topics/talent/work-environment-redesign.html
 Navigating the future of work: Can we point business, workers, and social institutions in the same direction? July 31, 2017, https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/deloitte-review/issue-21/navigating-new-forms-of-work.html
 Human Resource Executive, March 2018, https://hreonline.com/how-recognition-drives-employee-engagement/
 Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, November 7, 2012, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-bersin–associates-research-shows-organizations-that-excel-at-employee-recognition-are-12-times-more-likely-to-generate-strong-business-results-177627921.html
 Joanna Geraghty, “An 88 percent increase in recognition satisfaction,” Globoforce, http://www.globoforce.com/our-clients/jetblue/.
 Josh Bersin, Forbes, April 30, 2012, https://www.forbes.com/sites/joshbersin/2012/04/30/how-the-trust-molecule-drives-business-performance/#7764d35b3383
 Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup? A new recipe to improve business performance, November 2012, http://www.humanrightscommission.vic.gov.au/index.php/ our-resources-and-publications/reports/item/529-waiter-is-that-inclusion-in-my-soup-a- new-recipe-to-improve-business-performance-nov-2012>.
 Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, April 2, 2014, http://blog.bersin.com/new-research-reveals-diversity-inclusion-efforts-well-intentioned-but-lacking/
 Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, April 1, 2014, https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/bersin-by-deloitte-research-shows-that-leading-organizations-increasingly-view-diversity–inclusion-as-a-business-imperative-but-few-have-an-inclusive-culture-today-253349981.html