Five tips for building a positive workplace culture

Written by: Gabrielle Smith
May 14, 2021 at 8:41 AM

If you’re a small employer that’s just starting out, chances are you’ve got a small number of employees doing the work of many. If you’re not careful, this can be a slippery slope toward a burnt out workforce, or worse, the foundation for a toxic work environment.

In fact, with more employees working remotely than ever before, the line between work and home is blurring, creating a growing amount of employee exhaustion across the United States. Eagle Hill reports that a majority of U.S. employees are feeling burnt out, and the leading cause is a jam-packed workload.

So how do you solve for this when your organization is held up by a small team that’s more likely to get overloaded?

We’ve got five tips that will help you foster a positive workplace culture—especially if you’ve found your organization's workload growing faster than your workforce.

Get more tips for building a positive workplace culture in our employee retention guide

1. Hire people excited for growth

The first step toward building a positive workplace culture is filling your organization with the right kind of people from the beginning.

Believe it or not, LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report found that a whopping 94% of employees say that they would be willing to stay at their job longer if their employer simply invested time and resources in helping them learn.

When hiring, you should consider whether or not job applicants are motivated by the kind of growth and opportunities you can offer (rather than big salaries and vacation time) and if they’re passionate about the same mission and goals that your organization is all about.

If you hire candidates for their attitude and willingness to learn and grow, you’ll soon find yourself with a workforce that’s grown and evolved with your organization, rather than one that’s unmotivated and unwilling to put in the hours needed to bring your organization’s vision to life.

If you can’t find the right kind of employee, many small employers hire freelancers to burn the midnight oil on the more tedious tasks so their employees don’t have to. In fact, business statistics show that 42% of small employers in the U.S. utilized freelancers in 2020.

2. Set clear goals and expectations

Second, it’s important to make sure your employees have clear work goals in place that both align with their long-term career aspirations as well as help the organization grow as a whole.

According to a Gallup survey, only 35% of employees are “actively engaged” at their jobs. The remaining 65% describe themselves either as “not engaged” or “actively disengaged.” By setting clear goals with your employees, they’ll have something to reach for, making them feel more personally invested in their work and excited to achieve a new milestone.

When an employee and an organization are working toward a similar goal, the chances of the employee feeling connected to the organization and its mission increase, leading to a happy, productive workforce.

As an employer, it’s your job to make sure to review your employees’ goals with them regularly so they don’t fall by the wayside, as well as actively support them so they can be successful.

3. Communicate openly and often

This next one might sound like a bit of a cliché, but communication really is key when it comes to making sure your employees feel safe and cared for at work. Your employees need to know that they can always come to you for anything they need to talk about.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Globoforce Employee Recognition Report, 89% of HR leaders agree that ongoing peer feedback and check-ins are essential for successful outcomes at work.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few ideas of questions you can ask your employees:

  • What things are going well within the organization?
  • What are some areas we could improve on as an organization?
  • Is your workload too much for you to handle right now?
  • Are there any obstacles in your way that keep you from doing your best work?
  • How can I better support you in your role?

Once you initiate these clear lines of communication to your direct reports, you’ll create a pattern that your managers can then follow and put in place for their employees, too.

4. Recognize your employees’ contributions

Next, if your employees are working hard and doing a great job, tell them! Frequent and genuine employee recognition goes a long way in keeping your workforce upbeat and productive.

A survey conducted by Bonusly found that 82% of respondents said they consider being recognized for their accomplishments an important part of their happiness at work. What’s more, of the respondents who said they felt recognized at work, 63% of them also reported being less likely to look for a new job in the next three to six months.

Whether it’s a quick thank-you email, managers bragging about their team, or even an organization-wide employee appreciation lunch, dedicating time to showing your employees that you appreciate them is what will keep them working hard for your organization.

While it’s important to give recognition, it’s even more important to give it in a way the receiver feels recognized best. For example, some employees would prefer a private note thanking them for their hard work over a big public announcement. Managers should learn how their team prefers to be recognized and cater to those preferences.

5. Offer a quality health benefit

While you may not be able to offer your employees a salary bump or extra paid time off for all of their hard work, one of the best things you can do is offer a competitive health benefit to show your employees you care about their health and wellbeing.

SHRM finds that more than half of U.S. adults with employer-sponsored health benefits say that liking their health coverage is a key factor in deciding whether or not they would stay at their current job. What’s more, 46% say health insurance was either the deciding factor or a positive influence in choosing their current job.

Offering a health benefit that your employees love doesn’t have to be expensive. A health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) is an excellent option for small employers on a budget. 

With an HRA, you can give your employees tax-free money for them to purchase individual insurance and qualifying medical expenses on their own that meets their personal needs. You set the allowance amount, and any unused funds at the end of the year goes back to you.

Watch our webinar to learn more about how an HRA works for employers


Whether you own a small startup or a large organization, continually putting in the effort to foster a positive workplace culture is an essential part of both retaining your best employees and attracting new talent. The more time and resources you invest in your employees, the more energy and enthusiasm they’ll be able to invest in your organization’s mission.

Topics: Health Benefits, Employee Retention

Additional Resources

Get 11 insider tips on how small employers can retain employees.
Get our guide on how to offer health benefits with a small budget.