In most cases, the onus for positive changes and healthy cultures in work environments is heavily dependent on a company’s management. While it’s always important for leadership to set a good example for employees, this “top-down” approach to making a difference at work isn’t always productive.
In reality, companies are reliant on the efforts of all their employees to maintain a positive work culture, no matter the role. Even if you’re a brand-new employee fresh out of college, there are opportunities to make a true difference in your company’s direction, morale, and productivity. Here are some tips for making a positive impact at your job, whether you’re new or not.
Teach When the Opportunity Presents Itself
Some companies have formalized the process of teaching others when the opportunity arises as “reverse mentorship.” If your employer has this or a similar program, consider applying. Reverse mentorship pairs young employees with older executives to help the executives learn how young people think...and, of course, your computer skills as a digital native. It improves culture and diversity.
But even if your employer has no such formal program, still look for opportunities to teach others. You should, of course, listen to their experience, but you have things to bring to the table too. Your education is fresher and may be more up-to-date, especially if your older coworkers have not kept up with professional development in changing fields. Never push, because that can create resentment and make them less likely to listen to you. But, never be afraid to share your knowledge and life experience.
Learn How to Work With Others (Within Reason)
Being a team player and learning to work with others, including people you might not like, is an obvious requirement in most professional settings. This requires a level of self-awareness. Most of us would like to think that we are, in fact, easy to work with and get along with. However, nobody gets along with everyone, and we all have traits that others may find annoying. Discover what yours are and learn to work around and mitigate them in order to work with all types of personalities.
Know your own strengths and weaknesses, when to put yourself forward, and when to let somebody else take the lead while you learn from them. Communication skills are vital to interacting with coworkers and improving your company.
However, there also have to be boundaries. Some people focus so hard on working well with others that they turn into doormats. It might be tempting to always say yes to everything your team asks of you, but this is how you end up working extra hours for no real gain. It’s worse if you take on a project you’re not ready for and end up struggling with it. That’s a stressful situation that can burn you out quickly.
Also, remember that some people may not deserve your consideration. Don’t ignore offensive jokes or comments to force yourself to get along with others. Certain behaviors are simply not acceptable, and you need to learn what those are to ensure you have an optimal work environment for everybody.
Hold Others Accountable While Being Respectful
Obviously, you should be respectful at work, both towards your superiors and your peers. However, you need to be willing and able to hold others, including your boss, accountable. Whether it is because of inappropriate behavior or somebody not pulling their weight, you need to learn to have difficult conversations.
You should expect your team members to treat you properly, pull their weight, and hold you accountable when you mess up. If everyone watches out for each other, things go much more smoothly. You should expect your manager to be competent, service-driven, and willing to build your trust. Learning how to tell somebody they are wrong without creating conflict is difficult, but more than possible. Often it helps to mention the good things about the person if you must call them out.
In some cases, you really do need to stand firm, such as if you witness harassment. In these cases, seek support from others in the company you know agree with you on the matter. Your company should have systems in place to address bad behavior, and if they don’t
All of these ways to make a difference and improve your work environment require soft yet essential skills, skills that help you collaborate more successfully, communicate better, set boundaries, and embrace diversity. While these skills should improve with time in the workplace, training them is absolutely possible. Taking an essential skills course can help set you up for success by helping you transform the company you work for (and realize when you might have made a poor choice). They also help you move towards the skills you will need as a manager.
Portland Community College offers essential skills courses that cover communication, diversity, equity and inclusion, leadership, and project management. These are continuing education courses you can take no matter where in your career you are.