The past two years have had more historical events and uncertainty than the last couple decades combined. So, “comfortable” may not exactly be the term people are using to describe themselves these days. We spend a lot of our time at work, so how can we as leaders do our part to make employees feel comfortable at work on a professional and personal level?
Microsoft’s Annual Work Trend Index Report for 2022 states that “41% of the global workforce is likely to consider leaving their current employer within the next year.” The same report states that “62% of all frontline workers say leadership does not prioritize building culture.” Clearly, establishing a comfortable workplace for everyone is necessary. Organizations can close this gap by taking tangible, strategic steps to create a comfortable workplace culture.
Work Comfort 101
Being “comfortable” in the workplace boils down to two concepts: seeing work in general as a comfortable space and being comfortable talking to HR. Generally, if people are comfortable working at your organization, they’ll stay there. According to the 2022 Job Seeker Nation Report, "34% of people listed that a company culture they didn't expect was one of the top reasons they left a job within the first 90 days of employment." A sense of comfort in the very place employees spend most of their time leads to increased retention and satisfaction. It’s pretty intuitive.
However, when employees are comfortable at work, there are additional concrete benefits that go beyond the typical HR metrics. For example, people are more likely to engage in open and honest communication in a comfortable workplace. People aren't afraid to share ideas and can perform effectively without worrying about how their actions are perceived. Work comfort impacts all everyday interactions.
“Comfortable” also refers to employees feeling confident enough to approach the HR department with their issues. People need to solve the problems that are affecting how they work and need to feel comfortable contacting HR for conflict resolution. Being able to converse with HR is particularly important when one person’s actions are affecting another employee, such as workplace harassment and assault. The HR department’s people resources are essentially useless if no one feels comfortable enough to trust HR with their issues.
How do you make people feel comfortable?
It’s impossible to establish a comfortable culture with policies alone. Instead, everyone’s behaviour needs to reflect transparency and respect for others. This is especially difficult in a remote environment, where face-to-face interactions are limited. Here’s how you start:
1. Set the tone
If you have policies that support employees—like an open-door policy—tell people about them and live them. Making your values explicit helps set the tone for your organization. This will establish comfort as part of the cultural standard. A comfortable environment can be shown with dialogue between employees, how managers talk to employees, and by the stories shared within the organization. All levels of management should demonstrate a comforting culture with their actions. So, practice what you preach, since hypocrisy will in no way make people feel comfortable.
One of the best ways to immerse new hires into your culture is through the onboarding process. During onboarding, organizations should explicitly state their policies surrounding disclosure and dispute resolution. Important tenants of your workplace culture should also be discussed informally, so everyone is made aware of what matters.
2. Use a Feedback System
There are many different types of feedback systems. Surveys, suggestion boxes, and idea submissions are a few among them. Feedback systems help you gather vital information on different interactions, such as performance, teamwork, constructive criticism, and issues employees are experiencing. Depending on the subject matter, some feedback systems benefit from being anonymous. Collecting feedback makes people feel comfortable by providing a productive, safe space to discuss and resolve issues. Establishing a feedback loop doesn’t have to be complex. You can start small and simple with recurring surveys using Microsoft Forms. Collecting feedback in the first place shows that the surveyor values your opinion, but remember without follow-through, gathering feedback without action can backfire. So be prepared to review and take action!
3. Give Feedback Consistently
When people think of feedback, the annual performance review comes to mind. Annual reviews have become a bit more contentious than they once were. HR Consultant Patty McCord asks the question: “You know why people say giving feedback is so hard? They don’t practice. Let’s take the annual performance review: what else do you do in your whole life that you’re really good at that you only do once a year?”
Her point of view makes sense. If the feedback you provide is intended to inspire change, it can’t be a one-off given out at the end of the year. Consistent feedback lets people know how well they’re meeting expectations and sets you up for long-term improvement. It also prevents smaller issues from spiraling into larger ones when unacknowledged.
Adobe executive Donna Morris pitched the idea of “Check-In,” a series of frequent performance review discussions that focus on goal setting, expectations, and professional growth. Morris states that
“Adobe was founded on four core values: genuine, exceptional, innovative, and involved. Our old annual review process contradicted every one of them. So, I said to our people: What if there were no ratings and no rankings and no forms? Instead, what if you all knew what was expected of you and had the opportunity to grow your career at Adobe, where each of you is so valued?”
More organizations are turning to frequent feedback over the traditional annual performance review. Maybe it’s time you considered doing the same.
4. Be Transparent
Transparent communication applies to your organization’s policies and to all group interactions at work. Policies must be made explicitly clear during onboarding, so new hires can start off on the right foot. Transparency is especially important for contentious issues like workplace misconduct and harassment since everyone needs to be comfortable with the related procedures. Managers should also be transparent about their expectations. People are more comfortable when they know where they stand. Generally, it’s safe to say that most people aren’t fond of ambiguous responsibilities.
Everyone has been trying their best these past couple of years. The best way for organizations to acknowledge this effort and be supportive is to prioritize their people’s comfort. We can start by establishing a comfortable culture with onboarding and transparent policies. Then, we can collect feedback from people not only when they have problems, but when work is going well. Finally, we can provide feedback more than once a year to address the issues employees are facing and create lasting impact.