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TalentCulture | February 28, 2015

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Looking Forward: Restoring Workplace Optimism

Looking Forward: Restoring Workplace Optimism
Shawn Murphy
Shawn Murphy
May 28, 2013

TalentCulture readers certainly don’t need to be reminded of the troubles our organizations face these days. Let us instead shift our focus to what managers can do to counter the dark cloud hanging around too many workplaces.

It’s time managers take matters into their own hands and bring optimism to the work environment that influences their teams’ performance. But what is workplace optimism? Is it happiness? Is it viewing the world through the proverbial rose-tinted glasses? I suppose for some it could be. However, that is not what I’m advocating.

Workplace optimism is a dimension of a company or team culture. For this post, we’ll focus on workplace optimism at the team level. Using Dov Seidman’s “Five How’s of Culture” framework, workplace optimism is a cultural dimension of “How we Relate.”

What Is Workplace Optimism?

Workplace optimism facilitates stronger relationships within the context of an encouraging work environment that is viewed positively by employees and management. A dominant belief is that hard work leads to great possibilities for the employee, the team, and even the organization and its customers. Employees believe they are making a contribution, and that their work matters.

In short, workplace optimism addresses the absence of hope and possibility in our workplaces today.

Why Does Workplace Optimism Matter?

Whether it’s our frustration with corporate scandals, overpaid executives who deliver underwhelming results, or trends like the emerging skill gap problem in corporations, a constant message of scarcity has depleted employees’ hopes and aspirations — personally or professionally.

While senior managers scurry to address business issues or opportunities that tie neatly to their balance sheets, workforce problems are put aside as “someday projects.” As I mentioned earlier, the dismal mood in our organizations can’t wait for senior managers to do something. I present to all managers a choice:  let low engagement scores and poor job satisfaction numbers continue to erode productivity, or act now and do something about the problem.

Creating Workplace Optimism

Many management actions are available to begin shifting the team’s culture. But perhaps the most necessary are these three:

  • Get clear why you want to shift the culture to be more optimistic. You’ll need to awaken employees lulled to sleep by the monotonous rhythms of fire drills and lack of inspired opportunities. Employees may have turned off reasons to care. They are likely skeptical, apathetic. Be prepared for this. And don’t give up. Your “why” becomes inspiration for you.
  • Identify how you’ll measure progress toward a culture of workplace optimism. You need to be clear on behavioral indicators you want to see shift. You also want to target key business outcomes. For example, decrease in sick days used, increased productivity, improved quality of work.
  • Gather your team after you’ve done the first two items and explain what you are about to do. Invite them to be part of the solution.

A culture of workplace optimism is one of the most important management and leadership actions you can take today. You have the greatest influence over your team’s performance. Not your CEO or your immediate boss. It’s you. Your team members may not realize it, but they are waiting for you to make the workplace a place worth investing their time and unleashing their talents to do great works.

Image Credit: Pixabay


  • Jason


    I’m so glad you wrote this particular sentence:

    “In short, workplace optimism addresses the absence of hope and possibility in our workplaces today.”

    If we replaced “limiting” beliefs with short bouts of possibility thinking the momentum created could carry us through the next tough situation. Not that we will avoid it…we will move through it.

    • Shawn Murphy (@shawmu)

      I love the idea of short bouts of possibility thinking. I’m imagining Possibility Teams. Definitely momentum creators.


  • Ted Coine

    Shawn, you nailed it! Remember the Why, and don’t give up – the stakes are too important. Your closing call to action is… well, it’s the difference between employing people of talent and unleashing their talent for your company – and for their families, as well. This is what leadership truly means.

    “Your team members may not realize it, but they are waiting for you to make the workplace a place worth investing their time and unleashing their talents to do great works.”

    I can’t wait to read your book when it comes out. Meanwhile, your Snippet, Creating Joy At Work, is so good I had to read it again this morning. Bravo, my friend.

    • Shawn Murphy (@shawmu)

      My favorite part to your comment is the importance of a great work environment to families. We bring home the office whether we like it or not. And its our families who have to hear the complaints or get to hear the excitement and pride when work in joyful.

      Thank you for your kind words.

  • Tony Gray

    Sorry, this started so well then developed ‘examples’ which are only cliches. I came looking for inspiration & something new. I am left with a feeling of déjà vu, Seen it. Heard it. We are desperate for something new to change the workplace environment. This won’t change anything – it’s still tied to the old school of thinking.

    • Shawn Murphy (@shawmu)

      I agree with you to a point: we must advance our leadership thinking and actions to address the “state of the workplace.” Where I differ in perspective is that what I listed are basics that I see too many managers overlooking. I, like you I bet, prefer to explore new ways of thinking. But I believe we must look to the basics and it starts with the manager investigating why they want to create workplace optimism. Without the why, it will likely become another management fad that goes no where.

      What do you think?


  • Alan Kay

    Shawn, having just blogged about the opposite end of the scale, ‘Most Problems Are A Construct. Mass Hysteria Can Be Useful’ I concur that looking forward and workplace optimism are really critical.
    Why? Because in our post-industrial and technology innovation peaked world the only significant leverage left is workforce development. Hence, things like workplace optimism are not nice to have, but key elements of both business and people development strategy.
    The workplace will likely always be complex and competitive simply because it’s a competitive world. It’s amazing to me that people can’t see that optimism can thrive inside that framework.

    • Shawn Murphy (@shawmu)

      Hi Alan,
      Well, I’m taking it on as part of my mission and message that optimism in the workplace isn’t some soft HR idea, but has real business value and can inform how managers and leaders inspire employees to want to do great work.

      As always, you bring great wisdom to the conversation.

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