Oppressive fluorescent lighting and subpar coffee do not a crisis make, but minor factors such as those can still be major contributors to workplace malaise. And persistent negativity in the office, where most adults spend a third of their time, is hazardous. In the 2015 stress report “Paying With Our Health,” the American Psychological Association confirms that year after year, women report higher stress levels than men. Stress at work is compounded for those with families, and these days, a light is shining on other forms of labor — emotional labor, caring for aging parents, dealing with chronic health issues — to reveal more about what constitutes work and what contributes to either setbacks or success. Did you get that memo? We thought so.
But developing positive vibes? Time is precious. Can we plunk down a succulent, frame a photo and call it good? Aspiring to build positivity at your workplace, with the goal of creating a happier and more productive environment, doesn’t have to be about tchotchkes, forced interactions or mindfulness practice (though those are great suggestions). Nor does it have to feel like one more task. Below are 11 prompts to help inspire you to make positive changes in your own life. This is not a prescription or magic wand, so feel free to consider one action item — even small ripples eventually crest into waves.
1. Make sure your desk’s ergonomics are up to snuff
While ergonomics are important, it can be hard to change the habit of hunching over our keyboards. Start by assessing the chair you’re sitting in: Does it adjust? Do you need lumbar support or a seat pillow? Are your feet on the floor? Feeling physically grounded and comfortable will prop you up for a more pleasant workday. We’ll stop short of suggesting you purchase a grounding mat for underneath your desk, although scientific research is beginning to verify claims that getting bare feet in touch with the earth’s free electrons can reduce inflammation, improve sleep and provide other benefits.
Need more motivation to change your sitting habit? Oakland-based social justice organization Generative Somatics explains how body awareness is a change theory: “We are deeply impacted through systems of oppression and conditions of violence. Generative somatics holds that both personal and collective healing are essential to building a more effective movement and to systemic transformation.” That is to say, when we all feel better, we all do better.
2. Take the time to find an environment that’s right for you
If you have a say over where you spend your working hours, ensuring that you’re in a space that feels right will do wonders for a positive outlook. The Riveter founder Amy Nelson conceived the spaces not only to distinguish themselves from normative coworking culture but also to allow for a variety of experiences. As she told the business magazine Quartz, The Riveter’s most popular coworking plan is the part-time membership, offering 12 half days or six full days per month. It’s valued by entrepreneurs who mostly work from home but seek a professional location for meetings. “Having that professional space is extremely important, especially for women, so they have somewhere to bring clients, investors, journalists, you name it, and be taken seriously,” Nelson explained.
3. Consider culture fit
Is your working space a good culture fit? What interests you: activism, networking, the arts, social activities, career development, mentorship? Seek out workspaces that attract members who value the same things that you do. For example, The Riveter attracts members who resonate with its strong identity as an inclusive community. Intersectionality, advocacy and civic engagement inform the company worldview. No matter your industry, proficiency in diversity, equity, and inclusion principles is foundational to success at work today, whether you’re building a business, managing a team and/or delivering a product or service.
4. Weigh the importance of aesthetics over functionality
Ambiance, light, seating arrangements, music or the lack thereof — each detail can play into a sense of comfort at work. Laura Kobroff, Director of Business Operations at Monarch, chose The Riveter as her part-time coworking space after visiting several in her Seattle neighborhood. Location was the most important factor, she says, followed by a preference for natural light. Make your own “dream workspace” list and then use that as a measuring stick when moving spaces, or deciding where to work.
5. Evaluate how your workplace supports work/life balance
What does your commute look like? Is there a green space where you can walk during lunch? Is your team supportive of a flexible schedule? If there are features that help you cope with stress (or avoid it altogether) then make sure to prioritize them when looking for your workspace. “I like it [The Riveter Capitol Hill] because it’s near my apartment, I get 24/7 access with a dedicated desk in a spot with a lot of sunlight, and there is a casual professional vibe,” says Kobroff. “The staff is friendly, the coffee is good, and they put on a lot of different programming. When I first started working there, I made it a point to attend one program a week and I’ve attended guided meditation sessions, a FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) workshop and a Financial Planning workshop (I work in Fintech).”
6. Find ways to personalize your workspace
For those used to working from the comfort of their own house, a shared or floating workspace can feel disorienting, but there are ways to embrace flexibility and productivity. “At my desk, I have a big monitor, my Jeremyville calendar and noise-canceling headphones. At The Riveter, I really like that the phone booths have adjustable desks, so I can use it as a standing desk to avoid sitting all day. They also have big comfy chairs when I want a break from my desk.” says Kobroff.
7. Do you prefer a bustling or quiet workspace?
Water-cooler or K-cup chatter can be annoying or appealing. The rotating nature of people in a coworking space may actually make meeting people less stressful than at a large event where there’s pressure to mingle and schmooze. Does the workspace have a message board or place to tack up business cards? If you have a business question, you may find the assistance you need right there, and you may have the solution to another’s issue as well. If you’re feeling adventurous and up to a challenge, consult the community board and use your powers of research to start one conversation per week.
8. Find ways to incorporate mindfulness into your day
In a 2019 Journal of Occupational Health Psychology study, researchers examined the effectiveness of mindfulness training in the workplace, reports the APA. Their findings suggested that while small doses of mindfulness training (such as a single class or half-day training) may be enough to increase perceptions of job productivity, longer-term mindfulness training programs (such as a half-day training combined with daily practice for six weeks) are needed to improve work focus, job satisfaction and a positive relationship to work.
One simple mindfulness practice is a five-minute check-in. Try it the next time you catch yourself daydreaming. It may become a (very positive) habit.
To get started, consider these guiding questions: How am I doing in my life?What’s important to me in this moment? What do I want to create?
As the APA suggests: “High workloads and frequent distractions can have negative effects on employee well-being. A regular mindfulness practice might be one way to buffer these negative effects.”
9. Put out a candy bowl
Do you have a fixed desk? A semi-regular spot in a high-traffic area? Take it from one corporate cubicle-dweller: This cheap and simple trick will help you win friends and influence people unlike nearly any other.
10. Practice gratitude
“How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience?” asks Adrienne Maree Brown, an activist, doula and the author of Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (Emergent Strategy). As with many of the resources presented in this list, her work demonstrates the ripple effect a positive thought may have on the world around us, and in the work we do.
Rachel Shimp is a copy editor for Nordstrom.com and formerly City Arts magazine, with a background in journalism on arts and culture.