Healthy work: what we can all do to make a positive difference

By Karen Gately.

Have you ever worked with someone who drained you of energy, undermined your confidence or caused you to feel anxious about the standard of your work?  Have you worked with an aggressive, volatile or generally unpredictable colleague whose behaviour led to people ‘tiptoeing’ around them? If you have, you no doubt appreciate the impact these people can have, not only on our happiness at work, but also our health.

Reflect on the people at the opposite end of the spectrum: the colleagues who uplift and energise, those on the team who inspire and motivate, and support and encourage their colleagues to succeed. How have these types of people influenced your own health and happiness at work?  How have you influenced the quality of working life for the people around you?  Do you enable or undermine? Do you uplift or drag people down?

Irrespective of our role, we all affect the environments we work in, for better or worse. How we choose to think and behave influences how other people in turn feel and experience being at work.  Put simply, the extent to which a healthy workplace environment is created comes down to each person and the group’s behaviour.

A healthy workplace is one in which there is an absence of risk to the mental, emotional and physical safety of the people who work there. Here are ways you can make a positive difference:

  1. Be aware. Begin by observing your own character traits and how people typically respond to working with you. Understand the impact your behaviour has on other people and choose to adapt as necessary. Ask yourself whether your approach will bring out the best in people and help them to feel respected and valued.
  2. Take ownership. Look beyond your own needs and assume responsibility for the health and wellbeing of the other people you work with. Take ownership of your own behaviour and ensure the impact you have on other people is a positive one. Care when someone is being mistreated and take steps to provide the support they need.
  3. Build healthy relationships. Do your part actively to foster strong working relationships with your colleagues. At the foundation of any successful relationship are trust and respect. Contemplate the impact your conduct has on the ability for other people to trust both your character and integrity. To what extent does the way you go about your work cause people to feel respect towards you?
  4. Have courage and speak up. When other people are behaving badly, let them know how their behaviour impacts the team. Staying silent is never a good idea when the wellbeing or success of you or your colleagues is being undermined. While it can, at times, take a great deal of courage to stand up to bullies, it’s critical that you find the strength to voice your concerns.
  5. Work through conflict. As tempting as it can be to avoid dealing with the inevitable conflicts that arise, it’s critical that we do. Unresolved disagreements, hurts and disappointments can fester and undermine the culture of a team over time. Don’t let unspoken emotion erode the way you feel about your colleagues and your willingness to trust. Encourage other people to voice their concerns and let you know how they are feeling about the way you behave.
  6. Ask for support when it’s needed. If you don’t feel comfortable or able to challenge unhealthy behaviour directly, ask for support from your manager, a colleague or HR. Never leave destructive behaviour unaddressed; rather, raise your concerns with people who can take action. If the leaders you work for are not committed to creating a healthy and safe working environment for everyone, seriously consider finding a new place to work.

Karen Gately is a leadership and people-management specialist and a founder of Ryan Gately. She works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Getting the Best from People (Wiley) and The Corporate Dojo: Driving Extraordinary Results Through Spirited People. For more information, visit or contact [email protected]