A vital yet intangible element of all healthy and well-performing workplaces is the presence of good karma or, if you prefer, positive energy.
The concept of karma is often misconstrued in the West, where many reduce it to a linear and simplistic "what comes round goes round" formula. Deeply integral to many Eastern beliefs including Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism, the word karma actually invokes destiny, deeds, work and action, among other spiritual and philosophical elements. Karma connects the past to the present and to the future. There is a cause-and-effect aspect to it, whereby our intentions and our actions affect our future in a positive or negative way.
So how can management and staff create good karma - good energy - at the workplace? This is particularly challenging because the modern office is teeming with a diverse variety of personality types, a rich mixture of genders and cultures, and complicated by hierarchies and management levels, corporate cultures and institutionalized rules of behavior.
In a dynamic, high-pressure, rapidly changing working environment where delivering results often counts more than thinking of the office atmosphere, it is easy to get caught up in the operational functions of daily demands and to be oblivious to the feelings and needs of others. Indeed, we often consciously or unconsciously offend, disrespect or hurt office mates by our gestures, tone of voice, eye contact and other myriad verbal and non-verbal signals. Apparently innocuous things such as failing to greet a colleague at the cafeteria, looking at your smartphone while someone is talking to you, crossing your arms while listening or building a team consisting of predominately one gender or ethnicity can be "read" by others as bias, disrespect and devaluing.
The result: hurt feelings, the build-up of resentments, and fostering feelings of isolation which ultimately can damage team spirit, demotivate employees or cause people to seek employment somewhere else where they feel valued and appreciated.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Mary Rowe of the Sloan School of Management has labeled these affronts and indignities, "micro-inequities." According to Rowe, these are "apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be 'different.'" (see here for instance.)
How can managers and staff members avoid broadcasting insalubrious messages or "micro-inequities" to their office mates? First of all, they must become consciously aware of their body language and communication style, and of the signals they are sending to others. Beyond this, they need to increase their sensitivity to how others perceive and are influenced by these behaviors. They have to ask themselves, "Am I unconsciously ignoring or singling out some while favoring others?" They must be open to and sincerely embrace diversity in all of its forms, be that gender, culture, age, physical challenges or sexual orientation. And they need to pro-actively build good karma or positive energy at the workplace.
The way to create good karma is simple and effective: show gratitude and appreciation to others, give praise, become an engaged, pro-active listener, have patience for others and be generous with giving thanks. Be sensitive to the diversity of the team - working mothers, students, emigrants, etc. - and their unique needs and issues. Communication must be open and embracing. Good karma flows throughout the office, eventually returning to the sender in an uplifting wave of positive energy.
It is vital, however, that these gestures be authentic, heartfelt, consistent, fair and sincere. If this is done as a tactic or in an attempt to manipulate others, it will soon be found out -- destroying the sender's credibility.
The benefits of consciously creating and sustaining positive energy are manifold: greater employee motivation and enthusiasm, a healthier, more enjoyable, high energy working environment, enhanced tolerance and understanding for others, more cohesive and productive teams, and increased performance and stellar results. Good karma at the office strengthens people's self-esteem and helps them feel valued and important as their efforts and accomplishments are recognized and appreciated. And best of all for budget-strapped managers, creating positive energy at the workplace is cost-effective and often of greater and longer-lasting value than elaborate team-building events or stale Christmas parties and forced-fun summer barbecues.
Simple, selfless and sincere acts of kindness and gratitude can arguably inspire and motivate individuals more than a pay rise or a promotion. Managers and their staffs desire that their dignity be respected, their work acknowledged; they wish to receive encouragement for their efforts. Whether you call this win-win effect good karma or positive energy, the results are universally the same: fulfilled colleagues and a fun, positive and forward-thinking spirit at the office.