Photo by Tyler Meuter

We’ve all experienced how terrible group projects can be — there’s a member who doesn’t show up, or one who slows everyone down. It just takes one person to tear an entire group into shreds. It’s unfortunate that this carries on into corporate environments causing much more damage than lost sleep or poor grades.

A few summers ago, I had an internship with a small government contractor specializing in IT. My coworkers were nice and welcoming upon my arrival — seemingly happy and ambitious. My first project was to inventory all of the equipment in a database. I set out on the task and within a few days had a first draft to show my boss. He liked what I had so far but wanted to add features we hadn’t talked about before. I left our meeting, and set off to work on the changes he wanted.

About two weeks in I started to notice the lack of productivity of those around me. While I was at my desk chugging away at the inventory system, others were moving much more slowly. Writing reports, drawing up wiring diagrams, and other things that would normally take a few hours seemed to drag out over several days. No one seemed motivated to get things done or put  effort into their tasks so that they were done by the deadline. The office that I initially saw as a bustling hard-working place morphed into an unproductive mess. At this point, I took a mental step back and considered my options. I could either keep at my current pace and implement the boss’s changes, or I could go with the flow and slow down like my coworkers. This is the essence of how the nature of a work environment can make all the difference.

Many employees would be inclined to go with the flow and take their time with assignments. Why should they work harder than anyone else if the outcome was the same? Therein lays the problem. Because many assignments like mine were never truly “completed” due to a lack of positive reinforcement, getting work done was fruitless. We weren’t inclined to work harder than needed because as long as the work got “done”, it didn’t really matter when or how — the result was always the same. Overall, the environment was discouraging, so I didn’t have any pressing reason to dedicate myself to my work. Had management been more communicative and encouraging the environment would have been more productive. Employees would get more out of their jobs and management would be pleased to be getting more value for their dollar. Just a little spark could have turned the office around.

This could benefit many offices, and most working environments in general. A little reward for hard work can go a very long way. Give employees something to look forward to for going above and beyond the bare minimum. Having a positive, welcoming, and productive work environment can vastly improve a business. I’d encourage anyone in a management to take a close look at their work environment and talk to their employees to see how their work environment could be improved. Even the smallest of changes can make a world of difference.