How to Create a Supportive Work Environment

How to Create a Supportive Work Environment


How do you create a supportive work environment in your own organization?

A supportive work environment is crucial to creating a productive organization and increasing employee well-being. They are places where employees can openly come to their managers with their concerns, knowing their leaders care about the problems they face. In a supportive work environment, managers and supervisors sincerely recognize and appreciate hard work — but beyond that, they are dedicated to cultivating growth. (And supportive work environments help reduce turnover and increase employee satisfaction, too.)

These are the four characteristics to help you create a supportive work environment:

  1. Genuinely Caring for Employees

Great leaders are invested in their team. They listen to employee concerns, help when needed, and provide emotional support. They actively make time to support their employees, too. For example, supportive leaders set aside open office hours in their week for their team to come and discuss concerns or difficult cases. Even outside those times, supportive leaders welcome employees with an “open door policy.” Similarly, some shelter leaders allow employees to voice their concerns anonymously through employee surveys (like SeeDS) or suggestion boxes. Employees in a supportive work environment are much more inclined to reach out to their leaders when difficult situations arise. When employees experience their leaders genuinely caring for their well-being, they share the same care and concern with their co-workers and throughout the shelter.

  1. Sincerely Recognizing Employee Accomplishments

We have consistently seen shelter workers asking to be recognized for their hard work. Employee recognition programs can go a long way toward reminding your employees that you value them and their contributions. Leaders in supportive work environments should sincerely recognize employees for their hard work, praise them when they accomplish goals, and expresses gratitude for their everyday successes. For example, managers may provide occasional free lunch as an expression of gratitude, launch an employee of the month program, institute an Employee Appreciation Day, and even give their employees hand-written thank you cards. When a leader in an organization regularly takes the time to recognizes their employees’ hard work and intentionally expresses how thankful they are, work becomes a place people enjoy being.

  1. Pursuing Growth

Growth within an organization starts from the ground up, and leaders should strive to promote it with their employees. It starts by developing goals with employees, and providing updates along the way. When it comes to goal setting, remember “SMART”: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.

Beyond that, managers must want to develop their employees because they care for their well-being and professional development. Growth thrives on opportunities like cross-training employees on different skill sets or positions. And cross-training has the bonus of fostering empathy among employees as they learn more about each other’s jobs.

Additionally, managers can redesign positions, too, and incorporate multiple levels through which employees can be promoted. Employees who feel invested in by their organization are more inclined to stay with their shelter, eliminating the organizational cost of hiring and training replacements.

  1. Setting Clear Expectations

Employees can benefit from clear expectations of what their role is. It starts with updating job manuals and Standard Operation Procedures (SoPs). If advice is needed, peer shelters can be great sources for both job information and SoPs. Employees appreciate being tuned in to overall shelter goals, too. Additionally, employees should understand how their work fits in and contributes to shelter goals.

And employees should know how they are performing at work, too. This means more than an annual review — managers should provide regular, specific feedback. With clear expectations set, employees in a supportive work environment can perform their jobs better and more confidently.  They tend to be more engaged with their work as well.

It is much easier to create a supportive work environment when your employees are positively interacting with their managers and adhering to organization policies.  Yet sometimes, some employees require redirection.  Managers are often willing to correct their employees, but they may not always do so constructively.  How can we discourage negative habits or attitudes in a way that simultaneously encourages employees to be better?

The Shelter Employee Engagement and Development Survey was designed to help animal shelters learn, grow and thrive. Started by Dr. Steven Rogelberg at UNC Charlotte, we have worked with over 100 animal shelters throughout the United States and Canada. We firmly believe the conventional wisdom that “it’s the people that make the place.” When leaders make the well-being of employees a priority, not only will their employees become more engaged, but there is a very positive spillover – the animals and the whole organization thrive as well. Having worked with so many shelters, we have seen the challenges shelters face and have worked with shelters to develop best practices for addressing them. As a means of equipping shelter leaders with the tools they need to promote employee well-being and engagement, we will be discussing some of the common issues we experience.

If you have any questions or ideas you would like to share, or if you are interested in how SeeDS could help your own shelter, please feel free to contact us at SeeDS@uncc.edu.  We are a non-profit organization, and our partnership with The HSUS and UNC Charlotte has allowed us to provide shelters with heavily grant subsidized services at a fraction of the cost typically charged.


Bickmeier, Luu and Rogelberg

Bob Bickmeier is a doctoral student in the Organizational Science program and Assistant Director of SeeDS at UNC Charlotte. His research specializes in the experience of animal shelter workers. Mishael Luu is a Masters student in the Industrial & Organizational Psychology program and an Assistant Director of SeeDS at UNC Charlotte. She is interested in developing ways to assist organization leaders in creating a better workplace for shelter employees. Dr. Steven G. Rogelberg holds the title of Chancellor’s Professor at UNC Charlotte for distinguished national, international and interdisciplinary contributions. He has over 100 publications addressing issues such as team effectiveness, leadership, engagement, health and employee well-being, meetings at work, and organizational research methods He has worked with over 200 nonprofit organizations.


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