Do you wonder what makes a great workplace? What ingredients set the foundation for satisfied employees and sustainable high performance? To find answers to these questions, earlier this month I attended the 10th annual Imagine Your Workplace conference which focuses on high employee engagement and maximizing productivity.

Ron Friedman speaking at the Your Workplace Conference

Ron Friedman at the Your Workplace Conference. Photo: Your Workplace


Here are my top four takeaways on how to make a workplace great:

1. Deal with Pressure

Sara Ross, VP, The Institute for Health and Human Potential, spoke about the myth of pressure boosting performance. In fact, pressure reduces our creativity, strategic thinking and empathy.  Pressure affects your ability to craft a thoughtful response instead of simply reacting. It’s important to be aware in pressured situations, to recognize your emotions and how you feel physically, and most importantly how to manage yourself effectively under pressure.  What is your company’s culture with respect to creating and constructively dealing with pressure? Is it more or less effective than your own relationship to pressure?


2. Create Movement

You’ve probably heard how “sitting is the new smoking”.  Jana Mareckova of Workplace Wellness Award winners, KEYS, shared simple, cost effective things you can do to promote movement to counteract the effects of sitting. Movement energizes the body and mind, boosts circulation, stretches muscles, and provides an opportunity to lessen pressure on your spine.  Raise awareness through policies, encourage behaviour change through employee challenges and invite external wellness ambassadors to share the message.

When I lived in Japan, I witnessed construction workers do group exercises before starting work. Seeing healthy movement as part of workplace culture makes it easier to get active.  It becomes part of how you do what you do.  How active is your day?  In which ways could you increase movement in your office?


3. Promote and Support Wellness

Lori Casselman of Sunlife Financial grabbed the room’s attention with the fact that 59% of employees are dealing with a chronic health condition. 30% of employee claims are for mental health reasons, predominantly anxiety and depression. This highlights the need to pay more than lip service to employee wellness.

Taking concrete steps to address wellness, TD Bank Group is to be congratulated on being the first to achieve Gold level certification under the WELL v1 Building Standard for the 23rd floor at TD Centre in Toronto.  WELL Building standards focus on enhancing health and well-being through the built environment across seven areas: air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort and mind.

Martha MacInnis, Design Director, Enterprise Real Estate, TD Bank Group, shared some of what TD has implemented: An open work environment increases natural light. Air supply is greater in large boardrooms and the café. A tranquility room is available for quiet rest and replenishment – no computers allowed! Water quality is tested regularly, and nature inspired art hangs on walls to bring the outside in.

The WELL standards are designed for new builds or retrofits; however,there are valuable elements which can be applied easily in existing spaces.  How could your work space be more supportive to healthy human living?


4. Encourage Challenge

Keynote presenter, Ron Friedman, author of the The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace suggested that our work had better have something in common with video games. Successful games drive continual engagement through increasing challenge which keeps us interested and motivated. The same thing has to happen at work; however, it is natural for a company to want to keep a performer who is delivering results in place.  Watch out for the temptation to trade off engagement for perceived efficiency.


Kudos to organizer Vera Asanin, founder of Your Workplace, for walking the talk on the value of wellness approach.  The event took place at the Toronto Botanical Gardens and included an outdoor activity which provided the opportunity to be in nature (boosts cognitive abilities) and outdoor light (elevates mood and energy), and to move (improves mood and brain function) while learning.  With nourishing food options and flavoured water it was a healthy and ‘fruitful’ learning environment.  Clearly it’s important to pay attention to not only what gets done, but how it is accomplished.

I’d love to hear what you think makes a workplace great. Please post in the comments or shout out on Twitter Facebook or LinkedIn.

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