Four Building Blocks to Create and Sustain a Positive Workplace

February 3, 2022

By Kimberley Barker and Mary Ceccanese

Do you wake up in the morning excited to come to work? Are you recognized for your contributions? Do you feel you are an important part of the organization as a whole? It would be wonderful if we all could answer yes to these questions but sadly that is not always the case. However, you can make small changes that will help you become empowered in both your work life and your personal life.

By using the four building blocks known as FUSES, you can create and sustain a positive business workplace that will help propel you and your organization forward. Each FUSE builds unique strengths that can be used independently. But collectively, these four fuses create an acceleration to an engaged, energized, thriving, and successful workforce. They lead to an explosion of positive benefits that fall onto those who light all the FUSES.

FUSE 1: Forging a Positive Workplace

In Professor Kim Cameron’s book Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance, he writes about what it takes to create a “Positive Climate”[i] and refers to the “activities” that are necessary. Instead of activities, let’s think of these items as hallmarks of a positive work environment. Together they amplify the possibility of having a workplace where you can do your best and be your best, and so can everyone else in the environment.

What are these hallmarks? They are three words that are seldom heard in the workplace: compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude. Why are they important? Professor Cameron notes that “people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses.”[ii] There may be many different reasons, but supervisors and managers play a large role in how departments function and operate. An operation that includes these hallmarks is going to be healthier physically and emotionally than one that doesn’t. This workplace is also going to be more productive and efficient, creating a win/win for both employers and employees.

Exhibiting and demonstrating compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude are not just important for supervisors and managers. They are important for everyone. This trio can transform your life and the lives of those around you.

FUSE 2: The Upside of Change

Why do we often tense up and get nervous when we find out that change is coming? Why does change need to be viewed as a bad thing? Many of us like to stay in our safe place. After all, change can be scary. Dealing with uncertainty can be difficult, but in a world that is constantly changing, to stand in one place for too long—and not improve or advance—can certainly result in an untimely demise of some sort for a product, a service, or a person. That’s the reason understanding the “why of change,” realizing the power of taking action, and becoming a change agent are important.

How many of you have an “Uncle Chuck” who still wears polyester pants from the 1970s? While he was hip then, Uncle Chuck is anything but hip in today’s world. Although clothes may come back in style again, there’s usually a tweak or two that differentiates the eras. Uncle Chuck needs to advance his style, or he will suffer an untimely fashion death, if he hasn’t already! While fashion may be something to joke about, think about organizations that remained stagnant in changing times (Sears™, Blockbuster™, and Toys “R” Us™, to name a few). The minute they stopped innovating along with their customers’ wants and behaviors was the first stage of failure for them. It is important to not just change for change’s sake, but for change to be intentional.

What if you have no control of the changes coming at you? We can’t always control the sea, but we can learn to surf the waves. If you try to really understand the need for change, it is much easier to get on board, become a change agent in your organization, and help and support those who need help with change.

FUSE 3: A Strengths-Based Approach

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell shares stories of many people who are unusual or different from society’s norms and yet make a big impact on our world.[iii] In this brilliant and entertaining work, he questions not only what distinguishes these famous and successful people but also what makes the highest achievers different. The answer is not what you think; it turns out that continuous learning, getting creative, and diligence are a big part of success! Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Chip and Joanna Gaines, Ina Garten, David Bromstad, and the many other successful people he describes all discovered what their strengths were and how to make them work in a unique way in our world today.

Focusing on strengths doesn’t mean we ignore weaknesses; instead, we focus on what happens in the workplace when we enhance people’s strengths. It is important for us to know our own mission/purpose, vision, and values; followed by those of a learning team and an organization. Combining all this information provides important data to know how the organization is running but also what stabilizes it and how the individual can contribute.

FUSE 4: Engage in High-Quality Connections

High-quality connections are the ties or interactions we have with one another that light us up. A more formal definition would be that they include mutual regard, trust, and respectful engagement. We have hundreds of these interactions every day. When we walk into a building from a parking lot, take local transportation, talk on the phone, or attend a meeting, we have opportunities to engage in these interactions. They are not relationships, although it is possible for them to grow into relationships; they are brief encounters that can make us feel deeply connected, disconnected, or neutral. The more connected we feel, the more benefits there are to us.

Using the pathways of respectful engagement, task enabling, trust, and play, our health can improve physiologically and psychologically, and we experience increased job satisfaction.[iv]

Research shows that these types of interactions increase our thinking and learning, build resilience, promote job satisfaction, and improve physiological and psychological health.[v] In other words, if you sincerely smile at someone when you walk past them, it causes positive health benefits to both of you. It is really that simple.

To learn more about FUSES and other positive business strategies, read You Can Create Positive Change at Work available here.

Kimberley Barker, PhD, has a passion for teaching, learning, organizational development, advocacy, and planning for the future of work. She has taught at the university level since 2010 and is co-author of You Can Create Positive Change at Work.

Mary Ceccanese is Owner and Principal Consultant at Dynamic Connections, a company that focuses on creating an engaged, energized workforce through positive business practices and is co-author of You Can Create Positive Change at Work.


[i] Cameron (2012).
[ii] Cameron (2012, p. 26).
[iii] Gladwell (2011).
[iv] Dutton (2003).
[v] Dutton (2003).