By Heather Foley

What’s the atmosphere like in your small business? You may have created a fabulous, productive office, with dedicated people. Or, you may not. If your office is a terrible place to work, with a dreadful atmosphere, what can you do about it?

There are many reasons for poor office atmosphere. Your first task, as business owner, is to establish the cause of the negative working environment. Are deadlines regularly missed? Are people frustrated through a lack of direction?

And what about behavior? Are your people civil to each other? Do you ever hear foul language? Do your people treat each other well? Any office politics or backstabbing?

When you’ve identified the major causes of disquiet, they will need addressing. There are a number of strategies you can employ to deal with the issues.

1. Be clear

Firstly, you need to address, head-on, the behaviours that are poisoning the atmosphere. In your next team meeting, be clear that you have observed negative behaviour, describe the impact of it and that it’s unacceptable in the workplace. You’ve now set the ground rules. No-one can claim you’re behaving unfairly.

If the issue is that there’s a lack of clear direction or that there are poor working habits, you need to establish clear and effective working methods.

2. Model good behaviour

How you behave will have a much bigger impact than what you say. If you speak ill of people behind their backs, spread rumours or always deliver work late, you’ll find it impossible to demand of others that they don’t do the same.

Similarly, if you never let people know what is expected or your own work is riddled with errors, no-one will take you seriously when you demand better of them.

3. Improve teamwork

Although great teamwork won’t solve all problems, it solves a surprisingly large number of them. It’s because people support each other and help each other to work better. Also, people are reluctant to let down a team they care so much about.

So, invest time and money helping to engender a strong sense of team. You might be able to do this internally. Sometimes, though, it’s useful to get external help from specialists at creating and maintaining great teamwork.

4. Praise

A powerful strategy is to spot great behaviour and praise it strongly. Sometimes it’s best to praise individually, sometimes it’s better to make it a public praising. Your hope is that people will start to emulate that good behavior. In most cases, people want to do a good job and be recognised for it.

5. Terminate contracts

If all else fails, and after all appropriate warnings and procedures, people are still problematic, you may need to terminate their contract. Ensure you do it fairly and legally. If you don’t do this, you’re effectively telling everyone that you’re not serious about creating a positive working atmosphere. Similarly, by doing so, people will see that you are determined to make changes and that poor performance has consequences.

Don’t stand for a damaging atmosphere in your workplace. At best, it can zap morale, and at worst it can seriously affect your business. And, of course, more than any other strategy, choosing good people to work with in the first place, will be your best chance at success. As noted by actor Ranbir Kapoor,

“Working with good people matters because then the work environment is good. If there is a sense of respect and belief among the people you work with, that is when good work is done.” Who wouldn’t want that?

Heather Foley is a consultant at, an HR consultancy and technology specialist. Follow them at @etsplc.