Holistic Employment

I have been thinking about whether we should be treating our employees more holistically. In my examination of workplace performance, one of the critical factors is energy. Energy is our ability to apply effort to our performance. An employee’s energy is not derived just from the workplace. Outside factors influence the amount of energy an employee has available at any given time.

For instance, think of a new parent with a baby at home; their energy level at work will be lower because they are spending more energy at home to take care of their new baby. Or if an employee is struggling with caring for an adult parent, they may have less energy.

If we can boost an employee’s positive energy and dampen negative energy factors in their life, they will perform better at work. But how far should we reach?  

Recently, I heard a story about an employer with over 1300 employees in 32 different business units across the United States. They recently did a survey focused on performance factors such as nutrition, strength training, family life, and wellness.

Overall, the business units were all doing well, and most were consistently profitable. However, some did not achieve the results the owner wanted.

The employer was concerned that the working conditions in the various business units were holding their employees back from being engaged in the organization’s mission. According to Gallup, employers with a higher level of employee engagement have a higher level of profitability. Additionally, engaged employees have a higher level of well-being, better retention, and a higher level of productivity.

The employer wondered if the differences in how the different business units treated their employees might be part of the issue. The owner devised a survey to provide the necessary information on the working conditions in the different business units.

The survey focused on the following areas…  

  1. The effectiveness of the training and development staff.
  2. The resources available to improve employees’ skills and abilities.
  3. The workplace accommodations impact on productivity
  4.  The use and value of coaches and mentors in the workplace
  5. The employees’ wellness programs influence on results. 
  6. How employees’ families were treated.

The owner sent these confidential surveys to every employee. And waited to see the results.

Many companies send out engagement surveys to their employees. In fact, Gallup has a survey called the Q12  that they have been using to understand engagement across thousands of businesses across the Globe. They use this data to shape ideas on how companies can increase employee engagement.

One of Gallup’s questions truly puzzled me. It asked, “Do you have a best friend at work?”

I remember reading this question and wondering why the company cared if I had a best friend at work. It sounds like an invasion of my privacy. However, what Gallup found was that there was a direct correlation between people who had a best friend at work to how engaged they felt.

One of the things we all have in common is the need for social connection. This need is hardwired in our DNA. In my example above, most of the 1300 hundred employees had a best friend at work, usually within the same business unit but sometimes in different business units.

Finally, the business owner got the results back. It was what they expected; there were a few business units that were knocking it out of the park in all the focus areas, but no matter the business unit, there were areas to work on. For instance, the business unit in Miami was rated high in most of the categories but fell short in how employees’ families were treated. On the other hand, the Unit in Los Angeles was poorly rated in most categories but was still achieving results for the company.

There is an old saying that says, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

The owner took advantage of this adage and sent the full survey results to the leaders of each business unit. So that not only could they see their results but also the results of their peers. The business leaders were highly competitive, and the owners knew that they would try to improve their standings. The owner also scheduled quarterly meetings to share best practices and discuss ways to improve the overall employee experience.

It is too early to know if this strategy worked, as the owner only had the original survey to judge the business units. However, the owner plans to continue to survey their employees to ensure improvement in all business units over time while not losing their competitive advantage.

Who is this employer?

It is the National Football League. And instead of the employer being the one to send out the survey, it was the NFL Player Association, hoping that teams could see the competitive advantage of improving the player’s experience. Check it out here to see how your team did.

This story got me thinking about how we treat our employees as if their life only exists at work. But as I said above, that isn’t true. What happens outside of work impacts our work performance, and what happens at work impacts the rest of our lives.

What would happen if employers treated their employees like the NFL treats its players? Or a Broadway producer treat their stars? If we look at all the variables that go into an employee’s performance (energy level) and boost the positive energy and dampen the negative energy, what would that look like?

Let’s look at stress. According to Gallup’s recent poll on stress in the workplace, fifty-two percent of American workers said that they experienced stress throughout most of the workday, causing them to become less engaged.  

What are some ways an employer can help reduce stress?

  • Increase the availability of exercise time for the employee. According to many studies, exercise can help reduce stress and boost our energy. Employers could do this by including a gym on-site, afternoon exercise breaks built into the schedule, or free appointments with a physical trainer.
  • Better nutrition and/or diet. Employers could do this by increasing the level of food employees have access to, better nutrition training via videos, access to a dietitian, and increased wellness monitoring.
  • Better Social Connection. Employers could create affinity groups where people who have things in common gather together regularly to have fun, share knowledge, and increase their sense of belonging.
  • Building Knowledge: When an employee has more self-confidence, they have less stress. By building their knowledge, they would become more self-confident. This could be as simple as doing lunch and learns for your team members or bringing in outside experts to discuss current events.
  • Flexibility: Providing employees with more control over their work. The when. The How. The where.

Those are just some examples. It is time we step back and think about the employee more holistically. In fact, employees are demanding that we do that. It is going to be complicated for sure. There will not be an easy solution, and changes in how we work will be necessary, but in the end, performance and profitability will rise.

There are challenges for sure with this approach. Where should the employer start and stop when it comes to helping an employee…are employers responsible for aspects of an employee’s life outside of work? Should we be involved with it?

I don’t know.

Our employees are demanding better of us, and if we can change some small aspects of their work life, we may see a higher level of productivity.

I would love to hear what you think. Drop a comment. Drop me a line. Let’s start this conversation about holistic employment.

John Thalheimer – Guiding Excellence in the Workplace

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