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Watch our Webinar: Building Thriving Workplaces that Are Ready for 2018 and Beyond

There is a revolution already in progress in the business world – one where enlightened leaders recognize what it means to thrive in today’s Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, and create the conditions for success. As the authors of the book Firms of Endearment say, cutting-edge organizations

Are fueled by passion and purpose, not cash. They earn large profits by helping all their stakeholders thrive: customers, investors, employees, partners, communities and society.

The implications for all professionals who want to positively impact change and the entire employee experience are vast. Whether your focus is human resources, learning & development, leadership or employee wellbeing, tremendous opportunities exist to better align with this revolution. In this webinar, Dr. Rosie Ward and Dr. Jon Robison review the science on this changing business landscape. Incorporating story, professional experience and research, they provide a practical, science-based framework for understanding and addressing the needs of organizations and employees in this VUCA world.

The Power of Words: 8 Suggestions for Building a 21st Century Vocabulary for Organizational and Employee Wellbeing

The business world of the 21st century bears little resemblance to that of the 17-20th centuries. The conceptualization of the world as an elaborate machine and the quest for more and better ways to command, control and predict is giving way to a new understanding sometimes referred to as the VUCA world.

In a VUCA World, enlightened leaders are beginning to grasp the futility of the quest for control and predictability for organizations and the people who work within them in the rapidly changing, uncertain, ambiguous, complex and often volatile new business reality. This understanding is supported by the latest scientific advances in chaos and complexity, quantum physics, neuroscience, etc., and necessitates an updated vocabulary that better represents the emerging realities; human beings and the organizations in which they work as complex living systems – not machines.

The Power of Words

Words have an amazing power to impact the way we think and feel. As the great English writer/storyteller Rudyard Kipling put it:

“Words are the most powerful drugs used by mankind.
Not only do words infect, egotize, narcotize and paralyze,
but they enter into and colour the minutest cells of the brain.”

Unfortunately, the vocabulary commonly used today in organizational and employee wellbeing is still often stuck in those 17th-20th century conceptualizations of organizations and human beings. With that in mind, we have put together some suggestions to help business and wellbeing professionals alike begin to update our vocabulary to better represent 21st century realities. We hope you will find these instructive and we invite you to send in your own additional suggestions.

  • From Pyramidal Hierarchy to Network of Teams

The traditional pyramidal organizational chart consists of boxes of roles stacked neatly on top of one and other, with the CEO at the top. This makes perfect sense for a mechanistic world based on command and control. But in a VUCA world hierarchies are just too inflexible and too slow to react effectively to change. Enlightened leaders are rapidly becoming aware of this. In the most recent Deloitte Research, spanning more than 130 companies and 7,000 responses, senior executives and HR leaders rated organizational design as their number 1 priority. Pyramidal hierarchies, along with organizational charts and time punch cards are all remnants of the mechanistic worldview of the 17th century and the Scientific Management (Taylorism) of the 20th century. The overwhelming trend in a VUCA world is for companies to be flattening out their structures, pushing responsibility down and relying on networks of teams. In fact, some highly successful companies have done away with their hierarchies altogether; transferring virtually all decisions to the employees on the front line (nurses, machine operators, teachers, etc.) – from budgets, to hiring and firing, to establishing decision making guidelines to calling meetings.

  • From Maximizing Profits to Maximizing Purpose 

The Firms of Endearment (FoEs) are 28 widely loved companies including among others; Whole Foods, FedEx, Starbucks, Google, Panera, Southwest Airlines, Patagonia, Costco, Toms, and Zappos. As the authors describe, unlike traditional companies, FoEs –

“Are fueled by passion and purpose, not cash. They earn large profits by helping all their stakeholders thrive: customers, investors, employees, partners, communities and society.”

It turns out that when you create a culture based on love, take care of all your stakeholders as if they were family, and focus on maximizing purpose, the profits – and impressive profits at that – will follow. The authors (all distinguished, world-renowned experts in the business world) call out to business leaders:

“As leaders of FoEs do, companies of every type and size should consciously shape their cultures around the idea that we are here to help others live their lives with greater satisfaction, to spread joy and well being, to elevate and educate, and to help employees and customers fulfill their natural potential.”

Why should we consider the focus on purpose as the future of business? Well, aside from the fact that we are likely beginning a transition from the information economy to a new economy based on purpose, the FoEs have outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of 14 times over a period of 15 years. Without exception, these companies are, in more scientific terms, seriously kicking the butt of the competition in almost every imaginable way.

  • From Human Resources/Capital to Human Beings

The terms resources and capital both hearken back to the 17th century conceptualization of humans as inanimate objects like coal, oil, money or cogs in a machine; to be used, manipulated and replaced as with any other expendable resource. Unlike resources that have fixed and diminishing value however, human beings, with the proper support and recognition actually increase in value. And unlike inanimate resources, human beings have an innate need for autonomy, the ability to direct their own lives. Given that, we might consider shifting our language to reflect viewing employees as whole, self-directing human beings. Progressive companies such as Whole Foods, Target, and others refer to their employees as “team members” or “partners.” As one young CEO put it:

“My dad’s generation views human beings as human resources.
They’re the two-by-fours you need to build your house.
For me, it’s a partnership between me and my employees.
They’re not resources. They’re partners.”

  • Distinguishing Between Wellness Participation and Employee Engagement

Participation simply refers to taking part in or completing some program or task.Employee engagement on the other hand, is a well-known construct in the business world. It refers to how employees feel about their work, as Ringleb and Rock write in a fascinating article titled “NeuroLeadership in 2009”:

“When a person is engaged, they are attracted to, inspired by, committed to and even fascinated by their work or their input to the work relationship.”

Business and health professionals often use these terms interchangeably, referring toemployee engagement when they are actually describing wellness program participation. Some use the word engagement instead of participationwhen they are referring to employees doing something of their own accord rather than as a result of being pressured to do so. Unfortunately the term employee engagementis still problematic here, as even voluntary participation may or may not have anything to do with how employees feel about their workplace.

To make matters worse, wellness program participation is often driven by threats of punishment, resulting in what is more accurately described as compliance as opposed to participation. In these cases, even if participation is increased, engagement is likely to suffer as employees overwhelmingly dislike being threatened with punishment for not participating.

  • Distinguishing Between Organizational Climate and Organizational Culture

A culture of health or a healthy workplace culture is often described in terms of subsidized gym memberships, fresh produce in the cafeteria and other policies, programs, and practices that promote healthy lifestyle behaviors. In fact, this is not really describing organizational culture at all, but rather organizational climate. As with employee engagement, the business world has clearly defined parameters for what determines a healthy organizational culture. Renowned management consultant Dr. Patrick Lencioni describes a healthy workplace culture as one in which there is minimal politics and confusion, low turnover, and high morale and productivity. While a healthy workplace climate and healthy lifestyle programs can offer some benefits for employees, if the underlying organizational culture is unhealthy, these programs won’t actually improve the health of employees or the organization in the long term.

  • From How Do We Get People to Change?(exercise, lose weight, participate, increase their productivity, etc.) To How Do We Create the Conditions for Change?

Of course, the former term reflects the legacy of the 17th century control paradigm and 20th century Skinnerian behavior modification and is unfortunately one of the most common phrases uttered by business and wellness professionals alike. We now have more than 30 years of consistent and definitive research that demonstrates that it is intrinsic motivation that is the key to sustainable change for challenges that involve even a modicum of thinking and creativity – the overwhelming majority of changes we are asking of organizations and employees. And, as the research clearly demonstrates,  intrinsic motivation involves more than just changes in behavior, changes that are not facilitated and in fact are likely inhibited by a reliance on extrinsic motivation. Instead of trying to get people to change, consider refocusing your efforts to creating the conditions for change and supporting desired outcomes.

  • From Driving(participation, engagement, performance, etc.) to Fostering Engagement and Eliciting Better Thinking

When the early American settlers needed to get cattle to the market for slaughter, they did so with a “cattle drive.” Although we may be OK driving cattle and perhaps our cars, driving people (what we affectionately refer to as “The Bonanza Effect) is actually counterproductive as autonomy is one of the key determinants of employee engagement. Human autonomy flows from the desire and ability to direct our own lives. At the most basic level it is about having freedom from external control or influence. The concept of a cattle drive is clearly the antithesis of this. Instead, focus on eliciting better thinking, fostering engagementand supporting people to grow and thrive by acknowledging their humanity and their complexity.

  • From Successful Long-Term Weight Loss to Helping People Make Peace With Their Bodies and Their Food

Thirty plus years of conclusive and consistent evidence demonstrates that weight loss programs, contests and competitions; mainstays of traditional workplace wellness offerings, have little chance of actually helping people to lose weight or be healthier in the long term. In spite of this, people promoting these initiatives at the workplace inevitably claim that their program (unlike all the others) results in successful long-term weight loss.  Because of the growing evidence that these programs may negatively impact health for many people (1), it is critical to make the following distinction. Successful long-term weight loss can only be determined AFTER the program is over. Regardless of the length of the program; whether it is 2 weeks or three months or two years, claiming success while people are still in the program (or just after it ends) is disingenuous. This is because, without exception, once programs are over participants begin regaining their weight and a significant percentage end up weighing more than they did when they started. Instead of offering programs that result in frustration and weight cycling, we suggest investing in initiatives that help people make peace with their bodies and their food.

Take Home

We have provided numerous links and references if you want to read more about these important issues and there are lots of additional free resources on our website as well. In an effort to sum up the most important take homes from this information we would say that, for health and business professionals alike:

“The best, and probably the only way to ‘get’ employees to act like creative, thinking, responsible, autonomous adults is to treat them as if that is exactly what they are.”

We invite you to send in your additions to help move our vocabulary for organizational and employee wellbeing into the 21st century!

Additional Reference:

  1. Dharini M. Bhammar and Glenn A. Gaesser. “Health Risks Associated with Weight Cycling.” in “Wellness not Weight: Health at Every Size and Emotional Interviewing.” Ed. Ellen R. Glovsky. San Diego, CA: Cognella, 2014.

How to Become a Place Where Millennials Want To Work

In just five years, Millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995 and currently under 33 years of age) will make up 40% of the workforce in America; in 10 years, they will comprise 75% of the workforce. If your organization wants to remain competitive, you must address the unique needs of this growing group. The best place to start is to build a foundation for a thriving workplace culture and to foster individual autonomy.

What Millennials Want

According to 2014 research from the Intelligence Group, a division of the Creative Artists Agency that focuses on analysis of youth-focused consumer preferences and trend forecasting, Millennials are looking for employers who:

  • Offer meaningful work. (64% say it’s a priority for them to make the world a better place.)
  • Foster collaboration, not competition. (88% prefer a collaborative work-culture rather than a competitive one.)
  • Provide employee autonomy. (72% would like to be their own boss. But if they do have to work for someone else, 79% prefer that boss to be more like a coach or mentor.)
  • Provide flexibility and support work-life integration. (Since work and life now blend together inextricably, 74% want flexible work schedules, and 88% want work-life integration.)

What Your Organization Can Do

Many workplaces offer options like wellness programs, flex-time, and maternity or paternity leave. While these may offer some benefits for employees, such programs and policies do not necessarily foster meaningful personal growth and development. They are elements of workplace climate, not workplace culture. (Confused about the difference between climate and culture? Read this.)

In order to appeal to Millennials and support their need for personal growth and development, it is essential to focus on cultivating a thriving workplace culture. Here’s how to get started:

1. Clarify and align core values. Millennials want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and they are looking for employers who offer them meaningful work. If your organization hasn’t already, clarify your company’s core values, the two or three behavioral traits that lie at the heart of your organization’s identity. (These are not to be confused with what Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Advantage, calls permission-to-playvalues like “honesty” or “integrity,” which are not what sets your organization apart and uniquely defines you.) One of the best ways to identify your core values is to look at the traits that are inherent and natural for your organization, and have been for a long time; what are the qualities of the employees who already embody what is best about the organization?

For example, Patagonia’s core values are central to everything they do. Here is how they describe their values:

Our values reflect those of a business started by a band of climbers and surfers, and the minimalist style they promoted… For us at Patagonia, a love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet.

Zappos is also well known for their core values, and intentionally living them and ensuring all business practices are guided by them. Some of their core values include:

  • Deliver WOW through service
  • Embrace and drive change
  • Create fun and a little weirdness
  • Build a positive team and family spirit

As you can see by these examples, your core values reflect your organization’s culture and your employment brand by framing the entire employee experience. Once you’ve clarified your core values, involve employees in living them on a daily basis.

How your organization can support this:

  • Offer a Culture and Visioning Workshop. People support what they help create, so provide employees the opportunity to describe in detail what the employee experience looks like when everyone is living the core values. What behaviors will they see that are consistent with core values? What behaviors might sabotage the core values? Let employees see how they align with core values and vision as individuals, and how their work contributes to living the values and vision. With this foundation, employees can begin creating their development path, which will support meaningful work.
  • Offer a quarterly Workplace Culture Workshop. Once employees have collectively created clarity around the behaviors that reflect the company culture, they will be able to create structure to nurture and protect your organization’s brand. Part of this structure includes supporting and holding each other accountable, so offer employees the opportunity to do so in these workshops. Have employees connect with peers and managers to reflect on how they see themselves and others behaving in a way that is or is not consistent with the core values and workplace culture. Not only will this address Millennials’ need for collaboration and meaningful work, but it will also bring to light any glaring problems or issues before too much damage has been done.
  • Use your core values as a litmus test for everything you do – from hiring to recognition and even firing. Because leaders profoundly shape employees’ experience of the culture, every leader and manager within your organization needs to live the core values and create the conditions where employees feel valued; otherwise, all bets are off in terms of having a high performing organization and retaining Millennials. Assuming you have leaders who walk the talk, base employee recognition on how people are living out the core values and contributing to a thriving workplace culture.

2. Provide physical and mental space where employees have an opportunity to “pause.” In his best-selling book, “Leadership from the Inside Out,” Kevin Cashman describes how too often people allow themselves to be overcome by busyness. We are unhealthily attached to our smartphones, and too caught up and distracted to take the necessary time to sift through life’s complexity and find purpose. Many Millennial employees are unconvinced that excessive work demands are worth the sacrifices to their personal life. In fact, Millennials know what the research shows: to be productive and engaged, employees need to find ways to recharge during the day. Organizations that actively seek ways to help people integrate their personal and professional lives will have energized employees who are better able to bring their best selves to work each day.

How your organization can support this:

  • Deliberately schedule play into the work week. Organizations whose employees engage in high-level thinking (e.g., Google, 3M) deliberately schedule play into the workday; they recognize that adopting a childlike mindset opens people up to alternative ways of thinking. Although play can include physical activities (e.g., setting up a Ping-Pong table in the break room), it is really more of a mindset; the key is that employees need to feel safe about pursuing occasional tangential interests.
  • Create an environment that positions people to do their best work. Some people need quiet space to allow for focus and concentration, while others benefit from collaboration. Create spaces that allow people to work well, but also to play and relax. Consider repurposing a meeting room into relaxation space for reflection, meditation or short naps.
  • Support breaks and vacations. In his book, “The Best Place to Work,” Ron Friedman asserts that people have a biological need for rest that’s as strong as our need for food and water. Yet personal time – including vacations – has become infected with work through smartphone technology that compels many to check company email frequently. FullContact, a progressive software company in Denver, recognizes the importance of rest. In 2012, they implemented a program that pays each employee $7,500 to take their family on vacation each year. However, in order to receive the bonus, employees must first agree to 3 strict provisions, as outlined on the blog of their CEO, Bart Lorang:
    1. You have to go on vacation, or you don’t get the money.
    2. You must disconnect.
    3. You can’t work while on vacation.

Lorang explains how this seemingly expensive program benefits the entire organization: “It’s an investment into the long-term happiness of our employees, which in turn leads to the sustained growth of the company.”

Other simple things you can do to support the human need for rest include leaving time between meetings, encouraging employees to take a quick walk, and providing time for socialization.

3. Generously support professional AND personal development. Millennials are looking for organizations that truly value them, not just as cogs in the company machine, but as people who are thinking, evolving, and complex-systems capable. Show your Millennials (and all of your employees!) that you value everything they bring to the table by helping them take advantage of developmental opportunities that will broaden their horizons. Whether they choose courses or conferences to enhance their professional skills, or can benefit from programs or a professional coach to help them grow personally (a cornerstone of highly effective organizations), employees who are supported to grow and are much more likely to be engaged at work.

Strengthening Culture is a Win-Win

When addressing Millennials’ unique needs, beware of simply creating more programs and policies. It’s essential to shift and strengthen the underlying workplace culture in order to support employee autonomy, personal growth and development, and attract Millennials to your organization.

The good news is that by addressing Millennials’ needs, you will foster a healthier and more productive workplace for all of your employees — and improve organizational performance.

For more on building a thriving workplace culture and improving employee morale, check out this article.

Do you have a healthy workplace culture? Find out now with this quick quiz.