Government and business leaders are becoming increasingly aware that their workforces are not meeting organizational needs. This is alarming, but not surprising. We are also realizing that many of our organizations do not meet the workforce’s needs.
This combination represents a substantial risk for disengagement, employee turnover, and an inability to attract high-quality talent. But even beyond the impact on the bottom line, it just hurts to lose good people. Each high-contributing employee that is lost contributes to creating an ecosystem of lost relationships, learning, and potential.
Optimizing human capital with healthy and productive employees isn’t easy. Maintaining staff wellbeing requires constant focus. Our previous article on “Human Capital Services: The Resilience Part of the Equation” put forward how Wellbeing = Resilience + Integration.
This article is dedicated to integration, defined as the durable sense that what we consider “personal life” and what we consider “work-life” can hang together in a meaningful way. With integration, even seemingly conflicting experiences have an opportunity to be reconciled in a healthy fashion.
Leaders share responsibility for the employee experience
Workplaces today impose unprecedented quantities and qualities of stress on to employees. Individuals find themselves fragmented from the collision of personal life demands, their basic biological needs, and a workplace that seems not to care about them. Such a lack of caring is not malicious, it often stems from impulses to standardize processes, achieve objectives, and level the playing field for everyone. This approach, however, wrongly hopes that life will not get messy.
Human behavior is messy – and understanding and dealing with this is critical for an organization to thrive. It would be foolhardy to suggest that organizations bear sole responsibility for how people will respond and perform in the face of operational stress. It is clearly a shared responsibility in which individuals recognize that much of their experience is under their control. More simply said: we as individuals have both influence and responsibility on how we show up at work. We can’t stay up until 2:00am watching video content, wake up at 7:00am and expect we can bring our best selves to work the next day. That’s just one example of what this author has tried and failed to do.
So, what is the organizational responsibility to counteract toxic workplace stress and fragmentation? The current workplace environment requires a bold approach to drive organizational performance and competitiveness. This starts, as it always has started, with anticipating worker needs by understanding their work and how it gets done. But that is where comparisons with the past end. Deloitte’s 2019 Global Human Capital Trends found that “in the face of new pressures to move faster and adapt to a far more diverse workforce, 80% believe they need to develop leaders differently.”
Achieving workplace wellbeing require numerous modes of integration
Leaders are becoming more and more interested in how to operationalize empathy and connectivity, all in the service of understanding how to empower their staff to handle challenges productively. While we would never argue against them, regrettably empathy and connectivity alone are not going to penetrate the full set of concerns that confront today’s fragmented workforce.
Showing empathy for people’s multifaceted life-work pressures will fall short of promoting wellbeing. Achieving connectivity with the ground level issues of operational units may provide a boost in morale, but it will not provide more substantial integration support for people to perform at their desired levels.
High performance requires active modes of integration. One mode is providing regular opportunities for staff to see the meaning, or make meaning, of their work. Meaning doesn’t get established one fine day and keep static for years to come. The meaning of one’s work has to be re-visited and confirmed regularly for it to inform someone’s life.
Another mode of integration is joining people together and facilitating social support. Studies repeatedly prove that social support is protective in extreme stress situations. Social support also increases the chances of “post-traumatic growth” – achieving positive outcomes when stress is effectively overcome after a particularly challenging period.
There is no one way or “five steps” to integration that applies to all work contexts. Greenleaf’s methodology for wellbeing is customized to each organization’s chosen culture. With a focus on the integration part of the equation, we train people to experience how their personal life and work hang together positively – not in conflict with each other. We are thus helping organizations evolve from the 20th-century idea of “work-life balance” to today’s need for work-life integration.
We began with how human behavior is messy. Life itself is messy, right? But just as with a garden, the right curating and coaxing go a long way: something beautiful emerges. Modes of integration like meaning-making and social support bring about something beautiful in human capital. We cannot afford to be in denial of life’s messiness. Human capital will grow exponentially when we allow its messiness to be integrated in the workplace.