employee engagement

Open Offices Suck, Annual Engagement Surveys are Dead, and other Lies
Open Offices Suck, Annual Engagement Surveys are Dead, and other Lies 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

I love CBS Sunday Morning.

This past Sunday, Faith Salie shared an op-ed monologue about how much she dislikes open offices. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of the post for you to check out. She makes a pretty compelling argument.

Just a few years ago, open offices were THE ANSWER to the future of workplace design promising more communication, more innovation, and more productivity. Not to mention they are less expensive for the organization (more people in smaller spaces).

But, now a backlash has started. Lately, it’s become more en vogue to make the point that open offices are, as Faith argues, THE WORST.

Which is it? Are open offices THE ANSWER or are they THE WORST?

Arguments like these are everywhere when it comes to what’s best in the workplace.

  • Is performance management good or bad?
  • Is the annual engagement survey critical or dead?
  • Are front line supervisors the problem or the victims of a bad system?
  • Are best friends at work vital or ridiculous?

These arguments between binary choices are assinine at best and harmful at worst.

We’ve become so enamored by best practices that promise THE ANSWER to our problems, we’ve lost sight of the complexity of this work. Our fixation on finding the right choice between two polar opposite choices is causing us to ignore a harder reality.

THE ANSWER is an illusion. No, it’s a lie.

There are never just two answers. And, there are almost always several different right answers.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about open office space designs. If you’ve ever worked in this type of environment, you probably do too. I like the energy of being in open space around other people working. I like that accessibility that it creates. But, I strongly dislike the lack of privacy and constant distractions.

The organizations using workplace design to drive employee engagement have embraced that different people and different kinds of work require different types of workspaces. They recognize that private offices and open office space can be both good and bad depending on the context.

Those leaders not trapped in binary and best practice thinking are creating innovative spaces for work designed to provide options and flexibility. An example that I wrote about in my book is Hudl, whose new headquarters includes a mix of different spaces designed for different types of preferences and needs. Most employees at Hudl don’t have an assigned desk. Instead, they choose their workspace based on their needs that day.

Thinking in binary terms (i.e. Is this is good or bad?) is crippling our ability to innovate and move forward. It’s hard to resist this thinking since it’s everywhere. In politics, you are either with me or against me. In pop culture, a movie is great or it sucks. When we encounter someone, they either agree with us or they are an idiot.

We must resist this thinking. We need to break free of the “this or that” trap.

The path to growth and innovation lives in the messy grey area in the middle. Because here’s the reality, open offices are both great and terrible at the same time. Performance management can be both good and bad.

The choices are false. THE ANSWER is a lie.

Our mandate is to embrace the complexity of working with humans. Each one of us is different and unique. That means that any group of us is almost infinitely complex. There are many right answers. There are many effective solutions. Never just one.

Do the work to find what’s best for your organization and your people. Ask more questions. See all angles. Push back on arbitrary options and dig in.

Not only will you end up having a much greater impact, but you will learn a lot more along the way.

Not sure what questions you should ask? We should talk.

 

 

Before the Resolutions, Work on your Purpose
Before the Resolutions, Work on your Purpose 300 168 Jason Lauritsen

Yesterday, as I was climbing onto the treadmill to start undoing the damage I’d done to my body over the holiday, I noted how few people were at the gym.

Then I thought, “Next week is going to be different.”

It’s resolution time of year. Next week, the gym will be full of new people and those who haven’t been in a while. All of them full of New Year’s inspired resolve.

For someone who goes to the gym regularly, it’s an inconvenience to have so many people packing the gym. But I know it won’t last.  It never does.

Within a month, things will return to normal. New Year’s resolve gone.

Setting resolutions and goals alone is typically not enough to drive the sustainable behavior change needed to see meaningful results. Getting in shape, for example, is really hard. It means changing your diet and giving up foods you probably love. It means doing workouts that you are not good at that leave you feeling the next day as if you got run over by a truck.

It’s hard. And because it’s hard, you are likely to quit.

Unless.

If you want to keep more of your resolutions and meet more of your goals, start by first getting crystal clear on why they are important.

Why do you want to get in better shape? What consequence will it have in your life when you succeed (or fail)?

Is it to feel better and have more energy to play with your kids or spend time with friends?  Is it to avoid suffering from some serious health conditions that could take everything away?

When you are clear on your “why,” it’s harder to quit.

The workouts might suck, but you aren’t quitting on the workouts, you are quitting on your kids (or your future, etc.). Being clear on the purpose behind your goals is where real resolve comes from.

This the same reason that so many projects and goals fall short at work as well.

Organizations often commit themselves to improve employee engagement in the same way we set resolutions to get in better shape. It seems like the right thing to do and it seems like everyone else is doing it.

So we survey our employees. And despite the fact that our leaders think everything is fine, we discover that it’s not so great for the employees. And, making the needed changes is going to be hard.

You will probably quit. Mainly because you (and everyone else) aren’t sure exactly why any of this really matters.

If you want to make an impact at work towards creating a better work experience for your employees, start with purpose. Before you set any goals or make any plans, get really clear on why it matters.

Is it to improve your employees’ lives? Is it to improve organizational performance? Is it to save your organization from going out of business?

There’s a lot of reasons why you can and should care about employees’ experience at work. The important step is to uncover and articulate why it matters for your organization.

Because doing this work, like getting in better shape, is hard work.  And when you (or your leaders) want to quit, you need to remember that you aren’t quitting on a survey or an HR project. You are quitting on the organization or your employees’ future.

Before you start writing out resolutions or making plans for next year, invest some time in thinking about why any of it matters. Goals and intentions built on a solid foundation of purpose are far more powerful and effective.

Make 2019 your best ever by starting with clarity about what really matters.

Happy New Year!

8 Future of Work Trends to Prepare for NOW
8 Future of Work Trends to Prepare for NOW 600 300 Jason Lauritsen

It’s gotten pretty popular to write about the future of work recently. It’s fun to think about the future and what might happen.

Usually, much of what’s written is speculation based on hunches and educated guesses. Because the future is yet to be written, writing about it encourages you to be creative in your predictions.

The problem, of course, is that when we are creating strategic plans and making investments in our organizations, our decisions about the future have real consequences. We need something better than a creative writing exercise to guide our thinking

Fortunately, there are better ways to inform our thinking about the future.

As my Futurist mentor, Rebecca Ryan, has taught me, thinking about the future can and should be grounded in the information we already know from the present. Particularly when thinking about the near future that impacts your organization over the next several years, there’s a lot of data available that paints a picture of what’s most likely to happen.

Over the past two months, I’ve been writing a series of posts for PeopleDoc outlining eight trends that are heavily influencing the (near) future of work and how you can be preparing your organization for them.

I’m also doing a webinar with PeopleDoc tomorrow, Tuesday, December 11, to discuss the eight trends. Register here.

Here are the eight trends and links to each post.

  1. Declining Trust
  2. Growth of the “Gig” Economy
  3. The increasing demand for instant gratification
  4. The increase in mobile technology
  5. Career experiences are replacing career paths
  6. Increasing life expectancies
  7. Automation through artificial intelligence
  8. Increasingly Diverse Workforce

Each post is based on real trends that don’t show any signs of changing. If you employ people, these trends are and will continue to affect you in small and, possibly, large ways over the next several years. Ignore them at your own peril.

As you plan for 2019 and beyond, take some time to step back and look at the story that these (and other) trends are telling you. The future of work is revealing itself to you if you know where to look.

Words of Gratitude (#12) for Jody Ordioni and AchievEE.org
Words of Gratitude (#12) for Jody Ordioni and AchievEE.org 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


Last summer, while in Chicago for the Employee Engagement Awards, I had the chance to meet Jody Ordioni in person.

Jody owns and runs a talent branding consultancy called Brandemix. In early 2018, she decided to create an online community called AchievEE devoted to advancing the work of employee engagement. And, within months, the community was already active and growing quickly.

When we met, the blend of her New York-ness and my Midwesterness made for a crazy kind of alchemy immediately. We started bouncing ideas around and before dinner was over, had agreed to collaborate on some projects.

Jody is the unstoppable force. In the short time I’ve known her, I’ve come to realize that when Jody decides something is going to happen, it does. I’ve been fortunate to jump in on a couple projects with her including producing a monthly webcast called What’s nEXt with AchievEE and helping host their first in-person event in New York on October 29.

It’s been fun and a privilege to surf on Jody’s wake as she relentlessly drives forward.

Jody, I’m really grateful that our work brought us together. I admire you and am thankful to have had the opportunity to work with you and the team. I’m excited to see what kind of impact we can make together in the future.  Thank you for all that you do for the community.  

 

Words of Gratitude (#9) for Linda Jonas
Words of Gratitude (#9) for Linda Jonas 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


I met Linda Jonas at a small HR event probably five or six years ago.

When you meet Linda, you immediately feel like her friend. She approaches everyone she meets with a friendly sparkle in her eye and a truly genuine smile.

Once I had a chance to talk with her, I realized that she was as passionate about making work better as I was. She was also wicked smart and clever.  This was someone who I wanted in my network for future collaborations.

Following that first meeting, Linda and I began chatting over video from time to time about what we were each trying to accomplish professionally. It seemed that every time I had a chat with Linda, she was somewhere else on the planet–Sydney, Berlin, San Francisco. And, she had traveled far beyond that in between the chats.

Linda describes herself as a “global nomad.” Each time we met, she has great stories to share about her travels and experience all over the globe. With apologies to Dos Equis, Linda is my real life version of “the most interesting person in the world.”

When we found ourselves in the same place at a conference or event, we’d carve out some time to catch up and talk shop.

Over time, we became friends.

Then, a little over two years ago when I decided it was time to go self-employed for good, Linda was the first one to say “We need your help.”  The company where Linda works, Small Improvements, became my first HR tech client. It was an incredibly important moment for me on this journey.

She had always been a champion of my work and she was the reason that Small Improvements decided to bet on a partnership with me. Over the past two years, we’ve collaborated on two ebooks, a podcast series, video content and a variety of blog posts.

Small Improvements has been a great client to work with because we have so much overlap in our philosophy about work and employee engagement. But also because I get to work with someone who I enjoy and respect so much in Linda.

There are few things I love more than doing meaningful work with a good friend. And few things are more valuable than a good friend.

Linda, thank you for your friendship and for believing in me. You are a good friend. Few people have had shown me the kind of support and belief that you have over the past two years. I’m so grateful for our friendship and for the opportunity to know you. 

Words of Gratitude (#7) to Tim Sackett
Words of Gratitude (#7) to Tim Sackett 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Note: I’m writing a note of gratitude on the blog each day in November leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. My hope is that these posts will inspire you to do the same. Write an email, Facebook post, or a text to tell people they have made an impact on you. Gratitude is contagious. 


Anyone who knows me very well knows how much I love my work. I love to talk about work and the workplace and engagement, etc. Probably too much.

I’m also a pretty relentless relationship builder, always looking to connect to new and interesting people.

This combination of things has led to having a network of friends all over the world who share a common passion for the work. These are people who, when we get together to have a few beers, end up in long conversations about what else…how to make work better for people.

My professional journey has led me to connect with some really amazing people who I now consider friends.  One of those people is Tim Sackett.

Tim is a prolific blogger, speaker and crusader for better HR and recruiting practices. If your work involves recruiting and you don’t know about Tim, you need to fix that. He published a book this year called The Talent Fix: A Leader’s Guide to Recruiting Great Talent that you should probably buy.

Tim and I first connected through social media and then in person at a variety of HR and Talent Conferences over the years. One of the things that immediately drew me to Tim beyond his passion for his work, was his willingness to take a stand and occasionally espouse an unpopular opinion. While I may not always agree with Tim’s opinions, I always respect his authenticity and courage.

As I have been ramping up my business, Tim has been among the most supportive people in my network. Tim has been generous in his advice and support. He’s even helped me find business. One of my awesome clients, PeopleDoc, would not be doing work with me today if Tim had not introduced us.

Friends are those who come through for you when you need them. And Tim has done that a number of times for me.

Earlier this fall, one of my longtime friends and I had decided we wanted to go to a football game at a stadium neither of us had visited before. One of the options on our list was to go see a Michigan State football game in East Lansing.

Tim happens to live in that area, so I reached out and asked if he could help us find tickets. He did far better than that. We had the opportunity to have dinner with Tim and his wife the night before the game and then he invited us to tailgate with his friends. It was an awesome experience that would not have happened without Tim’s generosity.

Tim, I am grateful for your friendship, support, and time. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunities we’ve had this year to hang out talking about work and life. Your help and encouragement as I grow my business has been incredibly important. You have come through for me every time. That’s rare and amazing. Thank you. 

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Why Performance Management Still Sucks
Why Performance Management Still Sucks 395 120 Jason Lauritsen

I’ve spent a large part of the last year writing a book about performance management.  

One of the big questions I wrestled with was “how did we get this so wrong?” That question isn’t all that hard to answer when you look at the history of management and discover that it was based on a contractual, compliance-based model.

This helps explain how we ended up with compliance-based processes like the annual performance appraisal and performance improvement plans. They make sense in the historical context in which they were created. 

But times have changed. And work has changed. A lot. 

Performance management hasn’t. 

A majority of organizations are still running these same compliance-based processes today. Taken in the context of our climate of work, they make little or no sense.

Employees hate it. Managers cringe at the mention of performance management. And HR keeps running the system despite knowing that it doesn’t really work.  

It’s glaringly obvious that it’s a broken system. It’s been obvious for decades. Why is it taking so long to fix?  

This might be the more important question. 

Performance is the lifeblood of any organization. Without it, the organization withers and dies.  What could be more important than the management of performance?

And yet.

No one owns it.  

Everyone participates. Everyone is impacted.

No one owns it. 

Managers are charged with the day to day responsibility of ensuring employee performance. Leaders are broadly responsible for organizational performance.  And HR is where the formal, compliance-based processes for the appraisal of performance.  

But who is responsible for designing and deploying and maintaining a system for managing performance across the organization? 

Certainly, HR is the assumed answer. 

But, I think I’ve only met a handful of HR professionals in my life who’s primary job role and function was performance management. 

This fall, I facilitated a panel of HR leaders at the HR Tech Conference to discuss the evolution of performance management. I asked each of them how performance management fit into their overall HR structure. Each of the four companies was different. 

In one case it was part of total rewards (i.e. benefit and comp). In another, it was viewed as part of employee engagement. In another, it was under the banner of employee relations (i.e. compliance). 

In two of the four cases, the main reason HR undertook the process of changing performance management was that executive leadership demanded it.  

It’s crazy. 

A well-designed performance management system should be the operating system for your organization. It ensures a sustainable and consistent employee experience that unlocks individual and team performance. Most organizations today are still running a performance management operating system written in the 1920’s.

It’s way past time for an upgrade. But, that upgrade will never happen unless you make it a priority.  

Every organization should have a role or team dedicated to performance management systems. If you don’t like the phrase “performance management,” then call it performance enablement or performance processes.  

It can be in HR or it can be elsewhere. It will depend on your organization. 

We would never let something like sales or financials or technology go without an owner who has the responsibility to ensuring process effectiveness.

Why do we allow it with something as vital as the management of performance?

Let’s change that. 

Technology’s Evolving Role in HR #HRTechConf
Technology’s Evolving Role in HR #HRTechConf Jason Lauritsen

The HR Technology Conference has become one of my favorite events of the year. It’s a great opportunity to get a feel for the broader trends in HR and work.  

Each year, I try to take in a few sessions and spend some time walking the Exhibit Hall. My goal is to try to understand what the technology vendors think is important to the HR community. This comes through loud and clear through their marketing messages and positioning at the event.

Based on my observations, this year’s overarching theme seemed the same as last year. Everything is about AI (artificial intelligence). Apparently, we are all so fascinated by the potential of AI that nearly every vendor is feeling the pressure to show how they are in the AI game.

I personally think that most of the talk about AI is distracting us from what really matters in making work better. That is an argument for another day. The bottom line is that for the second year in a row, AI was the dominant buzzword of the conference.

Another thing I love about this event is the conversation and presentations about the future of work. Technology companies are rightfully interested in understanding how work is evolving and what the future might look like so they can enable that future through their products.

Based on what I heard from Josh Bersin and others, it seems to me that there are some real shifts coming (and needed) in terms of what HR technology looks like and how it works.  There were three big things that I took away from this year’s event.

  1. HR technology tools need to be where the work happens. Almost all of today’s HR technology tools are part of a stand-alone platform or product. This means that the employee has to leave the technology that they primarily use to do their work (email, calendar, CRM, etc.) to find and log into another application before being able to take their desired action. It’s no wonder that we struggle to get employees to consistently engage with these tools. It feels like a hassle. The next generation of HR tech tools will be built into where you do work to make the employee’s experience much more fluid and intuitive. Keep an eye on companies like Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, and Slack as they are already starting to build some of their own integrated tools. It seems like there’s about to be a lot of innovation in this area. 
  2. We need technology to support wellbeing. Earlier this year, Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer published a new book titled, “Dying for a Paycheck: How Modern Management Harms Employee Health and Company Performance—and What We Can Do About It.” He argues that work is literally killing us. Much of that boils down to the immense stress that people are feeling today from both work and life. I’m convinced that tending to the wellbeing of employees will emerge as a business imperative over the next five or more years. Technology has contributed significantly to this problem in the past by enabling 24/7 connectivity. Now we need new technology to help us begin to fix it.  
  3. The future of work is teams. Bersin stood in front of a room full of HR technology marketers and declared that while more companies are organizing work in teams, today’s HR technology tools are almost exclusively designed around individual work performance. For those who work in a project team or agile environment, you can probably relate to how different it is to manage the performance and engagement of teams compared to individuals. As the way we work and our management approaches shift more and more towards teams and collaboration, we will need new tech tools to support that. And, it doesn’t seem that there are many tools here yet. I expect that to change quickly. 

Those are my takeaways from this year’s HR Tech Conference. If you are interested in technology and the future of work, I highly encourage you to give this conference a look next year. If you decide to go, look me up. I’ll be there. 

The Blindspot in Employee Engagement
The Blindspot in Employee Engagement 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

A couple years ago, as my wife and I were returning home from an employee engagement conference where I had spoken, she said something to me that I didn’t fully understand at the time.

I remember it sounding something like this.

“The content here was good, but it was all focused on the happy, positive side of being human at work. Where’s the conversation about all of the hard, painful stuff that humans bring with them to work? Why wasn’t anyone talking about that?”

I agreed with her because she’s always right (joking, kind of). But, the gravity of her wisdom didn’t set in with me until much later.

As I started to pay closer attention to the conversations happening about making the workplace more human, I started to notice what she was talking about. Most of the focus is on how to create a more connected, inclusive, mindful, nourishing, affirming work experience for employees.

All great stuff. All important stuff. Do that.

The problem, however, is that humans carry with us a lot of baggage when we show up to work each day. Regardless of how much we try to convince ourselves of the separation between work and life, it’s a lie.

Life is everywhere and everything we experience is life. Work is just one place where life happens.

Remember, work for employees is a relationship. The test of a good relationship is how you show up when things aren’t so good. The friendships that sustain are with those who are not only around when it’s time to celebrate, they also show up when things are hard (through an illness or breakup, etc.). It’s how they show up in these moments that creates the commitment and loyalty that lasts.

The same is true of the work relationship. It’s great that you celebrate victories and birthdays and new childbirths, but how do you show up during hardship and tragedy? That’s where the rubber meets the road.

This came into stark focus for me last week when I attended and spoke at the WELCOA Summit, the premier event for workplace wellness professionals. It seems that while most of us focus on creating the shining, happy workplace where all humans are welcome, these wellness champions are the ones worrying about the not so shiny, not so happy reality of being human.

The opening keynote by Mettie Spiess is a shining example of what I now realize is the real work of creating a truly human workplace. She sharing her gut-wrenching personal story of losing both of her brothers to suicide and of her own experience of living with mental illness. Her life’s purpose is to create a world without suicide. And she believes that’s possible, but not unless we make some major changes.

The statistics on suicide and mental health in the U.S. are alarming, to put it lightly.

Here’s the truth. Even if you have created an amazing, engaging workplace–these stats make clear that there are people walking through the door at your workplace each day who are silently suffering, maybe fighting a solo battle for their survival.

The bad news is that they aren’t likely to find much support at work because we aren’t looking for them. It’s easy to ignore the realities of mental illness unless you or someone you love is living with it. And to make matters worse, there’s such a negative stigma around mental illness (i.e. “I didn’t know you were crazy”) that it rarely feels safe to ask for help–even when there’s some sort of structure in place to do so.

One of the core messages I took from Mettie is that we must dramatically raise awareness and kill the stigma around mental health. To do this, we have to be very intentional in our efforts around education and awareness of mental illness and suicide in the workplace.

But beyond that, she reinforced the importance and power of authentic human connection and compassion to break some of these cycles. The CDC identified social connectedness as a key factor in the prevention of suicide. Fostering the creation and formation of healthy relationships through work could literally save someone’s life.

But, so too can showing care and concern. Simply paying attention to others and asking “how are you doing?” can make all the difference. This seems so simple and obvious but is easy to neglect in our steadfast commitment to being “busy” all the time.

Suicide and mental health probably feel pretty uncomfortable to read about, let alone talk about. I know. For me too.

But I think this is the essence of the work to create truly “human” places of work. We must create a place where humans connect together to not only create work product together but also to find belonging and acknowledgment and support–real support for both the good stuff and the bad.

Even the people in your work lives who seem to have it all together on the outside are probably struggling with something beneath the surface. It might not be mental illness or suicide, but it might be something that feels just as debilitating to them.

Maybe they are experiencing burnout.

Or maybe they are suffering abuse at the hands of an intimate partner. (20 people per minute are abused by an intimate partner in the U.S. and some of them work for you.)

Many are suffering from serious financial stress. One study reveals that 1 in 4 Americans suffers from PTSD like symptoms caused by financial stress.

The list goes on. Life is hard and the challenges are real.

If we are going to create a truly “human” company, this is the hard work. It’s not enough to simply focus on appreciation and connection and encouragement. We must also make room and provide support for the other side of the human equation.

Creating an engaging work experience for employees is meaningful, important work. But, changing or saving someone’s life is a whole different level of impact that we can and should have on the people who we employ.

Not sure where to start? Let’s chat. I’ll help nudge you in the right direction.

Oh, and how are you?  If you are struggling and need to talk, please reach out.

For more great reading on this topic, check out my friend Rachel Druckenmiller’s summary post about the WELCOA Summit. It’s full of goodness.

Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 or Suicide Prevention Lifeline

 

Wellness 2.0
Wellness 2.0 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

About eight years ago, I joined an organization that was pretty serious about workplace wellness.

Since the wellness team rolled up to me as the HR leader, I got pretty serious about learning what it was all about quickly. Most of the focus, I learned, was on improving the physical health of our employee population.

This particular organization had been investing in wellness programs for years, long before most organizations started to take it seriously. They did some really cool stuff in the name of wellness. They viewed it as a benefit to employees.

At the time I joined this organization, healthcare costs in the U.S. were really beginning to skyrocket and the cost of providing employer-sponsored health insurance had become a concern.

This triggered the wellness industry to jump into action. Suddenly, workplace wellness programs were no longer a benefit, they were a vehicle to control and reduce health insurance costs. It made sense. The healthier you are, the less healthcare you consume–at least in theory.

We sold this clear new “business case” for wellness, HARD. Our execs got on board and we got to work.

But, the promised cost containment and cost savings never really materialized. And we weren’t alone. It wasn’t that wellness wasn’t making a positive difference, it just wasn’t reducing health insurance spend.

This promise of wellness has failed. The costs savings never materialized. Wellness had bet big and lost on a business case with far too many uncontrollable variables.

Sadly, this is putting some wellness programs and wellness professionals at risk of losing funding and influence.

Now is not the time to abandon wellness. Now is the time to double down.

Work is a relationship for employees. And, at the core of a healthy relationship is feeling a sense of belonging and being care for. No other function within the organization is better positioned to help employees feel this way than wellness.

The practice of corporate wellness has evolved over the past decade. Today, instead of only being about improving physical health, it’s about improving overall feelings of well-being. Wellness is wholly focused on caring for you as an individual person.

When wellness works, it can really strengthen the relationship by making you feel like the organization cares about you beyond simply what you can do for it. If your organization provides you with the tools to get out of debt or with the skills to be a better parent, it makes a real and positive impact.

But when it fails, the relationship gets damaged. My wife still talks about a day at work well over a decade ago that is a good example. A snowstorm was getting started in the city and many of her colleagues were leaving work early to make it home before the snow got bad.

As a single mom with a young son in daycare, she had to make it across town before the daycare closes. For those who may not contend with snow regularly, when a snowstorm of any magnitude rolls into the city, a 30-minute commute can become a 90-minute commute pretty quickly.  So, she asked her boss if she could leave early.

As an hourly employee, her boss not only didn’t want to let her leave early but proceeded to give her a lecture about how she needed to have a backup plan for situations like these. These words, to someone who didn’t have an easy answer for a “back up plan” were at best insensitive and at worst insulting and hurtful. Like I said, my wife still feels the hurt all these years later.

Learning to really care for an employees wellness is at the heart of creating a great work experience and a strong work relationship.  But, this requires that we evolve our understanding of wellness as a practice.

Recently, the Wellness Council of America debuted a new definition of Wellness that I find really inspiring. Here is the core of their definition:

What is Wellness?

Wellness is the active pursuit to understand and fulfill your individual human needs—which allows you to reach a state where you are flourishing and able to realize your full potential in all aspects of life. Every person has wellness aspirations.

Successful workplace wellness initiatives require supporting employees in fulfilling their needs in these seven areas:

Health   Beyond the absence of mental and physical illness, health is a feeling of strength and energy from your body and mind.

Meaning   Feeling part of something bigger than yourself. Knowing that your work matters. Having purpose in your life.

Safety   Knowing that you are safe from physical and psychological harm at work. Feeling secure enough to take calculated risks and show vulnerability. Free of concern about meeting basic life needs.

Connection   Experiencing positive, trusting relationships with others. Feeling a sense of belonging, acceptance and support.

Achievement   Feeling you have the support, resources and autonomy to achieve your goals. Succeeding at meeting your individual goals and work aspirations.

Growth   Feeling like you are progressing in your career. Learning and being challenged to use and expand on your strengths.

Resiliency   Viewing life with optimism. Feeling grateful and expressing appreciation. Feeling validated and encouraged.

You can find the full definition here.

As we wrestle with how to make our organizations and the work we do better for humans, I think it would be smart to put wellness at the center of those efforts. If we feel unwell, whether it’s from our physical health, stress from financial strain, or a lack of meaning in our life, we won’t and can’t perform at our best. The most engaging workplace in the world can’t compensate from a lack of well-being.

The heritage of management we inherited suggests that life exists outside of work and that, as employers, we need only concern ourselves with what happens “on the clock.” That may have worked in the early days of mindless factory work, but it’s no longer valid today. The wellness of our people is where it all starts.  The more “well” they are, the more performance potential they have to give.

Wellness isn’t going to fix your health insurance issues, but it may go a long way towards boosting performance. Give it another look.

This week, I have the privilege of presenting a keynote at the WELCOA Summit in San Diego. If you are going to be there, drop me a note. Let’s meet up.