Gearshifts: From Employee Engagement to Employee Well-Being

By Lisa Slayton; part three of a series. Reprinted from The Wholeness Journey.

In the fall of 1983, I bought my first new car. It was a red 1984 Toyota Corolla. It was a five-speed and it was zippy. By now my ability to handle a clutch was pretty good. But this new one still took a bit of time to become accustomed to driving. Much like the next shift.

We may assume that what we already have in place and know about the state of our people is sufficient. It is not. And we must prepare to adjust our thinking and practices around how we care for the whole person, not just their productivity and ability to contribute.

Shift Three is from employee engagement to employee well-being.

Engagement is not possible if employees don’t feel safe and there is anxiety in the organization. You may want to start with engagement, to know where your team stands. Surveys are a powerful way of listening to your people. And knowing what they think and are experiencing right now is vitally important. Mark Murphy, in a recent Forbes article, strongly urges leaders to assess engagement now, while stress is high and the organizational system is anxious. You are much more likely to get better data, and to hear from those people who are even more likely to be silent now, in the disconnected environment many are operating in. To do this kind of deep listening, and then to respond to it in visible and meaningful ways, builds much need trust and resilience into your organization culture.

And building trust just might be the most important thing you focus your attention on in the near term, and here is why.

Over the last 13 years, the internal think tank at the Mars Corporation has undertaken research and application for what it calls the Economics of Mutuality. They identified four types of capital that must be considered and measured in order for capitalism to be healed. The four kinds of capital are:

  • Individual Capital
  • Social Capital
  • Financial Capital
  • Natural Resource Capital 

Bruno Roche and Jay Jakub wrote the primer on their research findings in 2016 called Completing Capitalism: Heal Business to Heal the World

Focusing in on social capital, which outlines what must be present for well-being, is described through these three essentials.

Just three simple component variables – trust, social cohesion, capacity for collective action – account for enough of what constitutes social capital that all of the other variables need not be considered by business, unless of course one is undertaking a purely academic exercise.

It is more important than ever to create conditions for these three essentials to be created. These three elements are the hallmarks of organizational health and social well-being. And there are real business implications to be drawn from the EoM research on social capital summarized here: 

Social capital has an impact on economic development. Social capital drives prosperity and economic performance, although it is often ignored and omitted from consideration… Like any form of capital, however, social capital can be used, created, and wasted. It can also be intentionally grown through business interventions.

It is measurable in a stable, scalable way, making it business relevant. Social capital, moreover, is stable across varied geographies, and data collection is scalable.

It is actionable in business operations. Using social capital, we can assess the fertility of the socioeconomic environment where we and others operate. And we can diagnose and track the impact of targeted actions/interventions by the business.

Ensuring that you are building social capital in your in your team or organization is of primary importance. Questions to consider might be: Are we extending trust to our employees? Are we as leaders demonstrating trust?

Here are a few simple ways to build trust:

  • Communicate often and clearly.
  • Communicate good news fast and bad news faster. This is a time for radical transparency.
  • Ensure your leaders are speaking with one voice, and that voice is calm and congruent. This means that your leaders must be connecting and communicating with one another on a daily basis.
  • Assume good intent. Your people are doing their best, given the uncertain environment. A few may take advantage of these circumstances: deal with those people individually. Do not reset or make policy based one or two bad actors.
  • Extend grace. As much of possible. Everywhere.
  • Examine your decision making process. Will this decision, strategy or tactic create opportunities for cohesion or tear cohesion apart? Is this decision being made reactively or responsively

It is easy to move with expedience when decisions press in from multiple fronts. And there are decisions that must be made quickly. But most decisions can be paused for at least some period of time to be consider and evaluated. Do this whenever possible. Get input. Listen to those who will be most impacted. I am not suggesting decisions be made by consensus. But the more your people can participate in a decision-making process, the more ownership they will have in the final call.

This is the time for prototyping and experimenting. It is not the time for strategic planning. There is too much unknown. Give people permission to try things and learn. Ensure that experiments, especially ones that don’t go well, don’t yield punitive action.

Do our teams have the ability to act and make decisions about their work without checking with a member of the leadership team?

Do they have true agency?

Are we removing obstacles that allow them to do so?

If you are truly creating high trust, cohesive environments, then your teams and people will feel empowered to take intelligent risks that will lead to innovation and new pathways forward.

Are we providing ‘psychological safety’ in our work places? Amy Edmondson, in her ground-breaking book The Fearless Organization defines psychological safety as

the belief that the environment is safe for interpersonal risk taking. People feel able to speak up when needed — with relevant ideas, questions, or concerns — without being shut down in a gratuitous way. Psychological safety is present when colleagues trust and respect each other and feel able, even obligated, to be candid.

This season of Covid, massive unemployment, deep unrest around race and equity and tremendous uncertainty has produced a kind of collective social trauma that we are all experiencing, regardless of race or gender.

Finally, do you have resources available for your people who may be facing enormous anxiety and uncertainty in areas of their lives outside of work? This is the time to build up those resources, including counselors, chaplaincy programs, and employee assistance programs, and make sure your people have access to these people without fear of retribution. The emotional well-being of your people may be very fragile right now. Resourcing them and supporting them in ways that make sense for your business are vital. These are not just ancillary offerings for a few people in the margins. This is a necessary resource that every organization must make available.

Undertaking this work, especially in complex times, seems daunting. But it has never been more important. If we can be helpful as you navigate these shifts, please email here to schedule a 30 minute consultation.

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