“Employees aren’t just valuable assets. They are people.”
While this statement by Scott Behson, Management Professor, Author, Speaker, and Consultant may seem logical, conventional workplaces don’t treat employees as a whole person. According to psychology professor Barry Schwartz, who studies the links between economics and psychology, the way we think about work is broken. “There are intangible values [that] our current way of thinking about work simply ignores,” Barry shares in a TED Talk.
The question is, how is the way we think about work broken? How can we implement a whole-person workplace culture with tactics like employee appreciation programs?
The whole-person workplace concept—as Scott Behson shares in his book, The Whole-Person Workplace—is a set of research-based best practices that honour employees as a human. This could mean learning about what motivates and inspires your employees and colleagues as a person, what they like to do outside of work, etc. Then, you can find some common interests with them. By getting to know employees as a whole person, you can understand them better, which can help you work better together.
A recent Gallup survey reported that 21% of workers attributed their low company engagement to work-life balance, work schedules, and overall well-being. In the same survey, employees who were experiencing personal life struggles reported having over 2 times the amount of turnover compared to those thriving in their personal life. Gallup’s study also found that 42% of people left because of how they feel about their boss and the organization’s culture.
It’s clear that mental health in the workplace is critical to employee well-being, satisfaction, and overall performance.
When leaders build real relationships with their team members, performance improves significantly and attrition decreases. As research from professors at Rutgers University shows, having positive friendships at work significantly improves employees’ performance. In addition, having friends in the company in other departments also boosts company morale—employees have better moods, which can lead to improved performance.
Investing in employee wellness programs also pays off in positive ROI for the employer. A Harvard Business Review article showed how employees can attain ROI through employee wellness programs. It found that for every dollar invested, the employer gained $6 in healthcare savings. The Rand Wellness Programs Study by The Rand Corp., a nonprofit research institute, discovered that employers experienced an overall ROI of $1.50. Essentially, employers received a return of $1.50 for every dollar that the employer invested in the employee wellness program.
In short, the whole-person workplace concept is really an investment in employee performance and ROI for employers.
Employee wellness programs aside, what else can employers do to create a whole-person workplace? The following section explores the key areas employers can implement a whole-person workplace.
Other than asking fun questions in new hire questionnaires, don’t shy away from asking personal questions too. Questions like “What motivates or inspires you?” and “What are you passionate about outside of work?” can really tell you a lot about a person. Take the time to learn about their loved ones as well—whether it’s their partner, pets, or kids.
Employee appreciation programs don’t have to be grand. For example, from the information you get from new hire questionnaires, you can make a point to wish their loved ones a happy birthday or send them a gift card to a mountain bike store when they’ve done a good job.
According to LinkedIn Learning, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their professional development. This statistic proves how important it is for employers to implement things like mentorship programs, and providing a well-defined career path for employees and resources to help employees achieve their career goals.
Another professional development tactic is creating and sharing a company-wide job matrix that shows the entire company web and how people can move laterally or up in a specific career path.
In recent years, there’s been a paradigm shift in how many employers plan their organizations’ work models. Many employers provide remote or hybrid work options and a flexible work model that improve employees’ work-life balance. It’s important for employees to be able to be present for important family milestones and schedule their workday according to their personal commitments, employees can feel like they have more control over their personal and professional lives, potentially leading to improved job satisfaction, performance, and retention.
As humans, employees need days off for sickness, personal reasons, wellness, bereavement, and vacations. When employees have the autonomy to take days off for different reasons, they are more likely to feel appreciated as a whole person.
In our increasingly remote and distributed work environment, relationship building among employees and between employers and employees can be challenging. Tools like Donut easily allow employees to connect with employees from different departments for a chat or quick meetup. Donut is a unique way for employees to learn more about colleagues they don’t normally interact with in their day-to-day.
Regular team-building events can provide employees with a fun way to destress and get to know each other outside of a work environment. They don’t have to be expensive events either—even simple board game nights (virtual or in-person) can be a lot of fun.
Employers can also use tools like Slack or MS Team channels about specific interest topics. These easy-to-create chat groups can help create a sense of belonging for employees and an avenue for them to discuss their passions.
By encouraging peer-to-peer recognition, employers can take the responsibility of rewarding employees frequently off managers’ and leaders’ plates. Managers may not always be in the loop of day-to-day projects to know who’s done a great job. Employee appreciation programs like peer-to-peer recognition can also help employees build stronger relationships with each other. Stronger employee relationships can improve their productivity in team environments.
While celebrating an employee’s tenure at a company is important, more frequent, timely, and meaningful rewards can be a lot more impactful to employees. For example, if an employee has done a great job at creating and leading a new project, the employer can send them a voucher to an activity they enjoy (like a spa session or movie tickets).
Rewarding employees frequently for a job well done is key. But employers can take it a step further and tie employee appreciation programs to their company values. For example, Patagonia hires people who are passionate about outdoor activities, according to their strong company identity of appreciating the great outdoors. Patagonia offers benefits for employees to participate in outdoor activities during work hours.
In another example, Benevity, a software company that matches donations for companies between employees and their employers, gives employees paid days off to volunteer quarterly. This is in line with Benevity’s company mission and also motivates employees to embody the company values.
Employee appreciation programs can also take the form of non-work related recognitions. Learn what’s important to each employee, including their life dreams, goals, hobbies, passions, etc. For example, if an employee has undertaken a life goal to run a marathon, and finally completes their first marathon, you can send them a gift to congratulate them. Or you can celebrate the birth of an employee’s newborn with a gift basket.
Now that you have some tools and tactics to create a whole-person workplace culture, remember that the whole-person workplace honours employees as a whole person. This includes embracing their complete identity and numerous life roles, inside and outside of work.
Common areas to implement a whole person company culture include: onboarding, company policies and processes, relationship building, professional development, recognition and rewards.