Healthy Workplace Starts from The Top
In the May 17, 2008 issue of World Magazine, author Arthur C. Brooks was interviewed regarding his new book, Gross National Happiness (Basic, 2008). A Syracuse University professor and Wall Street Journal writer, Mr. Brooks broadly defines happiness as “a sense of overall contentment” and then characterizes happiness in terms of its component elements. His extensive survey research draws some very interesting conclusions with respect to national trends regarding how “happy” various groups are with their lives. His findings yield some interesting nuggets for us as we pursue our desire to foster a positive and satisfying workplace environment.
Mr. Brooks states that there are three basic things that make people happy.
1. meaning in our lives
2. control over our environment
3. success in creating value in the world
Let’s take Professor Brooks’ elements one at a time, relating them to the values we might integrate into our workplace culture, and examining where we currently stand.
1. Faith. Roughly 90% of Americans say they believe in God and that faith is important to them. Of course not all understand faith in the same way, but there is an element to all faith that is common – it is the basis for hope. Faith is foundational for that critically important positive, optimistic, and future-oriented attitude we value so highly and view as so winsome. Without hope, any individual or organization is dead in the water. Without faith, hope is unreasonable. Leadership that demonstrates a vision engendering faith, hope, and the belief in the inherent value of success to our stakeholders, is the spoon that stirs the stew!
2. Family. How do we encourage healthy family values and support the nuclear family through our culture and practices? Such actions speak so loudly that our team can’t miss it! If we espouse family values, but schedule our work in such a way to make it nearly impossible for our team to sustain healthy family life, we diminish our credibility and damage our Christian witness. The family is God’s ordained societal building block. Healthy families build healthy churches and healthy churches can build a healthy nation. Conversely, broken or unhealthy families damage society in so many ways. Healthy families are a crucial ingredient to any thriving long-term organizational culture.
3. Personal Liberty. How can we foster personal liberty within an organization where balanced, interdependent relationships are essential? Taken to an unhealthy extreme, liberty can lead to anarchy. At the opposite pole is indentured servitude. Neither extreme is acceptable. What we all want is the healthy liberty to contribute our best within the context of the structure and core principles that guide our activity.
4. Private Morality. How does personal or individual morality impact happiness and contentment in the work setting? This topic can be troubling for those who have bought into our contemporary culture’s attempt to partition our lives into public vs. private and sacred vs. secular domains. However, we know that sin is always costly and its negative consequences certainly infect the workplace. Moral leadership doesn’t just happen; it’s always found first in the heart and life of the leader and revealed through their decisions, choices and responses. The amount of sin leaders allow themselves will always be magnified by those watching and following them. Company character and morality principally reflects the combined individual morality of its leaders and is also influenced by those we hire.
5. Non-Materialistic. Can we foster such a corporate value in an extremely materialistic world? We can if we hold and model a Biblical worldview as Christi an leaders. Jesus was crystal clear when teaching against trusting in (or focusing on) riches or mammon. His messages always placed the value of people and the Kingdom of God over the value of money and riches. To Jesus, material things are utilitarian, to be used in stewardship to build the Kingdom and help others in need, as opposed to our culture’s primary focus on personal comfort and pleasure.
6. Opportunity. True opportunity motivates the kind of team members we desire to help us become the best we can be. Opportunity to grow, develop skills and talents, and fulfill our God-given potential is a highly-valued workplace satisfied. We’re not speaking of mere financial opportunity here (though it certainly tends to correlate), but the opportunity to blossom and advance as our best selves in an environment that encourages and recognizes us. None of us is a finished product. Each team member possesses valuable untapped potential. A company culture that seeks to promote mental, physical, and spiritual growth opportunities will draw the type of individuals who seek those qualities for themselves. Is your attitude that people are pretty well set when you hire them and there’s not much you can do to change them?
7. Work. Meaningful work implies valuable and challenging effort, as opposed to trivial “make-work” work or ti me-filling drudgery. Such work provides a sense of accomplishment and is viewed as contributi ng to an environment that promotes fulfillment on both an individual and company-wide level. This is a critical component of corporate culture and communication. All of the qualities that we’ve previously described contribute to a culture that gives value and dignity to one’s vocation. It has been said that we all desire “to learn, to love, and to leave a legacy.” The legacy of one who is a diligent workman is to be admired. Scripture says “Do you see a man skilled in his work?
8. Service to Others. How would the world be worse off if you and your business simply disappeared? Would the people you serve simply go somewhere else to get what they get from you?
We’re not in business to make people happy, per se, but it isn’t very hard to imagine that the qualities Professor Brooks identifies as contributing to happiness generally also contribute to our building the fruitful culture we desire. By extension, it’s easy to imagine the many benefits that can accrue when those we deal with each day – our team, suppliers and customers — are happier because of the way we interact with them.