Life at work and life outside used to be two separate things. Today, technology connects us to work 24/7 and has increased workplace pressures by revolutionising every industry sector.
Living today’s always-on life doesn’t bring out the best in people. At prolonged high levels, it can cause major physical and mental health issues. Fortunately, the tension between work and home isn’t so extreme for most people.
Instead, it manifests as a persistent feeling of failing at both, leading to absenteeism, poor decision-making and lack of focus. According to the Australian Productivity Commission, this translates into $24 billion a year in lost productivity.
In recent years, there’s been a quantum leap in employer awareness of the negative business effects of stress. From flexi-time to lunchtime yoga, supporting employee health is now firmly on the HR radar.
I believe CEOs should build on this momentum to move their organisations beyond just mitigating health risks to the next level – actively helping people to reach their full potential at work and at home. It’s time to create thriving workplaces.
What is thriving?
In a thriving state of mind, an individual is firing on all cylinders. They are engaged and fulfilled, in control and growing, and full of positive energy. You can feel like this at work or in private, but the real magic happens when the two are healthily integrated so your whole life thrives and work becomes something to look forward to, not a means to an end.
One of the litmus tests for thriving is flow – being so immersed in a task that time flies. Psychologists say it’s a major contributor to happiness. If you never feel that sense of absorption and accomplishment, you won’t thrive.
In a thriving workplace, people regularly experience flow then go home and recharge their batteries through exercise, hobbies and other healthy ways so their non-work life thrives too. It’s a virtuous cycle.
The ability to achieve flow is just one indicator of a thriving employee. The others include: having autonomy, connecting with organisational values and goals, feeling that work has a purpose and coping positively with set-backs.
Not only is this good for mental and physical health, it makes employees more productive, innovative, loyal and open to change. The end result is improvement in key performance indicators such as staff engagement and retention, absenteeism, customer satisfaction and profitability.
Clearly, whether you’re a CEO or a front-line employee, belonging to a thriving workplace not only has many personal and professional benefits, it creates a thriving business too.
If you want to lead a high-performing organisation, it’s important to create the right conditions for everyone to thrive — you, your team and your employees. It might sound nice, not essential, but there are proven bottom-line benefits. According to a PwC survey, every $1.00 your business invests in creating a mentally healthy workplace will return $2.30.
Taking your business from surviving to thriving
I recently collaborated with two other psychologists, Liam O’Neill and Dr Nora Koslowski, to pinpoint how leaders can foster a thriving culture.
Four key actions that define thriving leadership
Connect with people
Your team members will thrive if you show genuine interest in them as people and workers, demonstrate they can trust you, and invest time in their personal development. In turn, they will create a thriving culture for their teams and the benefits will flow to everyone.
Redesign the work
Lead a consultative work design program that builds in top-down feedback and support and sets reasonable challenges. The goal is to build confidence so that, given autonomy, staff can actively evolve their roles so they and the business continue to thrive.
Change the climate
Create a psychologically safe work environment. This involves 21st leadership traits such as encouraging innovation, learning from failure, being inclusive and accepting different opinions. When people feel free to be themselves, they thrive and the organisation becomes more agile and resilient.
Sustainable thriving must be supported by the right values, policies and attitudes and be authentically modelled. Leaders who demonstrate turf protection, bullying, personal bias or micromanagement have no place in a thriving culture.