Kathryn Britton, MAPP '06, former software engineer, is a coach working with professionals to increase well-being, energy, and meaning in their work lives (Theano Coaching LLC). She is also a writing coach, facilitator of writing workshops, and teacher of positive workplace concepts at the University of Maryland. Her own books include Smarts and Stamina on using positive psychology principles to build strong health habits and Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life. Full bio. Kathryn's articles are here.
I attended the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Conference (PHWC) in Washington, D.C. from February 28 to March 2. Jocelyn Davis and I are co-teaching an independent study class at the University of Maryland for graduate students who are researching various aspects of positive workplaces. Two of our students, Morteza Farajian and Man Clara Cheung, attended the conference as reporters. Morteza and I are writing about days 1 and 3, while Clara and I are writing about day 2. Clara took all the pictures.
Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards
- Government, Military, Educational category: Sandia Preparatory School
- Not-for-profit category: WorldAtWork
- Small for-profit category: W. R. Systems, Ltd
- Medium for-profit category: Replacements Ltd.
- Large for-profit category: Teledyne Brown Engineering
In addition, nine Best Practice Honors were awarded. For video vignettes, podcasts, and references to more than 1900 articles, visit the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Resources for Employers page.
First Day, February 28
In a plenary session called “Optimizing Stakeholder Value in the Psychologically Healthy Workplace,” David W. Ballard opened the conference by talking through the model used in the awards process. He emphasized Communication and fitting practices into particular workplace contexts. He commented that companies that “get” the connection between employee well-being and organizational success tend to shift attention from maximizing shareholder value to optimizing stakeholder experience, accruing benefits such as increased performance, productivity, hiring selectivity, product/service quality, customer satisfaction, and so on. Successful companies take a systems approach and yet find there are many small changes that have big impacts.
Next came a panel with the following experts under the forum title “Just Because You Build It Doesn’t Mean They’ll Come: Engaging Employees for Optimal Results.”
- Dr. Bob Nelson (BN), doctorate in management under Peter Drucker, dissertation topic, “Factors that Encourage or Inhibit the Use of Non-Monetary Recognition by U.S. Managers,” now president of Nelson Motivation, Ltd. Dr. Nelson talked about employee recognition in terms of Head (conceptual understanding), Hands (explicit best practices), and Heart (making it a priority).
- Dr. Matthew Grawitch (MG), chair of the organizational studies program at St. Louis University and primary research consultant to the APA for the Psychologically Healthy Workplace program. Dr. Grawitch talked about resistance to change and lack of employee involvement as factors leading to program failures, and concluded that effective communication is the most important factor.
- Dr. Rebecca Kelly (RK), Director of Health and Wellness programs at the University of Alabama as well as president of Element Health, Inc. Dr Kelly talked about motivation, engagement and the role of the employer in determining the success of workplace health enhancement programs.
Some of the questions answered by the panel are shown below.
Q: There are lots of programs that use employee input that still fail. Why?
MG: There are lots of reasons, but especially time. You need to build change into work flow so that people feel they have time.
RK: Here’s an example. Have ‘moving meetings’ where people get exercise by walking while they talk.
Q: What about incentives to motivate behavior changes and outcomes?
RK: We found two things worked: T-shirts and dollars, but after a few years, dollars were a hook but not a motivator.
BN: Money is a bribe. Stop the money, stop the behavior. I’ve tracked more than 50 behaviors that motivate and most do not cost a dime.
Q: Can you give one quick tip for successful programs?
MG: Find out what they really want and what will work in their context.
BN: Involve them in decisions and create something that has a buzz.
RK: Successful health programs are high touch and have high visibility. They include health advocates and ambassadors and people who tell stories of success. The more touch points, the better the outcome.
Q: How do you get management buyin?
BN: Use management’s language to talk to them. Mention what their competitors are doing.
Put Employee Well-Being and Customer Satisfaction First; Profit will follow.
One of the great pleasures of the conference was speaking to representatives of the companies who won awards. One common theme was that these employers were doing what they did because it was the right thing to do, not because of dollars, but the dollars followed. Deanna Smith and Deborah Odell from W R Systems, Ltd. explained that their employer intentionally prioritizes employee well-being and customer satisfaction ahead of profit, but that profit has come too. They benefit from large numbers of referrals from both satisfied customers and employees who love their jobs, giving them both access to new business and the pick of the talent pool. Their company has a family feeling where people find work not just a job.
Importance of Employee Recognition
He cited the following from the Maritz poll that employees in a recognition culture are:
- 5 times more likely to feel valued
- 7 times more likely to stay with the company
- 6 times more likely to invest in the company
- 11 times more likely to feel completely committed
Recognition doesn’t have to be expensive. There can be low-end rewards, such as gas cards, symbolic items such as engraved poker chips, time-off rewards such as vouchers for “calling in well” days, or even just frequent attention, such as checking in frequently, saying thanks, and being easily accessible. There are almost 1000 more ideas in his book on employee recognition. He illustrated with examples from companies including Texas Commerce Bank, Home Depot, Best Buy, Harbor Court Hotel, Starbucks, and Disney.
You Can Bring Your Whole Self to Work
Perhaps in the eventual upturn, companies that wait until there is categorical proof of a business value will lag the pioneering companies who start because it’s the right thing to do and let that business benefit unfold.
Nelson, B. (2005, 2012). 1501 Ways to Reward Employees Workman Publishing Company; reprint edition.
Nelson, B. (1997). 1001 Ways to Energize Employees. Workman Publishing Company.