ARTICLES - CREATING A PSYCHOLOGICALLY HEALTHY CULTURE

Vitamin C's For An Emotionally Healthy Workplace

Imagine that your organization exists in an economic environment that is uncertain. Unemployment reached record lows in the past year, but the unemployment rate is now climbing as the economy slows and large employers are using layoffs to control costs. There has been an increase in applicants for positions in your company and there is more choice although it is hardly unlimited.

You are attempting to remain a viable entity in this changing sea of economic uncertainty. The last thing you want is to lose those employees who are the best and the brightest.

Is there a way?

In any economy, the challenge of remaining viable is the challenge of attracting and retaining PRODUCTIVE employees. But in any economy, the most productive employees have the most opportunity in the job market. 

Why do they change jobs?

Because they can!

Average and below average workers can only look for another job when the economic outlook is stable. The best and the brightest are always in demand. If you are serious about retaining your best employees, you need to create the conditions in your workplace that will make them want to stay.

Here is the bad news:

Most retention programs did not work! In the year 2000, (when the unemployment rate was low and no one was looking for jobs) turnover was higher in 48% of companies than the rate in 1999, there was no change in turnover from 1999 in 38% of companies, and only 14% of companies had lower turnover rates. This was despite a 33% increase in the number of companies instituting retention programs. 

But what if there was something you can do that would greatly increase the retention rates of employees who are your top and most innovative producers? What if you could increase your retention rates by 50%, AND, increase your productivity by the 38%, AND increase customer satisfaction scores by 44%? Would you be interested?

The secret formula is to inject the Vitamin C's of Emotional Health into your workplace.

At a recent conference, I asked the audience to share the qualities of the best workplace environment they had experienced. It was not surprising to me that every quality they named was an aspect of the Vitamin C's . There are four essential Vitamin C's: 1.) Commitment, 2.) Challenge, 3.) Control, and 4.) Caring. 

COMMITMENT

We have a need to belong to something larger than ourselves. The poet and business consultant, David Whyte says, "Anything or anyone who does not bring you alive is too small." Great leaders have understood that people will make enormous sacrifices for a cause in which they believe. By contrast, working at a task that an individual considers meaningless or insignificant can be demoralizing and saps energy.

Top performers and innovative thinkers live in a world that is full of meaning. They use their commitment to meaningful work to fuel their motivation. Motivation arises from deep within their souls. This is scary for some managers because it is not subject to external control and cannot be commanded. In an emotionally healthy workplace, organizations must nurture the conditions for meaningful work.

Tip: Stand for something important and encourage others in your workplace to do the same. 

CHALLENGE

For most of us, an essential ingredient of a valued workplace is the opportunity to stretch and exercise our talents. In an emotionally healthy workplace, we are able to gain knowledge and skill that help us to improve and grow. This is an inherently pleasant experience for humans.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of "Flow", tracked individual experience and discovered that more people reported feeling dull and lethargic when they were watching television than when they were fully engaged at work. In challenging and stimulating work environments, people were happier and more energetic.

The desire to grow and improve is one of the most frequently mentioned reasons for a productive employee to pursue a new job. 

Tip: Reward employees willing to attempt to solve problems, even if they make mistakes along the way.

CONTROL

It is very unpleasant and anxiety provoking to experience our lives as being out of our control. In a classic study (dubbed the "Executive Monkey" study) by Robert Yerkes of Yale, he demonstrated that monkeys who were able to control electric shocks (i.e., turn off the shocks via access to a lever) were far less likely to get ulcers than monkeys who received exactly the same number and intensity of shocks who were not in control. The 
ability to have control in our work is critical to well being. Why would anyone commit to a job or accept challenges that resulted in a loss of control?

The problem for many of us is that we attempt to gain control over our lives in very ineffective ways. It is not possible to control every aspect of our environment, but in the emotionally healthy workplace there is opportunity to have control over critical aspects of work.

Tip: Give workers time to plan and organize on the job. 

CARING

Social support is an important aspect of a healthy work environment. In the healthiest of workplaces, people enjoy one another and support each other. The power of the work team, when it is effective, is in drawing on each member's strengths while compensating for each other's weaknesses. This combination creates the conditions for the type of environment that fosters productive and innovative work.

Loyalty and a willingness to sacrifice are based on personal relationships. People are reluctant to pledge allegiance to an abstract principle or a faceless organizational entity. We need personal relationships.

Tip: Get to know employees as whole persons, not only for the roles they assume in the company.