ARTICLES - CREATING A PSYCHOLOGICALLY HEALTHY CULTURE

Should You Care?

When Suzanne Kobasa and Salvatore Maddi set out to do their research on the qualities of individuals who were emotionally healthy or "hardy" even during times of stress, they theorized that the qualities of commitment, challenge, and controlwould be the critical features.  Indeed, they did observe those qualities and examined them in detail.  To their surprise, a fourth quality consistently emerged: Caring.

In the interviews they conducted with their original group of executives, they did not plan for nor did they systematically examine the dimension of caring.  Its importance is even more striking because these emotionally healthy executives spontaneously and consistently named it as a quality that was essential in the day-to-day work life.  Other executives, who were far more susceptible to the stresses of the job and more likely to get sick, were much less likely to discuss the importance of caring in their work day.
Kobasa and Maddi note the dimension of caring as they report the results of their study, but they discussed it very little since it was not an expected result.

This seems to be the fate of caring in the workplace.  It does not easily fit with our beliefs about business. 
We use metaphors drawn from the military about "doing battle."  We apply (in a mistakenly simplistic way) Darwinian theory of "survival of the fittest," and imagine that weakness invites elimination in the ecosystem of competition.  We are uncomfortable with the thought that caring belongs in the workplace.  We are even more uncomfortable with the idea that it could be a key to being more successful and more profitable.

I confess that I have the same reluctance.  I worry that this newsletter will brand me as "soft."  Certainly I do not really understand the marketplace if I insist that concern or even love is important for business success.  As I write I am aware of any number of examples of companies that got ahead by tactics (another military metaphor) that were brutal and unfeeling.  I have had managers who did not care about me but only about the bottom line of the organization.  I have seen them be promoted for their actions and become richer in the process.

Here is the question. 
Could those companies and those managers be even more successful if they added this dimension of caring to their business?
I believe that the answer is yes.  When the Gallup organization reported on the results of in-depth interviews of 2,500 companies and 105,000 employees in the book, First Break All the Rules, they found that a positive response to twelve questions were highly correlated with higher productivity, profit, retention, and customer satisfaction.  The manager was the key - not pay, benefits, perks, or a charismatic leader at the top of the company.  It is the experience of the relationship between people who work face to face that has the most influence on success.

This is the conclusion of the Gallup research and it is also my personal experience.  I have left organizations in which I was personally very successful because of the way I was treated by the manager.  I have made efforts to add to the value of organizations, beyond what would result in my personal gain, when I love and respect those with whom I am working.  I have seen others willing to do the same.

What the organizations and managers who are focused only on success do not realize is that they undermine their potential for success even while they extract a small measure of immediate benefit by being demanding without awareness of the needs of those around them. 

Most business executives understand that it is necessary to invest financial resources to create the conditions for future financial growth.  Money is spent acquiring state of the art equipment, conducting advertising campaigns, and contributing to associations or groups that can influence the larger issues affecting the business climate.  Committing resources in this way is wise.  The benefits will materialize in the future.

It often seems harder to understand that investing in the emotional health of the organization, by really caring about employees and customers is also wise.  A company or a manager that carefully invests in emotional resources will see that investment pay off in slower but more consistent growth.  It takes time to build trust, especially in a world where words and actions do not always match.  But the results of this action will be tangible.

Businesses, large and small, will benefit by having a workforce that is more committed to working cooperatively toward organizational goals.  There will be a willingness to respond to the changes in the marketplace with more flexibility.  Knowledge, the true currency of the 21st century, will be shared easily in a caring environment.  These benefits accrue in addition to lowered absenteeism, higher productivity levels, retention of talented employees, and long term loyalty to the company. These benefits translate into a higher financial return.

Business is not a machine (another metaphor that blinds us to aspects of work world realities).  As long as human beings are a part of an organization, relationships between people will matter.  It is in the relationships that we build that real opportunity exists