Work is a key life sphere and, for most, it is a fundamental organizing element in their lives. Work serves several essential purposes for people. Most often we think of work as only fulfilling our extrinsic needs (money and benefits) or our intrinsic needs (the search for meaning, purpose). But a third and equally important aspect of work is its social dimension. I have long argued that, at the end of the day, the workplace is a social context and that the best work gets done with and through other people. Research and experience suggest that the most productive and satisfied work groups are characterized by positive, respectful, and collaborative relationships, and where positive social processes and emotionally safe climates foster creativity, innovation, and service excellence.
To date, most workplace health promotion and wellness programs have focused their attention largely on physical health and fitness. While these are critical to overall health, organizations have struggled to influence people’s behavior when it comes to their physical health choices and patterns. In the social realm, traditional management practices and administrative policies are typically weighted towards the limitation of, or response to what we might refer to as anti-social behavioral states. Little conscious or systematic attention is paid to describing, cultivating, incentivizing, and sustaining pro-social environments and associated conduct in the workplace. Not surprisingly, pro-social elements are not likely to be linked to the development and accomplishment of strategic business goals.
What characterizes socially healthy workplace environments?
It is well recognized that certain social factors impact the health of individuals and organizations. Some of these factors include consistent and respectful communication, positive regard between supervisor and co-workers, social support networks, low to moderate stress, social inclusion within and across classes, job flexibility, clarity of expectations, acknowledgement and appreciation, and experienced compassion.
Soft Skills are Now Hard Science
Modern neuroscience is significantly ahead of current management practice in relation to its understanding of what motivates people to deliver their best, as well as how pro-social environments deliver protective health benefits, which can mitigate the development or severity of genetically derived health conditions. At a recent conference, I heard an expert on threat assessment say, “We now have space-aged tools but still have stone-aged minds” to describe the divide between advances in neuroscience and modern management approaches.
We know that work groups whose employees experience policies and practices as being fair, civil, consistent, and humane have fewer absences and stress disability claims, lower turnover, and fewer instances of aggressive or disruptive behavior. From my perspective, we’re leaving money on the table when it comes to not only improving the social well-being of our employees and work groups, but in actually accomplishing our business goals and, perhaps most importantly, in differentiating ourselves from our competitors.