Most of us are familiar with the differing priorities among departments in an office and how that can impact the inner workings of a company. While management may be more focused on developing practices that increase productivity and profit, human resources is typically focused on employee well-being. In the hit TV sitcom The Office, Michael and Toby’s tumultuous relationship demonstrates this dichotomy - it’s one we have seen time and again. It isn’t without reason that this parody exists; oftentimes, new managerial practices can have trade-offs that are detrimental to certain aspects of employee well-being, whether it be psychological, physical, or social well-being. Rather than argue one set of priorities is more important than another, it’s more important to recognize that happiness, health, and human relationships are related, and their optimization leads to better overall outcomes for company success.
Overwhelmingly, recent research points to the positive impact of improving employee well-being for both health and long-term company sustainability. In one study published in the Academy of Management, researchers point out how an emphasis on improved well-being can lessen stress, which in turn has positive effects on physical health such as lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. There is even evidence that says this lowered stress can decrease the presence of immunological diseases as well as decrease the number of emergency room visits per employee. For a management team that is looking to optimize productivity and profit, it is certainly worth considering the amount of time employees lose to illness. The less time spent going to doctors' appointments and dealing with symptoms like fatigue and pain, the more time an employee can spend doing quality work - and enjoy doing it at the same time!
In addition to physical health, the study found a link between psychological well-being, or mental health, and an office focus on employee happiness. When organizations fail to provide an environment where employees can be happy, it’s not just job satisfaction that suffers, it’s performance and retention as well. Though it’s difficult to know what actually happens behind closed doors, articles like those in The Atlantic and the NY Times cite Amazon as the “offender du jour” with example after example of an environment so stressful, with benchmarks set so high, that the company is becoming veritably synonymous in the press with emotional misery and consequently, turnover. The organization’s devotion to speed and efficiency at the expense of emotional support and well-being is actually celebrated within its ranks. This situation is not confined to the warehouse environment we are told but pervasive throughout the organization. No one can argue that Amazon has been the powerhouse of the last 5 to 7 years, but the cracks are starting to show and it will be interesting to see how long it will last when 97% of millennials are reported to read Glass Door before even considering interviewing with a company.
In contrast, the Harvard Business Review reports that organizations like Zappos and DropBox, known for their focus on employee happiness and well-being, see fewer mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety among its workforce. As discussed in our last blog post on the three essential components for employee happiness, there are several things an organization can do in order to provide a positive environment conducive to happiness, arguably the most important of which is an emphasis on building strong, resonant relationships/friendships at work. Zappos and DropBox’s creative, positive, and fun workplace environments are attracting the best and the brightest from around the country as we usher in the next generation of workers who are no longer slaves to material achievement but very consciously will forgo financial profit for emotional stability. From quarterly activities like bowling and hiking to public employee recognition and encouragement systems, these companies are benefiting greatly from the increased job satisfaction and employee engagement this Gallup study documented close work friendships generate.
The difference between Zappos and Drop Box’s approaches is that they spend money, time and effort on managerial practices that intentionally foster positive interactions between coworkers which in turn leads to social well-being and both psychological and physical health. Mark Heid, in his recent Time Magazine article, asserts that close friends are as, if not more important for our health than choosing to exercise daily or even refrain from tobacco. Those with strong social circles tend to be much healthier than those who are socially isolated, which again supports why work practices that encourage strong friendships lead to healthier employees. We are not asserting that company success and sustainability are the most important things in this life, but even if they were, the interesting thing is the path to achieve them, are stronger, deeper relationships - which are the most important things in life.