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Podcast Length Icon 40:38 12 Aug 2021

What is a whole person workplace?

The balance between work and private life is a challenge for so many and Dr. Scott Behson is making it his personal mission to help. On this show, we chat with Scott about his new book, The Whole-Person Workplace: Building Better Workplaces through Work-Life, Wellness, and Employee Support. If it's your goal to build a positive, fulfilling, high-performance work culture, then this conversation is for you!

Agnes Uhereczky: You just signed the book deal, in January/February 2020. Let's rewind our conversation there.

Scott Behson: Yes, you are right, this happened somewhere around there. The book that I was proposing was going to be called something family forward workplace, and more narrowly focus on how we support working parents. I have got all this research and practice together. This was when we could let people work from home now and then. It was March, in the United States, when the reality of COVID-19 hit. What that did was, first, it made my prior advice not super timely. Second, when I started my interview, I interviewed about 50 people. They ranged from CEOs and small business owners to Chief Human Resource Officers, to academics. I interviewed businesses as small as 8 people in a grocery store, and then multinational companies. I asked them about what is going on now, and also about their overall approach to employees. The pandemic changed the workplace. A lot of my interviewees realized that the wall of separation that we have constructed between life and work, never really existed like we thought it did and certainly did not then. We were seeing each other's living rooms, and cats walking by, and kids walking by and those were for people who could work from home. Other people had still worked in the workplaces and dealt with this anxiety, and stress and safety issues. So the separation between someone being well and being less stressed, and being able to handle the other things in their lives, was revealed finally very clearly that that is not separate from how someone can perform at work, or how they can bring themselves to the workplace. If you are stressed out about childcare or eldercare, or, you are frustrated in your career development, or you'd rather be able to get some continuing education but you don't have enough time for life, or for your hobbies, or priorities, or volunteering. That weighs on you as a stressor, and you can't bring your whole focus and engagement to work. And, then, you are stressed and juggling as opposed to, and then the people I talk to were saying that they were challenged now. They asked what they can do to help people with the other stressors, responsibilities, priorities, work-life challenges etc. So, maybe we can help take care of those a bit. So, this person would be better. And then if they are better, then well, they are going to show up for us, be grateful, loyal, and you build a workplace culture where people help each other. I am sorry, it is a long answer and I think I probably went into some of the other things you were gonna ask me, but that's kind of why the book expanded its focus from a very narrow thing on working with parents to how do we support everybody because everybody has staff. And, to the degree as an employer you should try, and you can not do everything, and you do not have the resources to do everything, but there should be listening, and there should be an attempt to help employees be okay in the rest of their lives. If we do that we are going to create a great workplace.

Agnes Uhereczky: You mentioned, just before, about managing by output rather than by managing by presence. Why do you think so? Is this still so difficult for managers to articulate what it is they need? I always find that when we interview people in organizations and the employees, something they recurrently say to us is: “my manager does not know how much time this takes, how long this takes to do”. There is still this disconnect of them not being able to say what they need because that is the beginning part of managing by output to articulate, and be able to control.

Scott Behson: Yes, it gets to performance management in a broad sense. I think, what happens to a lot of the managers is they do performance evaluations now and then, and they think that's performance management. So, every six months they have this conversation and feedback and they would think that that is good enough. But that is not performance management. This should be a continuous cycle of conversation and feedback, advice, problem-solving and goal setting for continuous ends. The best managers check in with their people for 10-15 minutes every couple of days and ask if they can be of any help, that creates the opportunity for employees to express their wishes, or provide feedback on workload, workflow, deliverables etc. You'd be surprised how many organisations do not do that. They treat every person on leave as like “Oh my God, what are we going to do?”. I make this point in the book, as I interviewed, there is a very relevant quote from the Head of WorkLife at Microsoft, which suggests that it is time that we stopped treating each one as an emergency we need to work with. We needed to have a process. They built in an amazing process. In the US it is not like much of the rest of the world, we adjust to the private sector for things like parental leave. But they have a very generous policy. They have lots of support around it, they have a whole system where they expect parents to work with their managers, and work for teams, and figure out workflow and other issues and prepare people. For instance, they have a keep and touch strategy, whether they wanna have that while they are at home. They have a re-entry plan, there is a lot of other training, support and other things around their parental leave. Which is how you make parental leave work. And, the thing that is gonna torpedo support for parental leave by non-parents, is if it's honorous for everybody else. If someone goes on parental leave and now you have stopped doing all their work, then that's respecting that second person as a whole person. The thing in which parental leave is special is, you have several months to plan. Thus, we can make it work for everybody. Make it a development opportunity for a junior employee, for an intern, or discuss how work is distributed, build things into a team-based environment. There are different ways to do it. Again, large companies are slack resources and more people can handle this differently than a small company can. There are ways that companies large and small can deal with some of the challenges that employees face in this way.

Agnes Uhereczky: I was very impressed that you included hiring and recruitment in the conversation. Can you elaborate on this?

Scott Behson: It all begins when you first meet a potential employee. First, what is the messaging that you are putting out to the world? What is your employee value proposition? What types of branding are you doing as an employer to signal that these issues are really important to you, and how you are acting on them? That attracts different applicants versus projecting a picture when someone would think “Hey, we work like dogs here and you can make a lot of money” - to which some people may get attracted. But if you are trying to build a whole person workplace, you are probably not trying to do that. And then I talk a little bit more about how we should look at things like growth mindset versus fixed mindset, things like emotional intelligence. Those are personal qualities that are consistent with, if you have a lot of people who have a growth mindset in your organisation, then there is less competition. Because, the fixed mindset means if somebody else is being helped, they win, which means that I am losing, so I am going to be resentful. But, a growth mindset means, “Hey supporting this person is great '' there is no fixed pie here, when it is my turn when I need support I'll get supported. That is something. I also recommend both sides, because I also talk to job seekers a little bit in the last chapter. We should talk about these things. We should ask potential employees: ”Tell me about a time when you stepped up for one of your colleagues who needed help?“ Ask those kinds of behavioural interview questions that get to some of those values. Because cultural fit is incredibly important when you hire. That is the thing, we have known this forever, that culture fit is super important if a whole person workplace is gonna be an integral part of your culture, it should be part of how you recruit and hire. For job seekers, they should be asking, because in the last 10-15 minutes of their interview they are provided with the opportunity to ask questions: ”Okay, during the hype of the pandemic how did you keep people from being burnt out?“ Or, to what extent did you get employee feedback when you were developing your return to the workplace strategy, and how did this play out? Some companies can be eager to answer these questions, others would not be that responsive. So, there is your answer, right, if they cannot articulate it. So, this goes on both ways. Also, onboarding is a real lost opportunity in many cases, that is your first chance to make a good impression in a workplace. And, if you could put some respect and value into the person, not just as a potential employee but as a person, it goes a long way.

And, there is one anecdote, and I am not sure if it is in the book or not. Back when I was in graduate school I was in a softball league, and one of my teammates just got into a new job. She was a college athlete, and then this team was very important to her. And so when she got this job during the initial conversation at the company they learned about this softball team and how important this was for her. So, after every game, there is a fun happy hour when every player goes to a bar to enjoy a well-deserved drink. So, we are all sitting at this table after a game, and when it comes to signing for the bill, the waitress comes over and says, the bill is taken care of. It turned out that the new employer found out where the softball team went after games, they picked up the tap that day, just as recognition of her. This has nothing to do with work. This says that we value you as an asset or an employee. Where the priority outside of work is not even job-related. She was amazed. I lost touch, as it was a long time ago. But I guess that she had a good experience working there and felt appreciated, and in return was more motivated, stayed there longer than she otherwise might. So, that is just the onboarding process. We think about onboarding as like: “Here is the policy manual” or “Do not harass people and here is your desk”, but we can use the onboarding process to learn about people and put respect on other things that are important for them in life.