For decades, corporate America has dissociated personal and professional lives. Mental energy has been treated as a zero sum game—if you’re spending time and energy thinking about or prioritizing your personal life, you must be slacking off on professional deliverables.
However, this attitude is increasingly anachronistic as companies see the bottom-line value of employees bringing their whole selves to work. Often, the roadblocks stopping employees from doing their best work aren’t within the walls of the office.
But knowing the potential value of this culture and actually executing it are two very different things—valuing 100% of an employee isn’t easy. Knowing this, we set out a decade ago to find a way we could make it work, to make an intentional, replicable approach to employee fulfillment and measure its success against our bottom line.
In doing so, we’ve found a few tactics that we’ve been able to successfully roll out in our firm and our portfolio, which spans industries and company size. We think these can change corporate culture as we know it.
The key to this model is developing a strong relationship with colleagues so you’re better able to motivate them. Things like personal development, family and friends, and hobbies play an equal role in how people feel when they come into the office each day, which means those things impact your bottom line.
Here are three tactics we’ve seen enhance our business output:
Set Early Expectations and Structure
Valuing a whole person starts in the recruitment process. We go beyond case studies and EBITDA multiples to ask a candidate about their personal fulfillment and what motivates them, starting with the first interview. We continue to focus on their drive and potential impact instead of just the hard skills that traditionally take precedence in business interviews.
Once they join the company, they go through a Passion and Purpose workshop, which is often cited as the single best perk of working for our company. Not only do employees learn about themselves, but as a team we learn about each other as individuals and what makes us tick, leading to strong, more cohesive business efforts. We use quarterly retreats to ensure that we’re living up to our promise of ongoing support and home in on how sentiment may have changed since the last check-in.
The structure iterates from there. We have dedicated time each week for managers to speak to employees not about their performance, but about how they are doing. This isn’t rocket science, it’s literally asking “how are you doing?” and having an honest conversation beyond the usual auto response of “fine.” Our managers have found that the best way to connect with employees is to walk the walk and show vulnerability themselves—to share what they may be struggling with outside of work and creating an environment where it’s okay to let people know how they are really doing.
This doesn’t mean that you have to force your employees to share every aspect of their lives. There is a line between personal and professional relationships, but, at least in our company, it’s more fluid. The key to defining the boundary rests in the employee. Our tactics allow employees to open up in a meaningful way. Management and existing colleagues lead by example, but certainly there are some people who choose to address the career portions of their life more than the personal elements. That still works within this model, as long as that person feels supported, fulfilled, and balanced.
Want to know if you’ve achieved the right level? Ask yourself if you can name three of the most important people in that person’s life—a significant other, a family member, or a friend. If you struggle, you probably haven’t really connected to their life.
Tailor Your Workplace
We let these conversations guide the types of benefits we provide. For instance, one employee ranked the finances portion of her life as a stressor. Rather than skim over it, we recognized that many of our young employees were struggling with student debt, and ultimately partnered with banks to offer a student loan refinancing program.
We’ve done similar initiatives to address our employees’ satisfaction in health, environment, and personal development. We believe that this method of creating personalized benefits—rather than simply creating trendy yoga rooms or doing a one-off team building cooking class—builds a productive and engaged team.
But a “good fit” isn’t just about benefits, it’s about the day-to-day work, which sometimes isn’t engaging an otherwise good employee. In these situations, we think more companies should embrace moving people into new positions that excite them. While some companies are hesitant to take someone out of a role in which they have experience and put them into something where they’re a novice, we find it essential. There is a slowdown in productivity during ramp-up in a new role, but we find the lasting impact of a motivated, valued employee—and the time saved by retaining top talent—far exceeds the short-term sacrifice.
Once in the right role, lower level employees can be given greater autonomy and ownership. Two key predictors of employee happiness are the amount of control they have in their job and the amount of opportunity for learning and growth. With this in mind, provide opportunities for learning—including through failure—and you’ll see your employees step up with unparalleled ambition and creativity.
Even though sentiment is emotional, it can and should be routinely measured. One way of marking progress in employee fulfillment is Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS), which uses employee input to create a single number on a scale of -100 to +100. The assessment takes just a few minutes to complete and, if distributed regularly, allows employee sentiment to be measured and treated as a core KPI. You can also track employee retention over time. According to a 2018 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, millennials switch jobs every 2.8 years. As a team, you may be able to beat that statistic by creating a workplace where individuals are viewed and valued holistically.
So why aren’t more companies doing this? Because the existing model that ignores employee fulfillment remains profitable. However, in a world that increasingly values human capital over simple operational efficiencies, this model will only become more fruitful. And while not every employee wants to have a fiercely life-fulfilling career, we’d also say that those people are not the type of needle-moving employees that the most ambitious companies need to attract.
For those who aim to be truly accomplished business leaders, look first to how you can tap employee fulfillment.