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Four Methods for Creating Thriving Employees

“If you give your employees the chance to learn and grow, they’ll thrive – and so will your organization,” says Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath in an article they wrote in the January-February 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review.

Their article doesn’t focus on creating happy employees but rather “thriving” employees. They say the focus should not be on creating contentment but engagement. After all, “contentment” connotes a degree of complacency, note the authors of the article.

They say “We think of a thriving workforce as one in which employees are not just satisfied and productive but also engaged in creating the future – the company’s and their own. Thriving employees have a bit of an edge – they are highly energized – but they know how to avoid burnout.”

What constitutes “thriving” in an organization? Spreitzer and Porath say their research shows two components of thriving for employees in an organization:

  • Vitality – the sense of being alive, passionate, and excited about your work. “Employees who experience vitality spark energy in themselves and others,” say the authors. (I’ve found that many in the public sector often bring this passion to their careers).
  • Learning – the growth that comes from gaining new knowledge and skills.

What can organizations do to help employees thrive? The authors offer four methods that create the conditions for thriving employees:

Method 1: Providing decision-making discretion. “Employees at every level are energized by the ability to make decisions that affect their work,” note the authors. They point to companies like Southwest Airlines and Facebook as places that have make this fundamental to their organizational culture.

Method 2: Sharing information. “People can contribute more effectively when they understand how their work fits with the organization’s mission and strategy.” So, sharing not just plans but progress, especially at a granular level, allows empowered employees to act locally on the organization’s broader strategy. The authors point to Alaska Airlines and Whole Foods as two companies with an “open book” policy. As government agencies expand their Open Government initiatives, starting internally is often the best strategy.

Method 3: Minimizing incivility. The authors found “half of employees who had experienced uncivil behavior at work intentionally decreased their efforts. More than a third deliberately decreased their quality of their work.” Companies that establish a tone of civility as part of their corporate culture start by focusing on candidates in their hiring process.

Method 4: Offering performance feedback. “Feedback creates opportunities for learning and the energy so critical for a culture of thriving,” note Sprietzer and Porath. “. . . feedback keeps people’s work-related activities focused on personal and organizational goals. The quicker and more direct the feedback, the more useful it is.” Some companies, such as Quicken Loans, use a ticker with panels showing organizational and personal metrics comparing progress against daily goals, and coaching is used to provide assistance. The metrics are treated almost like a video game’s ranking of high scorers. (This might work in the private sector, but I’d hate to see this in patent exams, air traffic control, or heart surgery at a VA hospital!).

The authors says that leaders can not choose among these mechanisms, but rather that all four are mutually reinforcing. It might be interesting to see how they can be adapted to the wide range of work across government.

Graphic Credit: OPM

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