Sustainable Workplaces - The Role & Soul of Work
Sustainability is a mindset. A mindset includes not only a way of thinking, but an attitude with associated feelings that support a way of thinking. While many Sustainable Industries readers may argue the necessity of sustainability as a fact, I have met business leaders who think sustainability is idealistic or impractical, and even snicker at the idea of a company being, for example, "green." (“It’s more expensive…duh!”)
For businesses with a sustainability mindset--that place high intellectual and emotional value on the ideas of caring about both the organizational means (broad stakeholder interests) and ends (profit) of economic activity--Psychological Sustainability may be at the core of the sustainability agenda. In other words, psychological sustainability may be a leverage point for more effectively achieving social, economic and environmental sustainability initiatives.
At shiftalliance we focus on psychological sustainability for numerous stakeholders including customers, employees, partners and investors. However here we’re exploring psychological sustainability in the workplace and addressing the employee specifically.
Work in context
People have full lives. Work, family, health, community involvement, spiritual/philosophical pursuits, hobbies, and hopefully free time are common elements in an adult’s life. Accepting that work fits into a more broadly conceived meaningful life may be a first step for some organizational leaders. Burnout is rampant and doesn’t support the organization’s bottom line if you consider the cost of turnover.
However, work can take on different roles for different people. CEO and Author Chip Conley identifies three potential roles of work in a person’s life:
- work as job (focus on survival: money, benefits and pay)
- work as career (focus on success: esteem, recognition and power)
- work as calling (focus on meaning, purpose and calling)
No matter what the role of work for the employee, the function of a workplace is execution of a larger organizational objective and strategy. Since most companies may have a workforce that falls into all three categories, it is especially important to identify the psychological sustainability factors that everyone can agree on: mental, emotional and behavioral qualities that increase intelligence (including emotional and social intelligence) and energy.
To help with this task, Kim Cameron, of the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) reviews four ways that work can be experienced as meaningful, regardless of the role it plays in one’s life.
- The work is deeply connected to one’s personal values.
- The work concerns the well-being of human beings.
- The work is associated with community and fulfilling social relationships.
- The work has a long-term positive residual effect, creating a better future.
Cameron and Conley are both addressing the role and meaning of work in our lives, an important pursuit since the workplace is where the average person will spend most of his or her waking hours. When our workplace is meaningful it has an important function in our lives and reflects our deeper values and aspirations.
Thomas Moore writes about care of the soul at work, soul being that aspect of ourselves that links our physical and earthly existence to the eternal. Soul is mysterious and “not meant to be understood. … Let us imagine care of the soul, then, as an application of poetics to everyday life.” Moore emphasizes the need for soul and meaning in the workplace as necessary for a fulfilled (psychologically sustainable) life, and observes that often, “We only consider function, and so the soul elements are left to chance. … Where there is no artfulness about life, there is a weakening of soul.” When there is a weakening of soul, depression, emptiness and even physical illness can result.
When companies do not understand soul, Moore believes they are:
ignoring the deeper evaluation of feeling and sensibility that gives work grounding in the human heart and not just in the brain. … Often work spaces are devoid of imagination, so that the workers are left with a purely secularized feeling that doesn’t feed their souls. … It seems to me that the problem with modern manufacturing is not a lack of efficiency, it is a loss of soul.
When work is an extension of ourselves and grounded in the human heart as Moore would say, we feel more engaged and energized. This deeper engagement supports Flow and peak performance states where head, heart, and actions are all working together in concert. Flow states contribute to human thriving and move us toward our individual and collective potential, something of interest to those continually measuring performance and productivity.
Image: A broader view of sustainability: An illustration of the four facets of sustainability arranged in concentric circles radiating out from the center/soul. © 2010 shiftalliance
A workplace infused with meaning contributes greatly to psychological sustainability and ultimately the larger sustainability agenda. While it’s not the entire story it contributes to the energy people bring to their jobs, one of the goals of moving toward psychological sustainability and thriving in the workplace. As we will soon see, individuals with higher levels of well-being and happiness tend to go above and beyond the call of duty more often. When our own needs are met we tend to look beyond ourselves and inquire about the needs of others, i.e. a broader range of stakeholders.
We will continue to explore the role of work in our lives and share what positive psychology has to say about the mental, emotional, and behavioral qualities that contribute to workplace thriving.
This is the second in a series about workplace sustainability. The series began with an introduction to Workplace Sustainability and its role in the larger sustainability paradigm, and introduced the concept of Psychological Sustainability as a key element of Sustainable Workplaces. As we continue along the path of architecting Sustainable (and meaningful) Workplaces, this blog addresses the various roles or functions that work may serve in the employee's life. It also incites our imagination as we touch upon the transpersonal domain and consider work in relationship to soulfulness: is there value in allowing for the emergence of poetics in the workplace? Throughout this series we will continue to share how meaningful value can be created within the workplace to increase the energy, intelligence and alignment of the organization’s workforce. Subsequent posts will continue to explore several other facets of Workplace Sustainability – what they look like and how each contributes to an organization’s overall sustainability goals.
This topic is also an area which has implications in IO psychology.