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Feb 24, 2017

I don’t know much about the massage industry, but it occurs to me it must be riding high these days. Everywhere I look, companies are providing employees with on-site massages, or covering massage therapy in their insurance, or both. Those goofy-looking massage chairs lurk in the corners of nearly every conference I attend.

Yoga sessions are big, too, and makers of fitness trackers must be chortling all the way to the bank. Whenever my sister-in-law comes to visit, she dashes out for walks to ensure she reaches her daily step-limit so she can win a prize from her employer. Last year, all that determined walking earned her an iPad. Not too shabby.

Wellness, including these and other types of stress-reduction, has been a trend in corporate America for some time now. Some of it is about healthcare cost reduction and some is about reducing burnout. How well these programs actually work is subject to debate. But I do sometimes wonder why employers seem to focus so much on the symptoms (stress and burnout) and so little on the “disease.”

Employee burnout and retention

According to a recent survey of HR leaders, 95% of participants say employee burnout is “sabotaging workforce retention.” The roots of this scourge, the researchers say, can be found in some all-too-familiar workplace issues. Top of the list, with 41% of HR leaders naming it as the biggest cause of employee burnout, is unfair compensation. Next come an unreasonable workload and too much overtime/after-hours work, tied at 32%.

Overwork and a lack of pay equity are familiar demons, haunting the corporate world for decades. They ought to be relatively easy to address — well, at least pay equity ought to — but somehow they rarely are. Another factor, poor management, is next on the list, at 30%. A bit tougher to address, yes, but that’s not what caught my attention in this survey.

What did is what followed: Two concerns that seem so very obvious, and yet are so rarely addressed head-on. 29% of HR leaders said a key factor in burnout is employees seeing no clear connection between their role and the corporate strategy, and 26% cited “a negative workplace culture.”

Or, to put it bluntly, “It’s the culture, stupid!”

Engaged workers: Happier, dedicated

It doesn’t take rocket science (or management consulting) to appreciate that an employee who understands the role his or her work plays in the success of the business, or the fulfillment of the organization’s mission, is going to be a happier, more dedicated employee. And make no mistake, every employee does have an important role to play — otherwise, why would their position exist?

And although “negative culture” can mean a lot of different things, including such culture-killers as bigotry or harassment, it seems to me an organization in which everyone understands the overall mission and strategy, as well as the role they play in these, is much more likely to have a positive culture.

Involve workers in company vision

Keeping the big picture front and center is not always easy. Nor is connecting it with employees’ specific jobs. Managers have a key role to play, as does a culture of ongoing, organization-wide, open communication.

Open communication means that as much as possible, employees are kept in the loop about organizational strategy and plans. Every new rule, every change in policy or direction, every expansion or belt-tightening measure, is explained in terms of its connection to the big picture. Employees have the opportunity to interact with leaders, ideally in informal settings, but minimally by means of open question periods during meetings. Their thoughts and ideas are be welcomed, encouraged, and responded to.

Maybe you are lucky enough to work for such an organization. Many are not. As an HR leader, you know the value of a positive culture. How employees recognize the connection between the work they do each day and the direction the organization is heading. And how invested they are in their work. A positive culture encourages engagement, which, in turn improves retention and productivity, as workers put their all into their work.

Can you, in short, imagine how such an organization might put a few massage therapists out of work? I certainly can.

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