(Contributing Author, David Hall, is a member of the RemotelyMe Team serving as Chief Technical Officer)
Question: Does high engagement of colleagues come from making the right hire, having the right culture, or both?
In Paul Zak’s book, “Trust Factor,” Zak asserts, "Joy is the multiplicative product of Trust and transcendent Purpose. It is not the mere summation of the two. A positive work culture becomes palpable when colleagues regularly experience Joy."
By design, I capitalize each of those words in places in this article, intending to highlight them as mathematical terms in the equation above.
This is a bold and succinct declaration on establishing a high engagement culture. Many organizations take a superficial approach by offering various “employee engagement” programs. This is often a short-sighted mistake. Instead of developing a foundation of Trust, these organizations strive to bring happiness to the workplace, by creating “employee enrichment councils,” hiring consultants to sell them on programs, or waste money on other corporate labeled tchotchkes as a token award for doing one’s job. These flavor-of-the-month programs eventually lose steam, and management loses credibility. The leadership, while well-intended, does not recognize the essential truth that finding Joy in work comes from collaborating with Trusted colleagues and having a higher Purpose, and consistently communicating the organization’s Purpose. Trust influences Joy through the release of oxytocin and dopamine brain chemicals, resulting in a positive psychological or emotional state with trusted colleagues. When others Trust you, it decreases chronic stress and increases Joy.
Understanding the value an organization creates for society, its Purpose, provides a second oxytocin stimulus. There are always unpleasant things to do at work. However, most people are motivated to do these undesirable tasks when they understand it serves the needs of others. Now hold that thought while you read on. The most effective Purpose narratives use stories on a human scale that follow the Hero’s Journey framework. These stories, filled with tension and emotion, highlight ordinary people accomplishing extraordinary tasks. Purpose is essential to an individual’s psychological well-being. Colleagues experience increased focus, progress, and resilience when their activities are infused with Purpose, both at work and in their personal lives.
Research suggests that people in high Trust organizations display more energy, are more engaged, more productive, and find more Joy at work. Trust improves colleagues’ sense of accomplishment. A High Trust culture increases closeness between colleagues, and when they are closer to each other, they work together more effectively. Work-related chronic stress has a high impact on health and well-being of individuals. The most important work-related influence on mortality risk is ‘low job control’—in other words, low trust. Decreased physical and psychological well-being also results in reduced productivity and may serve as motivation for colleagues to seek alternative employment. In high Trust organizations, people are more empathetic, enabling them to create stronger emotional ties with others.
Let me share a powerful example using U.S. Pain Foundation, led by CEO Nicole Hemmenway. The USPF serves the chronic pain community, which accounts for about 22 percent of the world’s population. Chronic pain differs from acute pain because it is a complex bio-psychosocial disease condition, where the brain and spinal cord don’t recover from acute pain as expected. Instead, the brain’s pain alarm system becomes permanently overactive and creates pain sensations that don’t end. This causes a cacophony of physical, psychological, and social struggles for the individual stricken with chronic pain. These can include depression, anxiety, grief, anger, isolation, stigma, discrimination, medical gaslighting, to name a few. One program USPF provides is online, free peer support groups. USPF hosts three types of peer support groups for the chronic pain community. These include state-based groups, national groups, and special interest groups.
This year, Ms. Hemmenway implemented hosting weekly Friday meeting with the volunteer Chronic Pain Support Group Leaders. The leaders all suffer from one or more chronic pain conditions themselves. They are uncompensated volunteers. Each leader made a personal investment of time and energy (in some cases, money) to become a USPF Certified Support Group Leader. Group leaders devote heart, mind, and time to offer hope, encouragement, and strategies for living with and overcoming chronic pain using Zoom meetings. The USPF set the allocated time for support sessions at 90 minutes. Now, remember the previous statement, “most people are motivated to do these undesirable tasks when they understand it serves the needs of others?” Listening to others talk about their pain, day after day, month after month, is a hard and trying thing to do. Yet, these support group leaders show an unwavering commitment to their Purpose. One thing surprising about Ms. Hemmenway’s weekly meetings is that they are completely voluntary, yet so heavily and consistently attended.
The “why” behind this CEO’s success and devoted staff would become clear if you were allowed to observe these sessions. Although the term “servant-leader” has become trendy in recent years, Ms. Hemmenway’s actions and behavior truly reflect it. She Trusts her people, and they Trust her. It is not only clear that she effectively disseminates the USPF mission, but every staff member/volunteer peer leader shares their actions to support that mission. While there is structure to Friday’s meeting, Ms. Hemmenway creates a relaxed, open, inviting environment where everyone is free to share their “highs” and are encouraged to share their “lows” as well (both professional and personal). The courage and vulnerability (the opposite sides of the same coin) on display within this group would not be possible without Trust. Leaders deal with serious issues, such as suicide ideation, loss of function, stigma by medical practitioners (and society), patient advocacy, and more. These complex subjects underlie their Purpose. Ms. Hemmenway is quick to emphasize, “While forming trust may initially begin with who is at the helm, it cannot succeed without everyone believing in the same cause, coming together with that common shared purpose and passion that leads to a successful end goal.”
Although the underlying subject, chronic pain, is typically quite heavy, Ms. Hemmenway’s Friday staff meetings are often and ironically dotted with laughter, and yes, even Joy. She ends the meeting by asking an off-beat question for everyone to answer. It gives everyone a chance to laugh at themselves and with each other, and it adds a spark of Joy to everyone’s day.
The benefits of fostering a high Trust culture include increased productivity, decreased turnover, and reduced chronic stress, ultimately resulting in fewer occurrences of sick leave. The creation of a culture that fosters Trust and Purpose aligns with humans’ internal inclination for social connections, resulting in increased engagement, Joy, and financial benefits. The influence of culture is significant and affects the bottom line: it benefits colleagues, benefits the organization, and benefits all of society. The greatest benefit may be the staunch loyalty, respect, and of course, Trust, garnered by all parties involved. Who knows?
Maybe your staff and employees might experience pleasure in their work and working for you. Leaders and managers, do the math! Trust x Purpose = Joy in working for you.
David Hall is the author of “Striving to Thriving-A practical resource for reclaiming your life from chronic pain,” a Certified Health and Wellness Coach specializing in chronic pain management, advocate who testified before members of Congress, support group leader for the U.S. Pain Foundation, and chronic pain survivor. David serves as Chief Technical Officer for RemotelyMe.