Imagine setting off with a group of strangers for a yearlong journey into the wilderness. You must all work together to overcome the dangers you’ll face along the way. Now imagine that the group’s leaders seem much more concerned with their own personal security and success than yours. This is a pretty stressful situation, right?
Unfortunately, that type of stress is what many folks feel at work, and it’s terrible for their happiness, engagement, and health.
It’s common for organizations to demonstrate that business results come first and employee well-being comes a distant second. It’s not an overtly antagonistic relationship, but it’s implicit that the relationship between the company and the employee is transactional.
Employees working in these cultures can’t trust the organization to look out for their long-term interests. They’re on their own to ensure their job security, safeguard their health, make time for their families, and keep their careers moving forward.
Where there should be a bond of trust between leaders and employees, instead, there’s a vacuum. This approach can grant short-term wins, but it damages company culture and is terrible for long-term organizational success.
Make Employee Well-Being a First-Class Consideration
In Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t, Simon Sinek writes that leaders must feel a responsibility to their employees and prioritize their well-being in order to build strong organizations. People want to feel secure in a group and confident that they’re valued by the group. They want to know that their leaders think of their long-term interests as a first-class consideration when decisions are made.
If leaders develop such a culture of trust and empathy, employees will treat each other better, take more pride in their work, share ideas, and rally each other in hard times. They’ll be healthier. They’ll invest in each other’s futures, and make sure that their colleagues are learning and growing, ready to take on new responsibilities.
We’re fortunate at Atomic that our leadership team built the company culture with these views. This shows throughout our policies and business practices, but I’d like to highlight a few key manifestations of this thinking, along with some of the outcomes we see as a result.
In order to create safety in an organization, you need to have trust. And in order to create trust, you need to extend it. Atomic’s done a great job of this. There’s a strong expectation that folks here are smart, competent people and should be trusted to make decisions for themselves.
Teams have access to resources and support from the entire company, but it’s a “pull” model—you ask for help when you want it, rather than having someone directing your decisions and monitoring your work. It’s a strong statement of respect for individuals and their ability. It matters a lot. (We’ve also built a culture where it’s okay to not know things, and it’s okay to ask for help.)
It’s clear from our benefits plan that Atomic cares about long-term outcomes for employees. Atomic pays the full health care cost for every employee and funds HSA accounts for each of us. We have very generous 401K contributions, both for folks who contribute to the plan and those who don’t. Atomic also provides short- and long-term disability plans, and we have a membership with the Employee Assistance Center, which provides counseling and other services for employees.
The common thread here is that the company demonstrates in meaningful ways that our long-term health and well-being are top priorities for the company.
One last thing I want to highlight is Atomic’s strong commitment to individual career development. The company dedicates significant resources to create growth and learning opportunities.
- We send folks to conferences of their choosing every year.
- We hold an intra-company conference for all Atoms every 18 months.
- We have Career Development Managers who work with Atoms to think about the road ahead, identify where they really want to focus their energy, and help them achieve goals by providing resources and accountability.
- We have an Accelerator program for folks beginning their careers, a Leadership Foundations course for folks who are further along, and targeted training programs for folks taking on specialized roles.
So what does Atomic get for all of this? Well, we get happy folks who are excited to come to work every day. We get highly collaborative, effective teams. We have really high employee retention rates. Atoms even spend a lot of their personal time together outside of work, organizing events for the office without any support from the company.
If you prefer a quantitive measure, we have a level of employee engagement that ranks in the top 2% worldwide according to Gallup’s Q12 Engagement Survey.
Does your leadership team focus on creating safety and demonstrating care for the individuals in your organization? On making it very clear that the quality of their lives is important, and that the company is committed to their long-term success? If not, can you make that a focus?
I’m fortunate to have joined an organization where this was already a demonstrated priority. Since then, I’ve been working to make that a bigger part of my thinking and to encourage others who are taking on leadership positions to do the same.