From “Dying for a Paycheck” to Building Thriving, Humanistic Workplaces: A Call for Courageous Leaders

Every time you turn around these days there is bleak news – about the state of our political system, healthcare, violence and increasingly dehumanized workplaces. At the same time, there is hope and a revolution in the business world that is gaining increasing momentum to restore sanity, wellbeing and honor humanity. And if we want to join the hopeful, humanistic revolution, we need more courageous leaders; I hope you’ll be one of them!

The Dark Side (aka The Bad News)

As the saying goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn. Well, if the current data about the workplaces is any indication, we’ve hopefully hit the darkest. We have a humanity crisis on our hands.

  • The American Institute of Stress reports that work is a major source of stress for working adults; in fact, 80% of people report feeling stress on the job, and job stress has increased significantly over the past few years.
  • A 2014 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that approximately 30% of U.S. employees are working on weekends with approximately 25% working at night – which is a significantly higher proportion than any other countries included in the study.
  • We are painfully connected. A TechTalk survey reported that 81% of people check emails on weekends; 55% login to work after 11 p.m. and 59% check email while on vacation

Stanford Graduate School of Business professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer, argues in his new book, Dying for a Paycheck, that our “business as usual” way of operating in organizations is literally killing people:

  • The Japanese even have a word for death from overwork – Karoshi. In fact, the Workers Compensation Bureau in the Ministry of Labor compensated 812 families in 2012 who were able to show a link between overwork, illness and death – including 93 suicides; by 2015 the claims rose to 2,310.
  • China also has a word for death from overwork – Guolaosi. According to the China Youth Daily, about 600,000 people a year die from working too hard.
  • It’s gotten so bad that, in 2016, France recognized that work intrudes on non-work time and passed a law that embodies a “right to disconnect.”

Pfeffer provides compelling data to show that negative job conditions (including those described here) affect individual’s wellbeing – in particular, behaviors related to drinking, smoking, drug abuse and overeating. Toxic workplaces result in 120,000 excess deaths per year – making workplaces the 5th leading cause of death. And they account for approximately $180 billion in excess healthcare costs – accounting for approximately 8 percent of the total healthcare spend.

The answer is NOT to put in more wellness programs trying to promote healthy lifestyle behaviors. As Pfeffer says, what we need to do is

“First, Do No Harm…Stop doing the things that create toxic work environments.”

But easier said than done, right?

The Light Side (aka the Good News)

The good news is that there are an increasing number of organizations who are going against the grain; they are putting people first, making a positive social contribution AND finding great success. But it takes great courage – embracing adaptive change and shifting our mindset and paradigms. In fact, according to the 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends report,

“Business and HR leaders can no longer continue to operate according to old paradigms. They must now embrace new ways of thinking about their companies, their talent and their role in global social issues ”

In 2018 that has expanded further with Deloitte reporting:

“Organizations today are judged for more than their success as a business. They’re now being held responsible for their impact on society at large.”

We now have so many great examples of companies embracing the Conscious Capitalism principles of business to elevate humanity:

  • Gravity Payments recently announced that they’ve reached a milestone where the average pay is $100,00 per year; their CEO Dan Price made a bold move to drastically cut his pay to raise the minimum salary of anyone in his company to $70,000.
  • Patagonia centers everything they do around being environmentally conscious – and also supports and encourages their people to arrange their work days so they have time to surf, ski and enjoy their lives.
  • Everlane practices complete transparency on their clothing labels so you know exactly what the costs are that go into the garment; and they only use ethical factories.
  • The 28 Firms of Endearment are companies ranging in size and industry who embrace the total stakeholder approach to business – not sacrificing any one of their stakeholders (employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, and community/environment) for another.

The even better news is that I could go on for several more pages with more company examples – each one finding great financial success yet operating completely counter to the numbers-focused “business as usual” that’s killing people. They are elevating humanity through their business.

You may be thinking, “This is all lovely, but what does this have to do with me? …I’m not an entrepreneur…I’m just a [HR, wellness, safety, OD, etc.] person. Well, I want to suggest to you that this is the prime opportunity for us all to build community and show up as leaders – to join these other amazing leaders in restoring hope, humanity and wellbeing to our workplaces.

Developing Courageous Leaders – and Thriving Workplaces

Building thriving workplaces demands courageous leaders. And we all have the opportunity to step into being a leader. In their book, Leadership On the Line, Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky suggest that the opportunity for leadership stands before us every day in various ways. And every day we must decide whether or not to put our contribution out there, or keep it to ourselves to avoid upsetting anyone. The reality is that we appear dangerous to people when we question their values, beliefs or habits; we place ourselves on the line when we tell people what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear.

“To lead is to live dangerously because when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear – their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking – with nothing more to offer perhaps than a possibility.”

Going against the grain of “business-as-usual” requires a great amount of new learning, engaging ourselves and others in adjusting our unrealistic expectations and promoting our resourcefulness. If not you, then who? At the end of the day, leadership is a BEHAVIOR, not a title or job function. So we can choose to stay comfortable and wait for someone else “more qualified” to “fix” the problem or we can embrace the discomfort and step into leading positive change.

Brene Brown says that “You shift a culture by creating a critical mass of courageous leaders.” I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I’m so excited to be part of the Fusion 2.0 Conference!

So whether you work in employee wellness/wellbeing, human resources, safety/risk management, organizational effectiveness, leadership development or are a leader who wants to restore hope and humanity to the workplace, you’ll create your community so no more will anyone be dying for a paycheck.

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