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Ep 374: The Whole Person Workplace

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The relationship between employees and employers is fundamentally changing. The integration of work and life has never been more in focus. Making work better for employees is no longer a wish list item; it is imperative for competitive advantage. So who is leading the way here, and are we seeing a short term trend or a permanent shift?

To help answer these questions, my guest this week is Scott Behson, a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Scott has recently published a book called The Whole Person Workplace, which explores how employers are building better workplaces by focusing on Work-Life, Wellness and Employee Support.

In the interview, we discuss:

• What is the whole person workplace?

• Rethinking work

• What are leading employers doing

• Flexibility and trust

• Small companies versus large companies

• The growing power and influence of employees

• Workers whose roles are tied to time and place

• What could the future look like

Listen to this podcast on Apple Podcasts.

Transcript:

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Matt Alder (1m 6s):
Hi, everyone. This is Matt Alder. Welcome to episode 374 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. The relationship between employees and employers is fundamentally changing. The integration of work and life has never been more in focus. Making work better for employees is no longer a wishlist item, it is imperative for competitive advantage. Who’s leading the way here? Are we seeing a short-term trend or a permanent shift? To help answer these questions, My guest this week is Scott Behson, a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Matt Alder (1m 47s):
Scott has recently published a book called The Whole Person Workplace, which explores how employers are building better workplaces by focusing on work-life, wellness, and employee support. Hi, Scott, and welcome to the podcast.

Scott Behson (2m 2s):
Hi, it’s so great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Matt Alder (2m 4s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Could you just introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

Scott Behson (2m 9s):
Sure. My name is Scott Behson. I’m a Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, United States. I also have done a lot of consulting, speaking, workshops, et cetera. I run the HR program at our university. I am so proud to be the author of the new book, The Whole Person Workplace, Building Better Workplaces Through Work-Life Wellness and Employee Support, and I’m happy to be talking about that today.

Matt Alder (2m 35s):
That seems like a very sensible place to start so give us an introduction to the book. What’s it about? Why did you write it? How did it come about?

Scott Behson (2m 43s):
Well, actually, it’s funny. I started writing the book in January of 2020, and then by March, I had to tear it apart and start over when the reality of the COVID pandemic hit the world. I think it’s really the right time for this kind of book as there’s so much rethinking about what we’re doing in the workplace and with employees. The overall point behind the book is that, I guess, there are different ways that we, as talent acquisition specialists, as HR people, as leaders, as managers, as employers, that we can value employees. We can look at them as just part of the machine, just invest enough to keep the chain running.

Scott Behson (3m 25s):
We can look at them as valued assets, which is good because we take care of a valued asset, but that’s still transactional, right? That’s like we’re investing in someone because it’s going to be a return on investment. I propose the best employers value their employees as whole people with lives, responsibilities, priorities, stressors, challenges outside of work, and a desire to bring more of themselves to work. I think once you adopt that mindset as an employer, then it opens up so many different avenues to support employees, because if employees are not thriving outside of work, if they’re stressed, overburdened, having childcare problems, health issues, or wellness issues, they can’t bring their best selves to work.

Scott Behson (4m 19s):
This philosophy again, we take on a little more responsibility to make sure the people who work for us aren’t just successful at work, but also, we’re going to try to help them be successful in the other parts of their lives as well. Again, if we do this, then there’s a whole host of opportunities if we’re creative to address employee concerns.

Matt Alder (4m 41s):
It’s interesting because I’m sure if we had this conversation, I don’t know, 18 months or two years ago when you first came up with the idea for the book, it would probably be a very different conversation to the one that we’re having now with everything that’s gone on in the last 18 months.

Scott Behson (4m 58s):
Absolutely. In fact, the book was going to be like, “Hey, let people work from home every now and then,” or things like that. Of course, in the work world, including many organizations that never would have adopted work from home and remote work, were forced into it. In many circumstances, it worked very well in terms of keeping work going and everything else in other aspects. It really poses challenges. One of the things we saw during the height of the COVID pandemic, and hopefully we’re getting through this, was we got a glimpse into people’s lives.

Scott Behson (5m 36s):
Into their living rooms, we saw their pets and their families. We saw how they were trying to juggle it all, deal with the potential overwork and the anxiety, and all the other things that were going on. I think we also got a window into the fact that it’s hard to separate wellness from being productive at work because if people were, and lots of people are still, very anxious, very overburdens, very stressed, dealing with this deadly disease, dealing with all the other things around, and the lack of support of schools, childcare, and daycare that we’ve dealt with over the last 18 months, it was clear that a lot of people were struggling.

Scott Behson (6m 24s):
I think many employers, thankfully, and I profile a lot of them in the book, stepped up for employees, recognizing that it’s hard to separate whether somebody is doing well outside of work and how much they can bring themselves, be engaged, and focused at work as well.

Matt Alder (6m 42s):
Yes. I think that’s really interesting. I suppose there’s a couple of bits to this because I think during the height of the pandemic, we saw lots of employers really take this on board, but also lots of employers who were somewhat gimmicky in their response. “Let’s have an additional. Everyone’s tired of Zooms and team’s calls so let’s have a Zooms and team’s yoga session,” or something like that. Obviously, it strikes me now. We’re recording this just at the beginning of August of 2021. Lots of employers are thinking about the way forward, what do they do, how do they deal with it, and the world of work of how it’s going to be? What other good employers that you’ve profiled? What did they do during the pandemic and how are they thinking now?

Scott Behson (7m 25s):
Yes, this is a really interesting time because we’re in the summer. Back to school is around the corner. I think a lot of managers and a lot of businesses are going to tie their return to the workplace or return to office strategy with the return to school, which makes sense. That’s one less thing working parents have to have to worry about, but it’s not that simple. I think that a lot of working parents are going to be very anxious about their kids going back to school, especially younger kids who are still ineligible to be vaccinated.

Scott Behson (8m 7s):
I think employers that take on a whole person workplace philosophy should think a little more creatively. Maybe even if they’re returning most of their workers to the office most of the time, I think there needs to be more ad hoc flexibility, more control given to people over their time, more trust given to people to control their time. For example, I think many anxious working parents would love to ease their concerns by maybe doing the drop-off and pick-up at school themselves, as opposed to buses or other things like that. Maybe not rely on group-based after-school settings and things like that, at least for a while, and employers can help with that.

Scott Behson (8m 54s):
In addition to things like childcare and flex, I think there’s a whole host of things that smart employers can do. Some of it is simply not putting pressure on people to reply to emails at 10 o’clock at night. A lot of it is paying people livable wages and having solid benefit programs that are just less things for people to worry about. Of course, people have other things going on, not just working parents. There are eldercare challenges – people who have developmental goals, would love to get a certification or go back to school, or would like to volunteer.

Scott Behson (9m 37s):
There are things that employers can do to support them with those. That’s what a lot of the employers I profiled in the Whole Person Workplace. They got creative when it came to being able to support these things. Large companies were able to have big policies around this and to offer a wide range of formal benefits. Smaller companies have the advantage of getting to know their employees as individuals and create more custom-fit solutions that worked for them. I profiled companies that had as few as eight employees and multi-national organizations as well. There are ways to do it on any budget and in any different circumstance.

Matt Alder (10m 21s):
Do you think that the influence of employees on what their employers do has now changed forever? I’m sure there are some employers out there who want to just go back to the way everything was in 2019 but it genuinely seems that employees have a lot more power and influence about what happens now. Is that a correct assumption? Does that align with what you were saying?

Scott Behson (10m 50s):
I don’t know if anything’s permanent, but I think that certainly, for a while, talent is going to have choices. If you have valuable skills, you’re going to be able to if you want to move to an employer that better suits you, which puts a big challenge on employers. We’re seeing a lot of news about what’s called the great resignation or I prefer the great reset where a lot of employees are rethinking where they work, what they’re doing, who they’re working for. To me, it’s not just the story of people’s hourly wages and trying to make a couple more bucks an hour.

Scott Behson (11m 30s):
I don’t think that’s really the story although the media seems to have jumped on that. I think most employees who have choices are thinking about, “How did my employer help? How did they consider me over the last 18 months? Did they consider me as a person as opposed to just like, ‘Get back to work and do what you need to do,’ or were they considerate? Were they able to listen to my concerns and try to work with me on solutions to them?” If not, they’re going to be looking for a new place to work. They’ll be looking for places to work that I think will at least consider their needs, try to meet their needs for time for life, for maybe more certainty over their time, more autonomy over their time, and of course for many, the benefits, EAPs or whatever else wellness programs that might be offered.

Scott Behson (12m 35s):
From a recruiting point of view, if you’re in talent acquisition, you need to be able to tell the story about how do we take care of our employees during the height of the pandemic, and then what lessons have we learned from this that we’re applying going forward? If you’re able to articulate that in the recruitment process, during networking, even in interviews, fielding questions from job candidates, you’ll be many steps ahead. If you can’t articulate this, then A, you might not have managed as well as you should have over the last 18 months, but B, you’re going to be at a real disadvantage in the marketplace of talent.

Matt Alder (13m 17s):
Firstly, I absolutely agree with everything you say there. It’s definitely what we’re seeing in the market. Do you think that all employers have realized that? Do you think that they are willing and able even to embrace these kinds of changes in the way that they think?

Scott Behson (13m 37s):
Yes. Well, I don’t think that, for example, most organizations are just going to be like “Work from home for forever,” or all these kinds of things that we were forced into. I think most organizations are going to retain some level of flexibility, whether it’s just, again, giving people a little more control over like, “Hey, I need to leave early today,” or “I’m going to work from home on Friday because I have these other issues,” and things like that. I think that’s going to be part of the DNA of most organizations for work that is not tied to time and place. Of course, lots of jobs are tied to time and place.

Scott Behson (14m 18s):
Meals need to be cooked in a kitchen and nurses need to be in a hospital. We’re talking about different types of employees here but I really think that there are some lessons that have been learned, like what worked well over the last 18 months? What were we able to do well from a distance? Then what did we miss over the last 18 months? What was a lack over the last 18 months? Putting that together into our strategy going forward, and it’s very complicated because we need to take into account our values as an employer. I hope that our values as an employer values employees as whole people, which also means we need to listen to the input of our employees about what they want in terms of what our workplace is going to look like going forward, but also the type of work we do, the need for collaboration.

Scott Behson (15m 17s):
What about our culture? What about onboarding or orienting new employees? I work at a university. All of my great students who got jobs last year and many who are doing internships this summer have never been to their workplaces yet. I think that’s a real challenge now in almost doing this delayed in-person orientation and onboarding so that they can be fuller participants may be in the culture and collaboration of their workforce. There’s a lot going on. I’m sorry if my answers go from one topic to another, but it’s really so exciting, as someone who studies organizations, to see what’s going on.

Scott Behson (16m 3s):
Also, it’s very complicated and interrelated.

Matt Alder (16m 5s):
I just want to get back to something that you said there about jobs that are very much linked to time and place. They’re the types of roles, the type of employers that tend to get missed out of this kind of conversation, but they do represent a very large proportion of the workforce globally. How can employers with those types of workers, what can they do to think in terms of a whole person workplace?

Scott Behson (16m 40s):
Well, I think first and foremost, we need to have workplaces that are safe, both from a physical standpoint and also a psychological standpoint, and a little consideration goes a long way. Also, for example, at many Macy’s stores, employees get their schedules six weeks in advance and their schedules can only be changed on them in very limited circumstances ahead, which gives schedule certainty over being able to plan around time for life. I remember when I waited tables, I got my schedule on a Thursday for the weekend. That was okay at that time of my life because I didn’t have much else going on, but if I had a family, how do you plan around that if you only get your schedule a little bit in advance?

Scott Behson (17m 30s):
That’s just one little example of something that could really be helpful. I think livable wages, extending core benefits to your part-time and hourly employees are really important. We’ve seen famously Costco and other places like that have done that. Starbucks baristas can take online courses at Arizona State University for free. There are lots of things that can be done for hourly employees who are tied to a time and place. Fundamentally, we need to make sure people have safe working conditions and take care of their physical and mental wellbeing.

Scott Behson (18m 11s):
There’s no reason that a lot of the positive changes to the workplace can’t be extended to everyone. I feel very passionately about that because again, not everybody worked from home throughout this. Lots of people were out in the world doing hard physical work and the anxiety of maybe getting sick out in the world and bringing that home to their families. I think we really need to continue to respect our essential workers throughout all of this. Can I give one more example?

Scott Behson (18m 51s):
A smaller company I profiled in the book is a couple of health food stores out in California. This married couple that worked there had a baby. The obvious solution is, “Well, put them on different shifts so somebody could take care of the baby at all times,” but then they wouldn’t be a family together. The owner of the company who knew these two employees said, “No, both come to work the same shifts. One will work in the back offices, the other works out on the shop floor, and just wear the baby, bring the baby. Basically, one of them wore the baby throughout the day while they were working. Now, this baby is six or seven years old and she’s like the mascot of the store.

Scott Behson (19m 39s):
All the customers love this little girl. This girl knows all the regular customers and this family got to be a family because just this small business owner in an hourly workplace took it upon himself to just figure out what’s a good little creative custom-fit solution that works for them. Now, I don’t know if we can always have everyone wear their babies to work, but that’s an example of just something we could do. One other larger example, Disney parks have childcare facilities for their Disney park workers.

Scott Behson (20m 19s):
The day at daycare begins at 6:00 AM and ends as late as 11:00 PM, which for people who could work different shifts and things like that, it’s often very hard to find childcare in the evenings. Disney extends that for those types of employees. There’s lots of different examples. I profile a lot of them in the Whole Person Workplace.

Matt Alder (20m 40s):
As a final question, let’s lookout to the future a bit because it’s very disruptive. There’s a huge amount of things going on right now and decisions that are being taken right now that are going to really shape the future of the workplace. In your view, what does a happy, healthy workplace look like in five years’ time? Where are we going to land with this?

Scott Behson (21m 7s):
They listened to their employees. I think that would be the fundamental common thread. I think how an employer shows its support for employees is going to be very different based on the type of work, type of worker, the competitive markets, et cetera. I think it’s going to show itself in many different ways, but I think fundamentally, and hopefully, this is a good thing that employees are going to be listened to a bit more and that their concerns are at least going to be considered by their employers more in decision-making. There are things we could do right, in a formal sense, to make sure leadership hears our wide variety of employees.

Scott Behson (21m 54s):
There are lots of things we could do with employee resource groups, feedback mechanisms, or maybe just making sure that leaders, our CEOs don’t just talk to the C-suite. There are mechanisms to really find out what life is like at the front lines of your company. I really think that good workplaces will listen to their employees and consider their needs as they make their plans. Again, this could show up in many different ways. Maybe it’s a concern for health and safety. Maybe it’s a concern for taking care of caretakers.

Scott Behson (22m 35s):
Maybe it’s a concern for employee development or more time for life and making sure that we respect people’s vacation time, parental leave, and time at night to recharge and to be able to spend time with family or other priorities. I think fundamentally listening to employees and building that into how we build our workplace is really the common thread. Again, how it plays out is going to differ in different circumstances.

Matt Alder (23m 2s):
As a very final question, where can people find you and where can they find the book?

Scott Behson (23m 10s):
Well, the book again is The Whole Person Workplace, Building Better Workplaces Through Work-Life Wellness and Employee Support. My name is Scott Behson, which is spelled weird. You get the book anywhere that you buy books. Amazon is usually the first place people go, but support local booksellers, indie bounds, et cetera. You can find me pretty easily. Again, my oddly spelled last name means that in a search, I come up pretty quickly. I’m very active on LinkedIn. I’m on Twitter. I have a website, ScottBehson.com. That also has a page for this book and my prior books, my speaking, consulting, and other services that I provide.

Matt Alder (23m 55s):
Scott, thank you very much for talking to me.

Scott Behson (23m 58s):
Great. It’s been great being here. Thank you.

Matt Alder (24m 1s):
My thanks to Scott Behson. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to the mailing list to get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show.

Matt Alder (24m 52s):
Thanks so much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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