What is Flourishing? And why Every Organization’s Leader Should Care
“Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire was so very much smaller
that it looked like one coal.”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (Stave 1)
If you’ve ever read or watched “A Christmas Carol,” you might remember this scene: Bob Cratchit huddled pathetically over a single coal, trying to work in Ebenezer Scrooge’s freezing office.
We can confidently assume Cratchit was getting his job done. Scrooge does not seem the type to suffer sloth. But what if his boss had given him a roaring fire instead of one measly piece of coal? And not just at the office, but at home? In fact, at the end of the story, when Scrooge’s heart thaws out, he tells Bob to buy more coal for a bigger blaze to keep warm, gives him a large raise, and extends help to his family. Hypothetically, these benefits will make Bob (and Scrooge) a happier man. And the effect on his work? We can only imagine!
Beyond the obvious nod to the holiday season, Scrooge, Cratchit, and a warm workplace have implications for our organizations. Organizations benefit when teammates flourish and feel happy—instead of just getting by—both at work and in their broader lives. In fact, 21c organizations are wise to intentionally foster both. Flourishing for the self leads to flourishing for the system.
Is this person-centered focus more costly? Perhaps. A roaring fire is certainly a more robust line item than a chunk of coal.
Is placing a priority on people beyond (work)place more time consuming? Likely, yes.
But will these extra costs reduce your business results? Not likely.
Why not? Because the data are clear that when organizations prioritize well-being BOTH for people and the system, they significantly outperform those that do not, on about every measure that matters.
The Idea Behind the Theory
Consider a vegetable garden. An unfertilized garden will generally produce a crop. The plants may be leaner and weaker, but they will still grow and produce vegetables. But a garden cultivated by fertilizer grows tomatoes and peppers that dwarf their counterparts. It doesn’t just produce, it ABOUNDS. And even though adding fertilizer costs money and takes time and effort, most gardeners will tell you it is integral to the process.
Now apply this theory to an organization.
Most organizations fall into one of three categories. Certainly, there remain those that try to get by investing as little as possible in their people. The majority embrace the need for some degree of employee well-being. A 2021 article on the topic estimated U.S. companies spend more than $60 billion annually on various programs and benefits in this category. The third type, however, goes one step further and provides opportunities, resources, and (most critically) policies that authentically extend well-being beyond the workplace. This approach embraces flourishing, a more holistic approach to well-being that values the individual beyond their “at work” productivity.
Flourishing starts with the person and truly understanding what they need to live their best life. But what does this have to do with your organization and its results? A lot, as it turns out.
Understanding the Impact of Flourishing
According to Harvard’s Flourishing Measure, there are six aspects necessary for a person’s flourishing:
- Happiness and life satisfaction
- Mental and physical health
- Meaning and purpose
- Character and virtue
- Close social relationships
- Financial and material stability
Each has its own impact on a person and their participation in various networks: home, neighborhood, school, and – yes – workplace.
Consider the first item on the list: happiness and life satisfaction. According to a recent study on well-being in life and at work, a person’s happiness and satisfaction in life have a direct and reciprocal relationship to their happiness and satisfaction at work. After all, what organization doesn’t prefer to employ happy people? But it goes deeper.
It turns out, happy workers perform their jobs a lot better than their unhappy counterparts. Experts at the University of Warwick, in Coventry, England, conducted a study of 700 people and determined that happier employees are about 12% more productive. Oxford’s Saiid Business School found similar evidence. In a six-month study, 1,800 call center workers in Great Britain rated their happiness each week. The evidence shows that happy employees worked faster and achieved 13% higher sales than their unhappy coworkers.
“Character and Virtue,” another influence on individual flourishing (and some experts would argue one of the most influential) also significantly shapes organizational outcomes. “Essentially, the evidence shows that when people feel that their work aligns with their own character and virtue—their individual value systems—they prove more willing go the distance with an organization and far more open to change,” explains Gretchen Jameson, Ed.D., Chief Learning Officer and Group President for Social Impact at Kacmarcik Enterprises. “We call this affective commitment, or a person’s desire to stay with their organization, and it’s an absolute competitive advantage in pretty much any sector.”
Why on Earth NOT?
So, if individual flourishing increases the organization’s flourishing, why don’t more employers invest in their people in this way?
“I would submit that often—and for genuinely legitimate business reasons—we are incredibly slavish to tactical execution. We need to manufacture ‘Benjamins.’ This preoccupation isn’t entirely incorrect” Jameson explains. “The problem, of course, is we become fixated on it: Is this productive? Does it deliver a return? We must unlearn that a little bit and relearn that just about every metric, even bottom-line profitability flourishes when people are healthier and happier.”
In other words, the adage, “it takes money to make money” holds true in this case as well. By investing in workers’ flourishing, organizations should expect to experience flourishing of their own critical measures.
“When people flourish, systems flourish because people feed a positive climate that in turn keeps feeding them,” Jameson says. “It’s like stackable cups: Cup 1: I’ve got my personal character and virtue, my value system. I’m aware of it and working on it. In this way, I am flourishing as an individual. Now, Cup 2: let’s imagine I work in a place that aligns with my values and tries to acknowledge that connection. Because of that, I have a deeper commitment to my work. I’m more tolerant of my boss or my coworkers. I’m more willing to change or try something new. Cup 3: My personal flourishing spills over and contributes to a more positive climate in my department. And, Cup 4: that positive climate in turn helps the entire culture of my organization to flourish.
It’s all connected.”
Logical, but still rare
“This notion of caring for people beyond the job isn’t difficult to appreciate. But far too few choose to do it,” Jameson says. “So many places are hungry and crying for this approach because it just makes so much sense. But, I think, it – falsely — it feels really hard to do.”
Certainly, there are costs to embracing a flourishing model. But those costs are worth it when happy team members begin kicking in that extra 10-15% of effort, simply because they’re enjoying their job.
But the onus is not entirely on the leadership.
“The individual worker has a part to play,” Jameson adds. “Each of us must tend to ourselves as well and exercise our own agency. When each person works on themselves a little bit, on their own flourishing, and the organization decides to lean into that, too … that’s when interesting things really start to happen.”
If you’re looking for ways to flourish at work, check out our article: “5 Ways to Flourish in the Workplace.”
And to find out more about how to encourage your workers to flourish to their full potential—and therefore reach your TEAM’s full potential—check out the various learning and coaching services we offer at the Kacmarcik Center for Human Performance.