by Jen Petro
White tulips leaned into one another. Tears splotched Lindsay’s shirt as she spied them in a vase on her desk. “They remembered,” she thought, drawing in her breath. This wasn’t a Hallmark moment. It wasn’t her birthday, or any other joyful occasion. Her colleagues knew that it was the first anniversary of losing a child through a failed adoption.
Five years of dust layered itself in a nursery as infertility wreaked havoc on Lindsay and her husband. As they found themselves in the depths of miscarriages, fertility treatments, and adoption losses, darkness crouched in all hours of the day. Pain and fear had Lindsay’s entire being clenched tight and her work suffered on and off for years.
One day her boss took her to lunch. He placed an empty cup upside down on the table and said gently, “Lindsay, working with you right now is difficult. You’re like this upside down cup. You can’t be poured into and you can’t pour out.”
Lindsay’s colleagues journeyed alongside her through the dark times again and again. Always listening and asking questions. Sharing time and tears. Forging bonds and loyalties. And celebrating with her just a few months ago when she and her husband were gifted with a flaxen-haired newborn.
Now that’s beauty in the workplace.
It’s not about the corner office, the impressive title, the perks, or even the pay. It goes deeper than that. It’s treating each other as human beings and not just worker bees. It’s caring for one another. Lifting each other up. Going beyond hearing each other’s stories and actually becoming part of them.
Perks Aren’t Cutting It
Employee perks are all the rage right now. From flexible schedules to gym memberships to pet insurance (yes, you heard me), employers are dangling all kinds of carrots in hopes of recruiting and retaining the best. And it’s not that these benefits aren’t lovely. They are, really. But they are fleeting fixes.
Gallup got at the heart of what makes us love our jobs, what makes us happy, fulfilled, and productive. In its 2013 State of the American Workplace Report, Gallup revealed twelve key indicators for workplace engagement. Here are seven of the key factors that emerged:
- I have a best friend at work.
- My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
- There is someone here who encourages my development.
- In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
- My opinions seem to count.
- I know what is expected of me.
- I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
These aren’t typical job perks. They speak to the deep-seated needs within all of us to feel loved, accepted, and part of something bigger than ourselves.
According to Gallup, seventy percent of us aren’t engaged at work. Some are just going through the motions for the paycheck. The rest are downright miserable. Only thirty percent of us are fulfilled and thriving, experiencing beauty at work. Where are we going wrong?
Humanizing the Workplace
Simply put, we’re not treating people as people. Why? It takes time. It gets messy. It means shifting focus from tasks, deadlines, and goals, to investing in one another. But it’s raw and real work that has to be done for an organization to cultivate beauty—and to succeed.
As Ken Robinson writes in Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative, “Organizations are not mechanisms and people are not components. People have values and feelings, perceptions, opinions, motivations and biographies, whereas cogs and sprockets do not.”
When we are engaged, we are all in. Our craft receives our full attention, energy, and heart. And “engaged workers are the lifeblood of their organizations,” with “significantly higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings, less turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents …,” Gallup reports.
Putting the onus on leaders is tempting. But cultivating beauty has to come from all of us. Unexpected kindness from just one employee can turn the tide. And it’s contagious.
Lindsay transitioned back to work recently after maternity leave. From offers to babysit to simple questions about how motherhood is going, her colleagues continue to encourage and support her.
So here’s your challenge this week: invest in a colleague. Invite them to coffee. Ask meaningful questions and really listen. Encourage someone who struggles. See where you can cultivate a little beauty around the office.
Jen Petro is an overcaffeinated wife and mom of three who gets all tingly inside when playing with words. She helps organizations tell their stories through her small biz, DropLeaf Communications. Connect with her over email, Twitter, or LinkedIn (or even better, over coffee).