3 ways businesses and HR can sustainably do more with less

Management expert Tom Rath says there are three things HR can help to do more with less in an effective and sustainable way

There are three things that organisations and HR can help to do more with less in an effective and sustainable way, according to management expert Tom Rath.

“It’s not sustainable to ask or expect people to work 80 or 90 hours a week or work late nights or weekends, especially over three, five or 10 years,” said Rath, a US-based researcher into the the role of human behavior in business, health, and wellbeing, and author of six best-selling books including How Full Is Your Bucket? and StrengthsFinder 2.0.

“All the research I’ve seen would suggest this is not a sustainable approach to doing more with less.”

However, he said there are things that can be done each and every day to create routines that are sustainable and that improve workforce engagement and wellbeing.

“It’s not sustainable to ask or expect people to work 80 or 90 hours a week or work late nights or weekends”

“The first element, which I found through a lot of emerging research, is that you get to work on something that’s meaningful and which makes a difference for another person today,” he said.

“Even if you’re in a call centre, and someone calls in who’s irate and you turn their day around a little bit so they don’t go home and spread as much anger and negativity – and nor do you – that’s a little victory and that’s meaningful work that changes something for another person.

“So you’ve got to have one kind of meaningful moment of work and progress in a day.”

Rath, who also serves as a senior scientist and advisor to Gallup, said the second element is that every worker needs to have far more positive than negative interactions in a given day.

“It sounds basic, but it’s obvious from all the research that one bad interaction can outweigh at least four or five positive interactions throughout the day.

“So you’ve got to try and think about maintaining a ratio where at least 80 per cent (if not more) of your exchanges with colleagues, customers, friends and family members are more positive than negative. That usually results in a pretty good day,” he said.

The third element is that individuals need to put their own physical health first, so that they have the energy to be their best every day.

“This starts with little but important things, like a good night’s sleep or some activity throughout the day so you’re in a better mood, you have clearer conversations and you’re more productive,” he said.

“Or you eat the right foods, especially early on in the day and at lunch, which that gives you more energy, as opposed to being wiped out with a high fat/low activity hangover at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.”

“It’s not enough to have a wellbeing program that comes from a benefits department”

For organisations looking to create more engaged and healthy environments, Rath also observed that leaders are the lynchpin for creating more sustainable relationships between people and organisations over the next decade

“It’s not enough to have a wellbeing program that comes from a benefits department, as these have very limited impact and influence on the people that work for that organisation, compared to the impact and influence leaders can have when they are genuine role models for people in that organisation,” he said.

This is what organisations should focus on first, so leaders are talking about the importance of their workforce and the importance of their own personal health and wellbeing – which makes this part of the leadership conversation and organisational culture.

“If you have a leader who is working 10 or 12 hour days, never moving around and always eating junk food and clearly doesn’t care about their health, you can spend all the money you want on wellness programs, but people follow the role models they see in organisations,” he said.

“The team has to wake up every morning and think about how they can bring out the best in people every single day”

Rath also observed that HR at a very high level needs to envision how it will focus on bringing out the best in human beings more generally in the future.

“The role of HR is very different and innovative in some places; the head of HR at Airbnb, for example, has changed their title to the chief employee experience officer,” he said.

“So it’s all about creating an ideal experience for employees, and this is a lot closer to where we need to be, rather than being seen as a regulatory function that’s focused on what you can and can’t do with benefits and so forth.

“But it will take the HR function as a whole to get there, so the team has to wake up every morning and think about how they can bring out the best in people every single day.

“If we can get 80 per cent of people in the HR community focused on that mission, instead of maybe where we’re at – 20 per cent at best today – we will be in a pretty good place 10 years from now.”

For the full interview with Rath and story on how HR leaders can help create more engaged and healthy workplaces, see the next issue of Inside HR magazine. Image source: iStock