The Secret to Happier Employees

Best-selling author Dan Goleman highlights how some firms improved their relationships with their workers, even as the pandemic-related pressures mounted.

Daniel Goleman, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond, is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body, is available now. 

Let’s face it— the past two years have been rocky. When it comes to work, not much looks like it did in 2019.

As Korn Ferry recently pointed out, much of the past two years have been about survival. “Change has been extreme and not optional,” says Elise Freedman, leader of Korn Ferry’s Organizational Strategy and Workforce Transformation practice.

As stakeholders have demanded organizations diversify their workforce, address pay inequities, develop remote work policies, fight climate change, and take social stands, everything from market strategy to company culture has been put through a pressure test.

Given how many thousands of workers have left their jobs in 2021, it may come as a surprise to hear that when it comes to employee engagement, some already good organizations have gotten even better. According to The Great Place to Work Institute, 70% of the 2021 Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For saw record jumps in employee experience scores over the past year.

What are they doing right?

For one, they’re focused on more than the bottom line.

Take Nationwide as an example. The insurance giant did right by their employees by engaging them around the issues they care about. For instance, in the wake of George Floyd’s death, Nationwide started a “Social Justice Task Force.” The task force, made up of diverse thought leaders across the company, is invested in identifying effective ways for the organization to fight racism and promote social justice across areas such as education; housing; employment and economic mobility; and criminal justice. Associates from across the country and all levels of the organization joined the task force, each working on a particular area to recommend new projects and partnerships with community organizations.

“If you had asked me in June [2020] how I was feeling, I would have told you lost, disempowered, and confused. I felt like I was being swept up in a current I couldn’t fight against,” shares Tim Kasper, a task force member and manager in IT Applications. “The Social Justice Task Force provided me an opportunity to make a contribution and direct our company’s resources to organizations, causes and communities that matter, and to make an impact and amplify the voices that are often unheard.”

According to The Great Place to Work Institute, “giving back” has made all the difference in the employee experience over the past two years. In a survey of more than 500,000 employees across 22 different industries, the institute found that employees felt 15.6 times better about their workplace when they witnessed their leaders giving back during the pandemic.

Sometimes–similar to what’s being done at Nationwide–‘giving back’ means engaging employees with organizations out in the community. Other times, it may look more like empowering employees with the tools and resources to support their own colleagues.

This is what happened at OhioHealth. To bolster a sense of meaning and purpose in the workplace, the 12-hospital healthcare system created “Adopt-a-Unit,” a program born of non-clinical and professional associates who recognized that frontline staff needed extra support. When the program kicked off, close to 40 departments raised their hand to “adopt” a frontline team, providing them with extra encouragement in the form of handwritten “thank you” notes, public displays of gratitude, snack or meal deliveries and items to support self-care.

Given how well these organizations have done over the past two years, these stories support what research has already discovered: that purpose is a strong driver of employee engagement

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.