Leveraging Employee Strengths to Build a Healthy Workplace
By Celia Willis
When I reflect on the last 17 months, I find the same refrain echoing in my mind: Are we out of the woods yet?
As we begin to emerge, slowly and cautiously, into the clearing, the irreversible impact of the past year solidifies. Monumental change often leads people to develop new perspectives — to reevaluate what’s important — so it isn’t surprising that 2021 is being called “The Great Resignation” in the workplace. This shift is something I’ve watched closely for months, and it’s fascinating to see the different ways businesses across industries are choosing to respond to a national labor shortage.
With a laser-focus on talent retention, we must consider — more than ever before — how to foster a healthy workplace. Ultimately, I believe it comes down to how we prioritize the most valuable resource any organization has: its people.
People as a priority
There are plenty of hypotheses out there about the best ways to prioritize employee wellness. From hybrid work initiatives to mental-health considerations, the new ways companies are hoping to support a healthy workforce have been making headlines for months.
Don’t get me wrong: All the bells and whistles of new initiatives can be valuable. But I’d say the key to creating a healthy environment for your employees is much simpler. Wellness is less about individual policies and programs and more about understanding your people and creating space for them to pursue their version of success and fulfillment.
I am a Gallup Certified StrengthsCoach, and one lesson that stands out to me from all my years of coaching is that everyone’s definition of wellness, happiness and growth is different. A one-size-fits-all approach does not exist, which is why digging into strengths-based development can be so effective. Strengths highlight what drives individuals to thrive and can provide insight into what your workforce needs.
If you lead a small organization, then that kind of individualized consideration will seem more achievable. However, the larger companies get, the more difficult it is for executive leadership to demonstrate individualized consideration across the entire company. Instead, executives must model this approach among their direct reports and then equip them to do the same with their own teams.
I have spent years intentionally nurturing a strengths-driven organization, so I know it works. Our organization and others have found great success doing this, and the results are not just anecdotal. Gallup’s “Global Study: ROI for Strengths-Based Development” revealed workgroups that implemented a strengths intervention saw a six- to 16-point decrease in turnover in already low-turnover organizations and a 26-to-72-point decrease in turnover in high-turnover organizations.
That said, I get it. Understanding the idea here is one thing; applying it is another.
Strengths in action
The 34 CliftonStrengths are divided into four main categories: Executing, Influencing, Relationship Building and Strategic Thinking. Simply understanding the general makeup of your team or company when it comes to these four areas is a great first step and can help you nurture a workplace that enables their success.
My company, for example, is heavily weighted toward Relationship Building strengths. Understanding that informs my management decisions.
Here are a few ways you might refocus based on the strengths makeup of your organization:
- Executing: Prioritize rewards and recognition when your team completes tasks and ensure that your team has the resources and know-how to achieve their goals.
- Influencing: Create outlets for your employees to promote what they’re passionate about, and make sure they can clearly see the impact they’re having within the company.
- Relationship-building: Establish strong collaboration practices that promote interaction among colleagues. Allow for flexibility so your team can maintain relationships in all areas of their lives.
- Strategic thinking: Ensure that your team has time and space to think, as well as quiet when needed. Celebrate ideas and well-developed strategies.
On an individual level, it helps to think of strengths like superpowers. If your superpower is language fluency, then no amount of weight training or workouts will be as gratifying and fulfilling for you as it would be for someone with superstrength.
Instead, intellectual exercises around language development will be far more motivating and will lead to more fulfilling success. Strengths work the same way.
How you recognize, feed and leverage strengths is key to an individual’s success. Empowering employees to focus their energy to develop and maximize their unique talents can have a profound impact on wellness.
In fact, Gallup reports that when using their strengths, “people are more confident and more likely to achieve their goals. They’re more likely to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting and being treated with respect.”
If that doesn’t sound like wellness in the workplace, then I’m not sure what does.
People at the center of business
At the end of the day, I am a firm believer in any people-first approach to business. As we work to recognize and celebrate the talents of our team, wellness follows. People feel seen, appreciated and recognized for what they can bring to the table, which is a key indicator of a healthy culture.
As we take the first tentative steps out of the woods and into a reality that has been drastically altered from the workplace we used to know, I am confident that a flexible, strengths-based approach to wellness will serve us well as we adapt and move forward. (Looking at you, Adaptability people, to help us lead the charge.)