Alan was an employee at a small company where he was incredibly competent in the technical aspects of his job. He was also incredibly difficult to work with. Alan knew more than anyone about everything, and he was quick to remind his coworkers of this in every conversation. He was abrupt, dismissive, argumentative, and more than willing to confess other people’s sins. For months his CEO had tried to mentor and coach Alan on his interpersonal skills. Customers and colleagues were tired of being treated poorly, and the cost benefit analysis was tipping away from holding onto Alan. This is when I was hired to teach him some practices to develop the skills of awareness, acceptance, empathy, and compassion.
Why would any company interested in the bottom line invest in these soft and intangible skills? To answer this question, it may be helpful to consider some numbers. In the United States alone, the annual cost of distraction in the workplace is $588 billion, the cost of stress is $300 billion, and the cost of workplace conflict is $359 billion. That is over a trillion dollars in lost productivity, preventable healthcare costs, and other avoidable human resource expenses every year.
Given these staggering numbers, what valuation would you put on employee skills that increase engagement, focus, creativity, effective communication, fulfillment, and satisfaction? Consider that companies with high employee engagement and satisfaction outperform companies in their same industries by almost 2.5 to 1. Effectively addressing employee engagement can increase operating income by as much as 19% and earnings per share by 28% in periods as short as one year. Companies with low employee engagement levels during the same time period showed declines of 32% in operating income and 11% in earnings per share. Companies that invest in effective employee training outperform those who don’t by 45% with returns 86% higher. Developing effective health and productivity programs creates 11% more revenue per employee and 28% higher shareholder returns with an average savings of $5.81 for every dollar invested.
So those are the numbers. I acknowledge that numbers matter in business. And I also know that a large number of people in business are there to make the world a better place. I am always impressed by how frequently business people tell me that human relationships are the most important aspect of their work. A healthy work culture is an incredible opportunity to enhance the well-being of people way beyond a salary. Are employees at your company becoming more whole, kind, and connected as a result of being there?
Awareness, acceptance, empathy, compassion, focus, engagement, creativity, fulfillment, and satisfaction — these are a function of attentional, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral self-control — skills that can be taught, learned, and practiced. When you have a culture where these things are practiced daily and collectively, then you maximize your human resource. More importantly, you contribute to the net well-being in the world. And isn’t that what we all hope to do today and during the rest of our time on this planet? Isn’t that the ultimate bottom line?