Q&A with Jason Lauritsen on Creating a More Positive Workplace

August 29, 2019 at 9:52 pm

Jason Lauritsen

Jason Lauritsen is a speaker, author, and consultant who wants companies to look at work and the workplace from their employees’ point of view and work to create positive workplace experiences for employees.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

How did you come to focus so much on employee engagement?

I would say that my focus on it predated even knowing what employee engagement actually was. Early in my career, I had some pretty bad jobs. I worked for three different companies in the span of 9 or 10 months because there were some major things about each of them that just didn’t work.

Eventually, I found myself in third party executive recruiting. I kept looking inside these different organizations as I tried to fill a job, and all I saw was a lot of dysfunction. I developed a strong sense that it didn’t have to be this way, and I wanted to fix it. So I took a job inside a corporate HR where I could really work to improve the way things worked, and I did see some progress in creating a better work environment there.

Through that experience and seeing that things actually did improve, I became convinced that it is possible to create an awesome, engaging environment for people where not only the people could win, but the business could win as well. The two were not mutually exclusive.

Why is it important to have engaged employees?

I think there are a few different levels to employee engagement. From a leadership or management perspective, engagement is having employees who are willing and able to give their best, to reach their potential. It’s getting people closer to their best selves because they have a positive work environment that affirms and encourages that. It’s much better and much more fun as a leader and manager to work in an engaged workplace. There’s also research that says when you create that kind of environment, it’s better for creativity and innovation.

But I think the bigger issue for me is that when work is working well for employees, we bring positivity back into our lives, into our neighborhoods, into our families. I know that when I wasn’t in a positive work environment, I wasn’t as good a person in my personal life. Our identity is wrapped up in our work, for most people, since we spend more time at work than we do in any other part of our lives. There are high stakes. It matters.

What is one way employers can make work feel like a healthy relationship?

I would say that one of the key ways to do this is to think about each employee as an individual. How can we, as a management team or a culture, make sure that every person every day feels like someone noticed their work, noticed that they showed up, and made them feel like their work matters?

It’s acknowledgment even more than appreciation or recognition. In the context of a relationship, the important ones make people feel like they are noticed and valued, like they matter.

There are a lot of different ways to do this, but one can be teaching managers to, however briefly, touch base with every employee every day. Not in a meeting or giving correction, but just to say “thanks for your work today” or give a high-five.

Putting the right people in the right spots is important, because the right managers will know instinctively how to cultivate positive relationships that make employees feel important. These skills can be taught, but it can save so much time and effort if the right people are put in place.

What are other similarities between a healthy work-life and a healthy relationship?

In my work, in what I teach about the path to a truly positive work experience, there are lots of similarities. We have decades of employee engagement data from those who have studied it, and the same things pop up to the top of the list in every case. Things like trust, belonging, and open two-way robust communication. Like fostering reciprocal commitments that provide mutual accountability and support. Assuming the best and not the worst about employees.

When the work experience is designed to provide these things, it very much functions like a healthy relationship, since those are the same things we look for in any healthy relationship.

Talk about what has you excited at work right now.

In my last few years of speaking and training, I’m starting to see organizations that increasingly lean into being more relationally oriented. I feel like the trends are moving in the right direction, and it’s exciting to be a part of that.

With the war for talent going on right now, losing employees hurts more, and companies that may have started to look into engagement and creating a positive workplace in a sort of desperate attempt to hold onto their talent are hopefully seeing the benefits of doing so.

When the economy changes, as it inevitably will, I hope that the practices will be ingrained enough to stick. Often, sustainability comes down to leadership changes that bring in new ideas and perspectives like focusing on employee engagement and creating a positive work environment.

What does a human-friendly workplace look like?

Along the lines of what we’ve already talked about, one little thing I look for is whether people are treated like adults who can make reasonable decisions for themselves and don’t need a bunch of rules thrown at them to “keep them in line” like they’re schoolchildren or something.

Being able to have conversations that matter, space to invest time in getting to know the people they work with, and clarity in both directions with communication are all important parts of human-friendly workplaces as well. Well-being is a constant focus of human-friendly workplaces. Is work working for employees, or is it just designed to make management’s life easier?

What is the biggest change companies see after working with you?

One indicator that companies are starting to get employee engagement right is seeing more employees smiling and laughing at work. They seem to be genuinely enjoying what they’re doing. Employees can feel the different approach from their managers, and it makes them more energized about their work. They have more motivation, without management having to push them in any way.

Why are predictive assessments important for employee engagement?

I love quality, scientifically validated assessments like PI and others. They foster self-awareness, and when you better understand yourself, you can be more intentional about how you approach work and the roles you choose to take.

From the organizational perspective, it allows leadership to align employees with the work that they were made to do. That’s exciting to me, because in my own experience, I feel like what I’m doing now is what I was made to do. It’s fulfilling and energizing to be able to do work like that. That’s the dream for everyone: Getting energy from work instead of having work suck out your energy.

When co-workers and managers use assessments, they come to a whole different understanding of how each person responds to the world and what drives them. Think about that co-worker that drives you crazy. When you can understand their behavior and how they are wired, and how that interacts with you and how you are wired, you can communicate so much better. It will impact everything a company does. There can be a deeper connection between employees that will bring so much more meaning to the workplace.

So a lot of benefits, I’m a big fan. And the PI is probably the best that is out there right now.

How can employers and managers unlock high performance in their employees?

It happens by taking all the principles we’ve talked about and making them sustainable, building in processes and systems that almost do the work for you in designing a positive work environment. That’s the key to unlocking high performance. It happens in the day-to-day living out of beliefs and convictions about what work should be like. There’s really no other way.

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