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New Harvard Study Reveals Factors That Impact Employee Well Being

Expert Shares Keys to Building Successful Workplace Relationships

Business executives from the C-suite and HR, to QC and R&D are, by nature, focused on the corporate bottom line. A new trend in our dawning age of social sustainability is that many experts believe more attention should be paid to the dotted line - the one signed when a person commits to employment at a company. New Harvard research validates this approach, affirming that trust and purpose play a significant role in building successful, productive workplaces.

The behavioral research, conducted by a team at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, identifies the factors most likely to impact 21st century employee well being, commitment and productivity. The researchers found that commitment is largely influenced by one's sense of purpose, feeling of personal impact and overall trust in the organization. Productivity is largely affected by the quality of human relationships including cooperative, social group moods and interaction.

"The results lead us to conclude that workplaces that provide positive environments that foster interpersonal trust and quality personal relationships create the most committed and productive employees," says Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D., the lead researcher on the study.

According to business strategist Courtney Anderson, J.D., M.B.A., "Outstanding leadership today means much more than just doing your job. Success is creating an environment that fosters happy, committed, productive team members."

Anderson explains that reinvigorating workplaces by enhancing trust and employee commitment does not have to be difficult. The biggest challenge, she says, "is making the time to truly change in our overscheduled, instant access competitive work environments. With a little know-how, it can be easy to evolve workplace well being and respond to these compelling research results."

Some of Anderson's answers for fostering corporate purpose and trust can be presented in three categories: environment, management and leadership.

Provide Environmental Support: Great employers manage their physical environments as much as the workload. For example, studies at Rutgers and Texas A&M universities have proven that something as simple as adding flowers to the environment enhances moods, social interaction and on-the-job creativity and productivity. A previous Harvard study confirmed that flowers have an energizing effect on people at work. Other managers succeed by encouraging rewarding opportunities, such as participating in a local cause marketing program or simply having monthly team lunches or team-building exercises.

Practice "Uneventful Management": Be ready for crises but, on a daily basis, present yourself to your team and others as prepared, calm and assertive. While there will evidently be unexpected circumstances that require modifications and change, one's leadership abilities can help instill loyalty and trust. Honest, direct communications are both expected and respected, and you should make time to reach out to your team on a regular basis to keep them informed of progress and issues that they may face down the road.

Exude Leadership: Employees commit to leaders who demonstrate three qualities: confidence, credibility and flexibility. Engage in substantive self-evaluation, acknowledge your weaknesses and improve where necessary.

The new Harvard research also found that employee happiness is positively and significantly affected by trust and identification with one's co-workers. Further, the greater the level of purpose one attributes to his or her work correlates to a greater commitment to the organization. The same is true for the level of trust the employer has cultivated among its employees. Productive employees are a result of a winning combination of trust and support.

"Sometimes we get so overwhelmed with complex, capital-intensive innovations that we miss the solutions right in front of us," says Anderson, who also says that a healthy work environment is a two-way street and encourages employees to turn their cubicles into you-bicles. "Doing little things like adding flowers to your workspace or taking a few extra minutes to get to know your co-workers will make you happier at work."

METHODOLOGY

21st Century Well Being, Commitment and Productivity - Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.
Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D.
Fall/Winter 2006

Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and her research team investigated the factors most likely to impact 21st century employee well being and commitment. They found that elements including a sense of purpose and trust and quality human relationships were most likely to determine a worker's feelings of well being and productivity.

The research was conducted with cooperation from Cytyc Corporation, a publicly traded company that is a top producer of women's health screening products and services. Self-reported environmental and emotional surveys were completed online by participants before and after the intervention. The surveys covered a wide variety of topics, including perceived creativity, productivity, morale, happiness/emotions, stress levels, team interaction, social interaction and neatness.

University Research Indicates Flowers and Plants Promote Innovation, Ideas - Key Findings Shed Light on Environmental Psychology of the Workplace.

In today's economy, it is more important than ever for businesses to gain the competitive edge. Constant fluctuations in unemployment, productivity, consumer confidence and other major economic factors make it imperative for businesses to implement the right strategies to stay ahead of their competition.

According to business experts, the key to gaining the competitive edge in the modern economy is easy to understand - a happy, productive workforce. And, while sometimes the easiest notions can be the most difficult to achieve, a recent scientific study conducted at Texas A&M University finds that nature can hold the secret to business success. The research demonstrates that workers' idea generation, creative performance and problem solving skills improve substantially in workplace environments that include flowers and plants.

"Our research shows that a change as simple as adding flowers and plants can be important in the most meaningful way to businesses in the modern economy," said Dr. Roger Ulrich, lead researcher on the project. "People's productivity, in the form of innovation and creative problem solving, improved - which in certain circumstances could mean the difference between mild and great business success."

Research Findings: Overall and Men vs. Women

In an eight-month study, the Texas A&M University research team explored the link between flowers and plants and workplace productivity. Participants performed creative problem solving tasks in a variety of common office environments, or conditions. The conditions included a workplace with flowers and plants, a setting with sculpture and an environment with no decorative embellishments.

During the study, both women and men demonstrated more innovative thinking, generating more ideas and original solutions to problems in the office environment that included flowers and plants. In these surroundings, men who participated in the study generated 15% more ideas. And, while males generated a greater abundance of ideas, females generated more creative, flexible solutions to problems when flowers and plants were present.

"We know the importance of learning, for example, how natural surroundings affect drivers, school children, and hospital patients," said Ulrich, who has conducted extensive research on the effects of environments on psychological well-being, stress and health. "To businesses, it should be equally as important to understand what features can improve performance at work and make employees more productive."

Background: Dr. Roger Ulrich

The Impact of Flowers and Plants on Workplace Productivity Study was conducted by Roger Ulrich, Ph.D., Behavioral Scientist, Director of the Center for Health Systems and Design, Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. Dr. Ulrich is a professor of landscape architecture and is an internationally recognized expert on the influences of surroundings on human well-being and health. His interests concern applications of environment-behavior knowledge to healthcare buildings, landscape architecture and urban design.

The research lends weight to growing scientific evidence that flowers and plants, as well as other aspects of nature, have a beneficial impact on state of mind and emotions. The Society of American Florists worked in cooperation with the Texas A&M University research team, bringing an expertise of flowers and plants to the project.

The Impact of Flowers & Plants on Workplace Productivity: Methodology

Researchers at Texas A&M University recruited 101 participants to take part in The Impact of Flowers and Plants on Workplace Productivity study. During the eight-month scientific study, participants took part in emotional, creativity and attentional demand protocols, in conditions that were carefully controlled, yet were similar to those in many office workplaces. Subjects were asked to perform a series of tasks in one of three environmental office conditions, selected at random: with fresh flowers and plants; with abstract sculpture; or with no embellishments at all. Throughout each session, subjects self-rated their moods four times, executed two creativity tasks and completed one attentional demand test. Researchers measured the number of ideas participants generated, their ideas' originality and flexibility, and other responses, using data extracted from the tests, which included Torrance Tests of the Creative Thinking and Profile of Mood States.

©2006 SAF All Rights Reserved

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