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Beth Cabrera, Georgia Tech First Lady
Beth Cabrera, Georgia Tech First Lady

How to Create a Thriving Workplace: Insights from Georgia Tech First Lady Dr. Beth Cabrera

Twenty-first century employers across the globe are prioritizing the well-being of employees as research continues to reveal the benefits of fostering work environments where individuals can thrive. Dr. Beth Cabrera recently spoke to Scheller MBA students about creating a thriving workplace and shared tips and evidence-based approaches for improving employee well-being. Cabrera is the founder of Cabrera Insights and author of Beyond Happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being. She provided wisdom from years of experience in research, teaching, and advising and coaching individuals and organizations to maximize performance and engagement.

Cabrera began by explaining why employee well-being is important. Employee well-being is not just a “nice” concept but contributes to improved firm outcomes. Research has shown that higher employee well-being leads to improvements in productivity demonstrated by lower unscheduled absences, lower impaired performance, and higher job performance. In addition, higher employee well-being contributes to improved retention outcomes as defined by higher intention to stay, lower voluntary turnover, and lower involuntary turnover.

But what does employee well-being entail? According to Cabrera, well-being involves two dimensions: Feeling Good and Doing Good. As individuals, if we only feel good, we live a happy life. Conversely, if we only do good, we live a meaningful life. But if we are feeling good and doing good, we thrive. When individuals thrive, they are more self-confident, more energetic, more resilient, more creative, healthier, can sustain more positive relationships, and are better at solving problems. In sum, maximized well-being means one is thriving.

With the two dimensions of well-being in mind, Cabrera offered valuable and practical tips for leaders to support employees in feeling and doing good.

Feeling Good

Culture of Caring - Create a culture of caring by modeling and rewarding caring behavior and not tolerating uncaring behavior. Promote caring by exercising generosity, compassion, appreciation, respect, and civility.

Positive Focus – While our human survival instinct causes us to focus on the negative and potential threats, being intentional about maintaining a positive focus cultivates positive emotions.

Research suggests that practicing gratitude re-wires the brain to focus on the positive. Thus, participate and invite your employees in the daily practice of writing three things to be grateful for. Additionally, positive priming (such as starting with the good in meetings and conversations) sets a positive tone for the remainder of the encounter. A positive focus does not ignore problems, but it does highlight what is going well.

Mindfulness - Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment. The demands of modern life and technology provide endless opportunities for distraction, but research shows that our brains release cortisol, the stress hormone, when we multi-task. Therefore, it is imperative for leaders to create environments that minimize distractions, which will increase not only individual well-being but employee productivity.

One strategy is to designate productivity days when meetings cannot be scheduled and employees can work uninterrupted. Another way to mitigate multi-tasking is to establish shorter meetings, so that employees can remain focused and have extra time for other tasks.

Doing Good

Values - Allow and lead employees to participate in activities they value. Get to know your team and what is important to them. Then, encourage them to set aside time on their calendar to participate in those activities. Model this behavior as well by making your calendar public so that your employees can see that you, too, set aside time to exercise or attend your child’s 5th grade expo. 

Impact - Show employees how their contribution is making an impact. The key lever here is job crafting. Job crafting involves attention to three dimensions: cognitive, task, and relationship. Cognitively, a leader must regularly remind employees of their “why” and show how their work is having an impact. In addition, leaders should ensure a variety of meaningful tasks for employees, which can further motivate employees. Asking employees to get involved in other activities, such as a task force or employee resource group, gives them a sense of impact.

Finally, leaders can encourage employees to build relationships by inspiring acts of kindness towards each other. By strategically job crafting, employees will view their work as a calling rather than simply a job or career. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Life’s most important and urgent question is, ‘what are you doing for others?’”

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