What employee wellbeing means to me: Jim Clifton

Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup and Virgin Disruptors panelist, gives us his opinion on the state of employee wellbeing ahead of our live debate on April 23rd…

Hello Jim. How do you achieve a work/life balance and still manage to keep a track of everything going on at Gallup?

I’m 100 per cent in favour of a healthy work/life balance for employees, but it doesn’t apply to me personally. My job is so much fun, it’s my hobby, my extra interests - basically, my life. Work and life are the same thing for me.

It’s probably easy to be this way because my kids are out of the house and my wife and I don’t have hobbies or take vacations. Our main hobby is following world current events, economics and politics. Ok, that sounds boring, but we love it. And following global events perfectly overlaps with my job, because Gallup tracks opinions on everything of importance everywhere in the world.

Image credit: Jim Clifton

Has your attitude towards employee wellbeing changed over the years?

I didn’t realize until recently the impact of wellbeing on outcomes such as productivity and life expectancy - and even the stability of nations. The importance of wellbeing goes way beyond employees now, it has an impact on citizens too, everywhere. For example, there wasn’t a single data point that could predict the coming of the Arab Spring - which is now the Arab Nightmare - in any institution of data, except wellbeing.

Tunisia’s and Egypt’s GDP were doing very well before the uprisings, so just about everyone in the world thought those countries were fine. But no one, including the smartest and most informed people in the world, saw that wellbeing was crashing in both societies. Wellbeing metrics for nations and cities and organizations will become as or more important than traditional economic measures such as GDP or company stock prices within two decades - simply because they predict better.

What are you striving to achieve in your own company culture?

We have zero interest in the satisfaction of our employees at Gallup. We don’t even think about it. We leave the free lunches, fancy latte machines and employee ping-pong tables to other companies. What we do have interest in is the individual development of every Gallup tribe member - at every level. Gallup cares that each person is working on a team and project that changes the world a little to a lot every day. We run a highly individualized strengths-based culture where our purpose is to change the world one client at a time. Our culture is that simple and our work lives that meaningful.

What do you view as the biggest issue that needs addressing in the workplace?

We are failing to create workplaces of high engagement and high wellbeing. Only 30 per cent of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their job, and that number has been stuck there for almost 15 years. 

Worldwide, employee engagement is a devastating 13 per cent. Here’s a huge reason: Gallup found that organizations fail to hire managers with the right talent for the job a whopping 82 per cent of the timeThis is alarming when you consider that Gallup also found that managers account for 70 per cent of the variation in a company’s employee engagement. Whether you have a great culture or not comes down primarily to whether or not you have managers who can maximize the potential of every single individual and team.

Read: What employee wellbeing means to me: Richard Branson

But wellbeing matters just as much. Gallup has found that only 24 per cent of employees at companies that offer a wellness program actually participate in it, and only 12 per cent of employees strongly agree that they have substantially higher wellbeing because of their employer. Gallup and Healthways have together spent more than $100 million to discover the secret ingredients of wellbeing. There are five key elements: Financial, purpose (i.e.: your career), social, physical and community. When individuals have high scores on all five elements of wellbeing, they’re truly leading lives that money can’t buy.

What advice would you give to a start-up trying to create a healthy and positive culture for their employees?

The hardest part of start-ups is getting and keeping new customers. Making the business model work is much more of the miracle moment than the innovation itself. Innovation is fine, but on its own, it’s worthless until an ambitious businessperson turns it into something a customer wants to buy.

I recommend that start-ups adopt a strengths-based culture, one in which employees’ innate talents are perfectly matched to their roles, and they get paid to do what they do best every day. Strengths-based cultures win more customers.

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