What if employee flourishing was one of our measures of success in organizations? What if we – individually and collectively – saw that part of our work together is to ensure that each and every person thrives in their work? If we aim to ensure that people flourish, we would go beyond attending to what they learn, how they perform, and whether they excel in their jobs.

The idea that we might raise flourishing to the top of our list of goals is not that far out of the box given current circumstances. You saw last year’s headlines – concerns about great resignation and quiet quitting, demands for new employee-beneficial work contracts, calls for a more humanistic and employee-centered management style, and prioritization of initiatives focused on inclusion, belonging, engagement, and well-being. All of these concerns can be addressed under a goal to ensure flourishing.

What flourishing is
In academic circles, flourishing is defined by the degree of mental and physical health, happiness and life satisfaction, character and virtue, meaning and purpose, and close social relationships (some would add financial and material stability). According to Dr. Martin Seligman, a seminal thought leader in the positive psychology movement, the elements of flourishing include:

  • Feeling joy, gratitude, interest, and hope
  • Being fully absorbed in activities that use your skills and challenge you
  • Having good relationships in many contexts
  • Belonging to and serving something bigger than yourself
  • Achieving success, gaining mastery

That sounds like a worthwhile state to enable, and at least partially achievable in a work environment.

The commission to empower flourishing would fall on leaders in all areas, perhaps especially in HR and HRD. We could make it our business to advocate for employees, to put them in a position to thrive. How would that change the work? How would it change our approach to learning and development?

How to support flourishing in L&D
Knowledge and skill development would seem to be closely tied to the ability to thrive – it generates interest, absorbs and challenges people, requires interaction, helps people see connections to purpose and goals, and most certainly impacts their ability to achieve success through mastery of skills. Here are a few high level ways that L&D can support flourishing:

  • Deepen empathy with employees. A commitment to a thriving workforce changes the status of employees, promoting them from being objects of interventions, to being stakeholders and clients whose needs and perspectives must be considered.  It would mean exploring employee viewpoints more deeply and finding ways to uncover and address their needs. Consider making a habit of crafting and consulting an empathy map as you plan your projects.
  • Nurture relationships. Helping people to flourish raises the profile of the work we do to build relationships – to connect people, to encourage collaboration and collaborative learning, and to nurture community and culture. We support deep relationship building through development programs, learning activities, enterprise social tools, and interpersonal skill-building. Consider resolving that every project you undertake incorporate a specific social strategy, taking deliberate robust steps to build relationships between and among employees as part of the overall effort.
  • Design genuinely engaging learning strategies. While this advice is already a guideline for any learning experience design, an eye toward employee thriving provides another impetus to design well. Incorporate activities that are challenging and enriching, which may mean designing extended or blended programs that develop knowledge and skill at a deeper level. Employees may be impatient with programs that are too basic, but will likely appreciate programs that offer challenge and complexity and move them to mastery.
  • Allocate time for learning and development. To be able to thrive, people need to devote time to learning. Knowledge and skill development is the necessary enabler for achieving success and building mastery, and learning projects often contribute to developing relationships and finding meaning and purpose. A sense of time pressure is endemic in our culture, so clearly giving employees room to pursue learning projects and to engage in developmental relationships is critical. Giving them control of when and how they learn can also be a real boost to their ability to thrive.

What else would you add?

2023 is poised to be another tough year… a contentious political environment, an unstable economic state, rising social conflicts, continued tech disruption, and ongoing experimentation with hybrid work environments. And yet, like the flowers that bloom in snow, people can still flourish. If we make flourishing part of our remit, not only will we contribute to employee well-being, we’ll also be strengthening the work we do to build capability in the organization.

For more on flourishing…

How to flourish: Practical activities supported by scientific research
// The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard
In addition to these recommendations for flourishing, explore the site to learn more about flourishing including how to measure degree of flourishing.

Flourishing: Definition, aspects, & tips
// Berkely Well-Being Institute
Berkely’s advice on ways to flourish include savoring, which is one of my favorite recommendations. Savoring life’s experiences can make a huge difference in an intense world.

Positive psychology: Martin E. P. Seligman’s visionary science
// A Coursera course offered by the University of Pennsylvania.
Taught by Martin Seligman himself (auditing the course is free)
An open course through which you can learn foundational concepts and practices for flourishing from one of the thought leaders in the field.

My best wishes for your endeavors to support flourishing in your organization, and for a year in which you yourself thrive as well.