Total Rewards Action Recording: Life's Great Question with Author Tom Rath - 9/10/20

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause unprecedented impact to business, employers, and employees, human capital leaders continue to face both short- and long-term challenges. Since March, i4cp has held a weekly series of calls specifically for Learning and Talent leaders to discuss problems and share ideas regarding L&D strategy, remote training, virtual leadership development, and more. Each week, hundreds of executives join these calls to hear from their community and access the latest research from i4cp's Coronavirus Employer Resource Center.

This week's featured guest is New York Times #1 bestselling author Tom Rath, who will also keynote at the i4cp 2020 Next Practices Now Virtual Conference (September 28 - October 1)

9/10/2020 Call Notes


The September 10th Total Rewards Action Call featured researcher, advisor, and bestselling author of over 10 books Tom Rath, who discussed his latest book titled Life’s Great Question. i4cp’s Total Rewards Leader Board Chair Mark Englizian lead the discussion, which kicked off with a video of people sharing their personal life purpose while attendees shared some of their own life purpose statements in the chat.

The conversation with Rath – who will also be a featured speaker at i4cp’s upcoming 2020 Next Practices Now Conference – focused mainly around how aligning one’s job with their personal purpose impacts well-being and benefits both the individual and their organization.

Key Takeaways:

1.     The social contract between employees and their organizations is broken. Rath started by sharing how his research showed that people’s jobs were often detrimental to their health and personal relationships. He also referenced fellow author Jeffrey Pfeffer’s work in Dying for a Paycheck. Rath pointed out that engagement surveys are a faulty indicator of employee well-being, as they tend to focus on what the organizations are getting from the relationship, not the employees. So how does work make life better? Traditionally, most people end up in their careers for pay, status, and to fulfill external expectations of them. But those factors have limits when it comes to supporting individual well-being, and Rath contends that we need to rethink how people set their identity through work and that what people actually need are jobs that make them feel they are making a substantive contribution.

 2.     Focus externally on building people up and having a positive impact on your community. According to Rath, focusing internally tends to result in dwelling on angst and fears, while focusing outward on others or a purpose that’s important to you helps to support well-being and make one more resistant to stressors. He discussed his personal 30-year battle with cancer, which taught him to focus on having an impact and emphasized the importance of prioritizing personal relationships. The resilience he developed through those challenges is something he’s seen in others who faced similar challenges in life. He went on to say that the chaos we see today with COVID-19 and social unrest has put more people in challenging situations and has deepened our collective need to find our best ways to contribute. As a predictor of happiness, Rath shared that spending even a little time each day doing what one does best (particularly if it helps others) can have a significant impact over time.

 3.     Purpose and wealth are not mutually exclusive. While income doesn’t necessarily beget happiness or well-being, Rath shared that there is connection. Traditionally, questions about well-being have been asked in ways that have an inherent connotation of income dependency, which tends to show that over time as a person’s income increases, so does their well-being. Now, with better questioning, it’s become clear that other factors – such as what a person is doing, who they are with, what level of day-to-day engagement and enjoyment they get from task – give rise to a more accurate reading of daily well-being. When measured in this way, Rath says that the relationship to income tends to drop off at around $75,000 per household. So income is still necessary to for well-being to the point of eliminating daily stressors, but after that factors such as relationships, physical health, and meaningful work are greater determinates of overall happiness. Rath also speculated, however, that it’s more difficult for people at the lower end of the income spectrum to get meaning from work, and that income and job-related stressors can be draining and make it more difficult to find greater happiness through relationships.

 4.     Well-being has been slow in graining traction, but COVID-19 and social unrest are bringing the various aspects of well-being into greater focus. For a long time, well-being was lumped in with wellness programs as a consideration in many companies. Now, other aspects – such as relationships, career, community, and finances – are seen as pillars of well-being. The next challenge is making well-being a cultural initiative that is integrated into work processes and behavior modeling expectations for leaders. In many ways, COVID-19 has forced these initiatives. Rath contends that in a few years, being able to prove overall well-being in an organization’s workforce will be a differentiator in the market and a major talent consideration. He also says that the major first step to this is getting executive leadership team backing for well-being as a cultural advantage. That said, well-being modeling by leaders at lower levels will still have an impact.

Other topics from the call:

Another insight from Rath’s book is that great jobs are made, not found; and that great careers are often non-linear. This is important for level-setting career expectations and what it takes to end up in a job you love. The question Rath recommends is: Can I make this current job into one that I love without changing jobs? In some cases, managers will be willing to let employees make changes as long as they get the desired results. Another question is: Are there other jobs in the company that will be better? This could require organizations to think differently about how they can better match their needs with talents through promotions and movement.

Another insight is that many teams fail due to poor relationships. Mutual understanding about the varied talents, challenges, and where people can make their best contributions inside of a team come out through relationship building. According to Rath, great performers are seldom well-rounded, but great teams are. Knowing where members can make the most meaningful contributions is important to both team success and the well-being of the individuals involved.

Tom Rath at the 2020 i4cp Next Practices Now Conference:

Rath will be presenting on Tuesday, September 29th at 8am EST. He will continue discussing how people can make their most impactful contributions, as well as more about broadening the social contract between employers and employees.


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