How to Create a 'Whole Person' Workplace

BY Emily Nonko | October 29, 2021

Throughout 2019, Scott Behson was busy drafting his next book, with the planned title The Family-Forward Workplace. But when Covid-19 hit, Behson, a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University and a national expert on work and family issues, completely shifted gears. The workplace was changing in dramatic ways, he knew, and the book needed to reflect that.

“I realized this focus on working parents was too narrow,” he said. So Behson conducted interviews with business owners, chief executives, and HR officers in the spring and summer of 2020 and kept hearing similar sentiments: “This idea that work is work, and your life should be separate from it, was really kind of a fiction, right? We're all people. And employees should be valued, not just as a part of the machine,” he told me in a fireside-chat interview at From Day One’s October virtual conference, “Promoting Employee Mental Health, Wellness and Stress Reduction.”

The result of his change in direction is The Whole-Person Workplace, a book to help employers develop ways to support employees with the full range of their work-life issues, including job flexibility, remote work, parental leave, child care, wellness programs, educational benefits, support for volunteerism, compensation and benefits, and workplace culture.

We kicked off the conversation defining what, exactly, the whole-person workplace is–and what it isn’t. The “whole person” concept came up in an interview with a chief HR officer who told Behson: “We have to realize we get the whole person through the door, we get their backs, and their hands, and their minds and their hearts, and they are all at different places in their lives. So we have to do our best to take care of them. They're going to help us succeed.”

Creating a workplace where employees feel psychologically safe, Behson stressed, is not about one-off programming or workplace policies. “It's really more of a value system of how we value employees, not just as a part of the machine, but as a whole human being,” he said.

Fireside chat: author Scott Behson, left, and interviewer Emily Nonko

In his research for the book, Behson talked with a wide range of company leaders, from multinational corporate executives to owners of small businesses, to understand how companies can structure whole-person values into different kinds of businesses. The book hones in on parental leave “that works for everyone” and support for working parents as crucial starting points. Those policies can serve to benefit all employees, he pointed out: “If you give people time for life, flexibility, and some control over their time, it allows families and working parents, and frankly, anybody who's working, to create a custom solution that works well for them.”

With the Great Resignation much in the news, Behson stressed that companies shouldn’t delay in investing in whole-person workplaces. “I think it's really important that we, as an employer, as someone who's trying to recruit or retain employees, are able to tell the story about how we value employees as whole people and the different ways we've expressed that over the last two years, and how we're going to express that going forward,” he said.

Behson offered tips for first steps that companies can take to have whole-person workplaces. “You must sincerely hold this value,” he said, then small steps can make a difference: moving meeting times to better fit employee needs, encouraging volunteer and community work, and revisiting practices like onboarding and performance reviews.

A silver lining of the pandemic is that the holistic, humane workplace values that have emerged can carry into the next phase. “We have some responsibility,” Behson said, “to extend the level of care we might give to a client or a customer or a patient or whomever else, that same level of care, we should get to the very people who make our business work, the people who work for us.”

Emily Nonko is a Brooklyn, NY-based reporter who writes about real estate, architecture, urbanism and design. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Curbed and other publications.


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