What Sustains You?

Paul Hebert Business Development, Change, Culture, Diversity, Employee Communications, Employee Relations, Employment Branding and Culture, Engagement and Satisfaction, Good HR, HR (& Life!) Advice, Organizational Development, Paul Hebert

We see the word sustainability a lot today.  Mostly focused on environmental issues but I’m seeing it more and more being played out as a “human” issue – meaning what we do to “sustain” ourselves.

But I think we can confuse sustainability with the idea of “static.”

The definition on the Wikipedia page is a great way to view sustainability: “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

I read that and think that sustainability isn’t about staying the same – it is about doing things that keep us in the fight even when things around us change.

Change will happen.  #FACT.  However, what happens to us when things change isn’t writ large in stone.

We can change and still be sustainable.

When designing programs to impact employee engagement and the culture of a company I look at what are the “sustainable” elements.  I want to find those habits, behaviors and values that will still contribute to a company’s success years from now even if the environment in which they happen changes.  Those are the things we need to focus on in order to continue to be relevant in the years to come.

In other words – find what is both unchanging and changing at the same time.

That is sustainability.

Personal Sustainability

Recent events in my own life have taught me that sustainability is about creating activities that when practiced regularly keep you in the game.  I think sustainable activities for individuals include:

Health – doing what keeps you healthy… diet, exercise, relaxing, laughing, crying.

Education – constantly learning… reading, seeking diversity of thought, challenging your own conventions and pre-conceived ideas, really listening to others, taking time to think not just tweet.

Down Time – having time to think, ponder, be unsure, be sure, time to just… be.  We really don’t do this nearly enough.  Down time makes up time more fun and exciting.  Without down time how can you experience the thrill of being “on” – being in the flow?  You can’t.  Down time isn’t being lazy – down time is investing in energy that is accessible for when you need to have some “up time.”

Up Time – Being able to play the game (any game) with vigor and enthusiasm is a key element of being alive and being engaged.  Ask anyone who cannot participate in a meaningful way in life and they will tell you that being in the game is one of the things they miss the most.  Not the winning (or the losing) but the playing.

Connecting – more real connections to real people.  Learning about their needs, wants, desires, problems and possibilities.  These connections anchor your own feelings.  Without connections we have no perspective.  Perspective is what gives us the ability to feel and empathize.  And no, Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn don’t count.  Vine doesn’t either (frankly that just doesn’t make any sense at all to me.)

Corporate Sustainability

So what does this have to do with Human Resources you ask?  Well, if you’re in HR you’re responsible for helping your “human” resources contribute to the sustainability of your organization.  So what does that look like from an organizational perspective?


Corporate health – communicating and assisting your humans in their quest for health.  Do they really know about your health insurance?  How the process works, what it covers (not just after the fact but in a preventative way?)  Does your company leverage social proof to show that healthy employees have better overall lives?  Do you consistently talk about being more focused on their own health?  Some would say it is a bit “big brother-ish” but I see it as caring for your humans – something that can never be a bad thing.

Corporate Learning – do you provide a way for employees to grow in their jobs and in their lives?  Do you help employees find out what skills may be valuable in the future to support the organization?  Do you give employees the ability to learn to play the piano even if it doesn’t directly influence their ability to deliver error-free TPS reports?  Learning and growth of the individual contributes to the learning and grown of the company.  Make it a priority.

Down Time – 2 weeks vacation is openers, ante for today’s corporate game.  But what about time off for volunteer work?  Time off for writing about your industry? What about longer lunch breaks to allow for walk around the block (or for those of you at yahoo! – a walk around the corporate campus?)  Have you really thought about all the ways you can provide some downtime for your employees?  Stretch the definition of down time and see if you can come up with ways that allow your employees to disconnect with everyone else and still connect with themselves (note:  how about wifi and phone signal free zones?  Just spit-balling.)

Up Time – can your employees volunteer for big, game changing projects?  Can someone in accounting offer to be part of the marketing team launching a new product?  How can you help your employees get more time “in the big game?”  Most people love to be challenged and are energized by the opportunity.  Find a way to enable more people to have more at-bats, more innings, more plays.

Connecting – do you offer your employees a way to meet new people in the company?  I’ve worked at large companies and many times I don’t even know the people who sat on the other side of the floor because their job didn’t impact my job (or at least I didn’t think it did.)  The larger the network an employee has the greater their value to the company (and the happier they will be.)  Do you offer a way to meet new people?  Have you enabled introductions with technology like the Coffee Who app I wrote about a few weeks ago?

Sustainability is critical to your personal happiness, your personal success, and your personal engagement.  It is also critical for an engaged workforce.

What unchanging activities can you put in place that will allow you and your company to continue to change and be relevant?

Love to hear what you have done to make yourself or your company sustainable.