This Massive Study Just Revealed the 5 Characteristics Needed for a Thriving Workplace

Organizations that thrive put their own people first–even above customers.

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BY Marcel Schwantes - 03 Aug 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The SHRM Foundation, in collaboration with Globoforce, recently released a report entitled, Creating a More Human Workplace Where Employees and Business Thrive. I was flabbergasted by the immensity of the research compiled to help businesses grow. It is truly compelling and a gold mine.

Upon further inspection, I found that the study's author is none other than the venerable Christine Porath. She is professor of management at Georgetown University and the prolific author of both Mastering Civility and The Cost of Bad Behavior. Porath's research examines workplace incivility and its horrible effects, and how organizations can create a more positive environment.

In this report, fifty-one pages of research basically boils down to this critical summary: If companies desire more productive employees who love their jobs (which clearly lead to business outcomes), they will need to usher in the new era of human and caring workplaces.

More specifically, as the report title suggests, leaders need to create a culture where employees not only succeed, but thrive. The volumes of research found in this report profoundly reveal that when people thrive at work, their job performance improves; they go above and beyond the call of duty.

However, to get to the promised land of a thriving human-focused business is counter-cultural. I venture to say, companies that operate by the traditional, top-down, command and control way of doing things will be disqualified by design.

The study remarks, "Organizations that succeed put their own people first--even above customers--because they recognize that their employees are the key to creating long-term value."

The 5 Characteristics of a Thriving Workforce

According to the report, "A thriving workforce means greater engagement of each employee's physical, cognitive and emotional energies," which then spurs the employee's feelings of happiness and purpose.

That's a tall order, but studies of more than a dozen organizations across a wide variety of industries prove that when employees receive the valuable benefits of vitality, learning, good health, effective leadership and positive work/life balance, the whole organization thrives as well. Lets take a look at each.


The first characteristic of a thriving employee is vitality -- that sense of feeling energetic, passionate, and alive at work. Employees who experience vitality will spark energy and productivity in themselves and others, it's contagious. In a separate HBR article by Porath, she says, "Companies generate vitality by giving people the sense that what they do on a daily basis makes a difference." But vitality alone won't do the trick, and can even be damaging. Porath says it has to happen in unison with the next characteristic of a thriving employee -- learning.


Thriving employees seek a career path. They look for opportunities to learn new things, acquire new skills and have access to information to help them get better at what they do. They want to experiment with new ideas to propel their learning forward. When given the freedom, a cycle of growth begins and is self-perpetuating. One of the mechanisms to create opportunities for learning is feedback. By resolving feelings of uncertainty, feedback keeps people's work-related activities focused on personal and organizational goals. "The quicker and more direct the feedback, the more useful it is," states Porath.


The report states, "Thriving employees tend to be healthier, reporting fewer physical complaints, far fewer doctor visits and less burnout--all of which translates to lower health care costs and greater sustainability." In fact, healthy and thriving workers experience 125 percent less burnout (self-reported) than their peers. They were also 32 percent more committed to the organization and 46 percent more satisfied with their jobs.

Effective leadership

Thriving isn't just for employees; bosses benefit as well. From the report: "In a study of executives across different industries, thriving leaders were rated 17 percent more effective than leaders who reported lower levels of thriving. Employees described thriving leaders as role models who take initiative and empower others. Such leaders' energy is contagious."

Work/life balance

An employee thriving at work will thrive in their personal lives as well, and vice-versa. The report states, "Thriving in nonwork activities seems to build up resources that people bring to their work." Companies and HR professionals hold the key to fostering a more caring, human workplace where its people are given more flexible work options and autonomy to improve their well-being.

The Numbers Don't Lie

In the study, white collar employees who thrived were reported to be:

• 32 percent more committed to their job

• 72 percent more satisfied with job

• 1.25x less burned out

Blue collar employees did even better. They were:

• 37 percent better on a team

• 89 percent better on innovation

• 39 percent better in a safety performance

• 79 percent more committed to the organization

The Bottom Line

Companies serious about sustainable and thriving work cultures should start with boosting the positive emotions and well-being of their human workers. There's a clear competitive advantage in doing so, as it increases performance and business outcomes. From a branding and recruitment standpoint, especially with Millennials, a human workplace will attract good talent, ultimately leading to wins for all stakeholders.

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