Linking ROI to Workplace Behaviors

Recent articles in several journals have focused on the impact of emotions and behavior in the workplace. The first 2016 issue of the Harvard Business Review is chock-full of well researched articles about “the Emotional Organization” and how nurturing positive relationships in the workplace leads to improved performance. Organizational Dynamics devotes an entire issue to “bad behavior” and the many ways it negatively impacts employee job performance and organizational effectiveness.

So what’s with all this “touchy feely” talk? Is America going soft? Is all of this just another excuse to sell books and fill seminars on the latest hot trend?

Unlikely. Much of the research is from outside the U.S., which suggests these issues are not the result of a thinning of America’s thick skin and won’t threaten our ability to compete globally. The findings appear to speak to the universal human condition—at least among industrialized nations—and not to a specific nationality or culture. Simply put:

  • People are more productive and engaged when inspired by an organizational commitment to their well-being. Strong interpersonal workplace relationships are especially valued.
  • People cannot be scared into productivity through bad behavior, fear, and mistreatment by individuals (g. supervisors, managers, co-workers) or workplaces that tolerate such behaviors.

It seems obvious, but it isn’t. Surveys and research across many industries document bad workplace behaviors that negatively impact key business metrics. Too many organizations continue to tolerate bullying, discrimination, stereotyping, poor communications skills, biases, and incivility.

Driving the expectation of positive workplace conduct is the nature of work itself in many societies. In early Industrialism, the effectiveness of workers toiling in factories was measured in widgets per hour. Workers were just another type of machine to be oiled and tweaked. Their feelings and well-being were of no concern to the factory owners and managers. That has changed over time, and in today’s economy of ideas and intangible production, the workforce thrives when free to innovate and derives inspiration by working with colleagues whom they value.

Research shows that workplaces thrive where there is respectful behavior, good communication, and strong interpersonal relationships; worthy business objectives with significant ROI. HR professionals have an opportunity to take the lead and make the business case to the “C Suite” that paying attention to employee feelings and nurturing workplace relationships makes strong business sense. Leaders should seriously consider making them a part of their core business plans in an age where talent moves freely and is drawn by workplace cultures of respect and opportunity.

The articles cited earlier provide excellent advice on how to tackle these problems, for any size or type of organization. Fancy software or expensive investments are largely unnecessary; leadership and commitment to change are essential. For many organizations, accepting that change is needed may be the greatest challenge of all. To learn more, contact me at or 303-223-5330.