By Louis Joseph, M.D. & Denise Joseph, J.D.
Open Sea Institute for Psychiatry, Wellness & Executive Performance Coaching
November 1st, 2023

If you would like to know what will motivate your employees in our rapidly evolving economies, ask yourself these two simple questions:

In your lifetime, what job did you feel the most engaged performing? 

Why were you so engaged performing this job?

If you are like most people, your answers have little to do with money. You may have remembered working for a particular boss who was a great teacher. Or, perhaps, you thought about yourself in a role where you were able to exercise your creativity.

In the past decade, research has consistently shown that non-monetary benefits are what motivate people to work the most effectively and the hardest.  Feeling appreciated or intellectually stimulated, having a leader or cause in which one believes, feeling a sense of comradery with co-workers, and solving interesting problems are attributes most people cite in employee engagement surveys. These are all external factors directly related to work or the work environment. There are also internal factors many cite that concern the emotional health of working individuals. Employee Assistance Program (EAP) research has shown that up to half of employees admit that problems coping with stress affect their work performance. Steady streams of academic and corporate research reaffirm these notions.

And here is the rub; despite the yards of knowledge that both corporate and academic worlds have gained about what engages employees, little has been done in terms of formulating or implementing management systems and styles that can effectively move the needle. According to the 2023 Gallup State of the Global Workplace Report, only 23% of employees are engaged on their jobs and the majority of employees are either, “watching the clock” or, taking actions that directly undermine their organizations. If you drill down further, you’ll find that US data mirrors international data. This would be scary if it weren’t the status quo.

One of the issues underpinning poor employee engagement worldwide is foundational. There exists a lack of an accurate metric of engagement. If you cannot measure a thing, you cannot administer to it. An engaged employee, in his truest sense, is an employee who is psychologically present and motivated to work. Oftentimes, corporate measures of employee engagement are only measuring employee contentment, which is a different concept that does not yield the same outcomes in terms of productivity, positivity, and longevity of employment with a corporation.

Industries and companies that demonstrate higher employee engagement tend to have employees that find their work more meaningful. Healthcare and technology sectors often afford such meaning given their natures of work. Some financial services firms, however, have been partially able to improve the engagement of their employees by underscoring the meaning of work done.

As many readers know, having a disengaged team under the hedge fund or private equity umbrellas can be devastating to the underlying performance of the firm. Given that firms in these industries tend to be small when compared to other industries (with under 100 employees on average), there is not much room for error by way of employee disengagement.

Some of you may be thinking that we have lost the plot and are going about this the wrong way. At this juncture, some of you may invoke Niccolo Machiavelli’s wisdom from The Prince, arguing that his words reign supreme:

“Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved.”

Open Sea Institute respectfully disagrees.

When it comes to successful management of employees and creating a culture capable of winning the hearts and optimizing the minds of an organization’s workforce, love will always win out– think championship sports teams. And, in a post-Covid economy where workers can move between jobs in their pajamas from the comfort of their homes, where an increasingly generous social safety net burgeons, where unions boldly exercise their million-man might, and where the average employee can voice their grievances on social media as easily an anyone can tie their shoe, fear as a motivator is much less effective than love (proxy for engagement).

Reader, we’re not in 1532 anymore.

Perhaps now you are thinking that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can minimize the corporate world’s reliance on employees.

Open Sea Institute maintains that meaningful human engagement will remain essential to the workforce in most industries.

Many lower-level jobs will be replaced or augmented by Artificial Intelligence and computers. However, within the financial services industry, particularly in hedge funds and private equity firms, reliance on technology to provide insight into investment decisions has been present for decades. Despite this reliance on technology, humans are still essential to most firm functions–think legal, investor relations, fund raising, fund management, software development, accounting, real estate acquisition and management, etc..

One rapidly growing trend across business sectors is investment in employee mental health and wellness. Companies are realizing the tangible financial and cultural returns this investment yields. However, given the nascent state of the wellness industry, there is much improvement to be made. Many mental wellness programs implemented by corporations are bundled with physical wellness programs and are “one-size-fits all” in nature. They are not industry or organization specific, and their efficacy is supported by questionable evidence. They tend to mostly benefit front line employees who are not performing mission critical organization functions. Certainly, they do not effectively administer upper management and executive class employees. Most programs rely on functions that can be dispensed by individuals with relatively low levels of training, mental aptitude, and expertise. These include promoting mental health awareness, group meditation or exercise activities (presented in person or via app), and offering employees access to counselors or coaches who are relatively inexperienced and unskilled and are unable to form meaningful bonds with executive class employees. Nonetheless, even with such simplistic interventions, modest progress can be made in the realms of absenteeism and productivity. We can tell you from firsthand experience though, that there are far greater horizons.

If you are uncertain about how to provide employee mental wellness or coaching effectively, we can help. If you believe you are already doing well, we can help you do better.

Please visit us at OpenSea.Institute to get started.