To drive performance, manage the whole employee

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The term “human resources management” is essential in business. But have you noticed that the majority of the literature about the topic focuses on the “resources” and the “management” aspects but barely addresses the “human” element? As a result, most managers see their employees as resources to be managed, and not as a whole person that can contribute so much more.

Managing the whole person means acknowledging that everyone is multi-dimensional and has numerous roles to balance in life—all of which affect job performance. However, this goes much deeper than simply work-life balance. It’s about recognizing all aspects of an employee to ensure a work-life “fit” that benefits the company and each individual. In fact, when you focus on the whole person rather than just on an employee’s work performance, you build more meaningful connections with employees, which results in greater loyalty and productivity. Following are some suggestions for better managing the whole employee.   

See the input, not just the output, of each employee.

When managing the whole person, you need to look beyond the person’s job description. Look beyond the output (the deadlines, the expectations, and the day-to-day job duties) and start looking at the input factors, as these determine the quality of the output.

Input factors are the drivers and drainers in the employees’ lives that affect their job performance. Some typical input factors include:

  • The employee’s best time of day to get work done
  • What’s going on in the employee’s family
  • The employee’s physical, mental, and emotional health
  • Other stressors the employee has, such as being a caregiver to aging parents, being pregnant, being the only income-earner in the home, etc
  • What community or hobby events the employee is committed to

Basically, it’s about paying attention to all of the different drivers and drainers of what motivates employees to either perform at the level of acceptable performance, to go above and beyond an acceptable level of performance, or to underperform to expectations. Because all of the various inputs affect the overall output, being aware of the input makes good business sense.

Acknowledge that everyone is multi-dimensional.

Many managers believe that finding out about their employees’ lives outside of the work role is intrusive. They don’t want to ask personal questions for fear of appearing nosey. The good news is that you don’t have to ask questions to find out about people. You simply have to acknowledge the clues that are all around you.

For example, if you see photos of children in someone’s office, you don’t have to ask, “Are those your kids?” You can simply comment, “Those are beautiful children.” With that one acknowledgment, most people will open up, tell you who the children are, and offer lots more personal information. Likewise, if you see sports gear stashed away in a corner of someone’s cubicle, you don’t have to ask, “Do you play tennis [or whatever sport is evident]?” Instead, you can comment, “I’ve always been interested in tennis.” Again, the person will naturally start talking about the sport, the team or league she’s on, her accomplishments, and so much more.  While it’s true that most people don’t want to sit through a session of 20 questions with their manager, they do enjoy being acknowledged—not just for their work, but also for their other interests.

Look at the big picture, not just the day-to-day details.

The average full-time employee works 2,080 hours per year…at the office. That doesn’t include time the employee puts in at night and on the weekends. With all of today’s technological innovations, more and more people are connected to work 24/7, even while on vacation. As the separation between work and life becomes narrowed—what many people are referring to as a “blur” of roles—a person’s ability to focus intently on any one role becomes more difficult, resulting in errors and burnout.

In many organizations the managers set the expectation for this blur because they’re not looking at the big picture of what the organization accomplishes; rather, they are focusing on the day-to-day stressors, the errors, the requests for time off, or the employee’s lunch hour that was really an hour and a half. By keeping your eye on the day-to-day details, you’re missing the big picture of what your people really contribute. In essence, you’re adding undue stress on everyone—including yourself. Of course, details are important, but it’s also vital to take a step back and look at the big picture so you can see your employees as people and not as parts of a machine to be fixed.

Take Management to a “Whole” New Level

When you put the “human” element back into human resources management, you’re acknowledging the needs of the employees so they can perform better. When employees feel recognized as more than just a number on a monthly report, they tend to give you more discretionary effort or what’s called “citizenship behavior,” where they’re supportive of other employees and of the organization as a whole. As an added benefit, when employees are more supportive of their managers, the manager’s workload becomes less stressful too. Ultimately, the sooner you recognize all the drivers and drainers that impact people and then manage them, the sooner you’ll be able to create a high-performing team.

Marty Martin, Ph.D., has been speaking and training nationally and internationally for many years. His second book, "Taming Disruptive Behavior," will be published by The American College of Physician Executives (ACPE) in 2013. He is currently working on his third book, "Do You Have Career Insurance?" Martin is the director of the Health Sector Management MBA Concentration and associate professor in the College of Commerce at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. For more information, go to

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California  |  November, 25, 2013 at 08:14 PM

This focus on the whole person is extremely helpful. It's important to de-mystify the people factor in business. One of the simplest ways to do this is too understand state of mind as a performance factor. All performance is regulated, ultimately, by state of mind changes. This is why some people can have all sorts of presenting circumstances such as described above and cope with them well and easily, whereas others may not. Understanding state of mind in human beings, how it is generated and why it fluctuates, gives a manager the key to unlocking performance in all individuals. You have only to look at sports personalities to understand the role and importance of state of mind. Healthy and creative states of mind are relaxed yet awake and alert -- or even "in the zone." The state of mind variable in human performance is vastly underestimated and misunderstood in business. Happy to provide some reading and references for any interested.

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