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Are You an Employee Sustainable Organization?



This is a short post and a concept I’m sure I’ll be revisiting in more depth but I am compelled to get the thought down on paper before it slips into that “good intentions black hole.”

Each Monday here at Symbolist we have a quick company “meeting” where we talk about out weekend, our plans for the week, potential roadblocks to success, goals, dreams, etc.  In other words we have a conversation about our lives and about the work we do to make a living.

Making a Living

As we chatted (it is more of a dinner conversation than a “let’s go around the table and tell us what is going on” forced update) Tom Miller (the company Pres…) said something to the effect:

We make a living so we can have a life.

I wrote that down.

We then we started talking about how providing employees with non-traditional opportunities to enjoy life helps employees create sustainability in their jobs and their chosen profession.  In other words – a company has a responsibility to find ways to impact employee lives outside the job description if they want to have a long-term, contributing employee.

That led us to a discussion of one of our staff who is down in Brazil (more to come on this) working with some disadvantaged families – helping those people make the best of their tough lot in life.  Tom’s point was that by allowing our teammate to take time to help out in Brazil we, as a company, were helping him stay engaged with the company.

We were helping create a sustainable employment contract between the employee and Symbolist by building a human, emotional connection that transcends the typical transactions of employment (the check, the benefits, the 2-week vacation.)

This discussion then led me to add another line to my previous note:

Change a Life.

So now, on my notepad it reads…

Make a Living… Create a Life… Change a Life

Isn’t this what we all want? 

We want a place we can contribute and get paid – but we also want a place that allows us to have a real, fulfilled life.  An ultimately – we want to change someone else’s life.

We need to be valued AND add value.

That, in my mind is the definition of being human.

I know I want to hear that I had impact when I’m on my death bed.  I firmly believe it is not about what you give people when you die – it’s about what you gave people when you lived.

How are you helping your employees be sustainable in their lives?

How are you contributing to their ability to be valuable and add value at your company and in their life?

5 Responses to “Are You an Employee Sustainable Organization?”

  1. Rory Trotter says:

    Great post as always, Paul.

    I think so often employers get caught up in using extrinsic reward as a retention tool that they lose sight of the fact that one of the most value added things they can give their employees is a sense of purpose. Work is many different things for many different people, but in almost every instance the employer plays a large role in structuring what that looks like.



    • Paul Hebert says:

      Thanks for commenting Rory – really appreciate the readership and the engagement. We need to think in terms of “levels” when we think about rewards – intrinsic set the foundation and the boundaries (IMHO) and the extrinsic stuff should be used when you want to signal a big shift in behavioral expectations that need to happen quickly. It’s kinda like starting an exercise routine – you might have to do a bit more and work a bit harder at first to break the inertia – but once you’re moving and doing the right things the process itself becomes the reward. I think we can look at our corporate reward structures in a similar vein. Only rely heavily on the extrinsic stuff when we want a big change in a short time. Otherwise look for more emotional rewards for smaller representations of desired behaviors.

      • Rory Trotter says:


        The challenge for me (as someone largely motivated by extrinsic reward or the promise of it) has always been finding a way to really *understand* why people are motivated by intrinsic reward.

        As far as I can tell people associate intrinsic reward with the promise of some greater extrinsic reward over the long term, but again I think I may just be applying my own thought process onto the larger population.

        • Paul Hebert says:

          Why do you comment on this blog? Why do you write your own? I’m guessing those have little or no “extrinsic” reward. Remember – we’re talking about influencing many small behaviors over time – not just big behaviors quickly. Most extrinsic rewards are very, very good at getting your attention and getting you to change a behavior quickly. Intrinsic rewards are much more subtle and long-term in their ability to move behaviors – more nudges than pushes.

  2. Symbolist says:

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