The New American Dream: Beyond Happiness In The Workplace
Jenn Lim leads Delivering Happiness, a consultancy she co-founded in 2010, and is the author of Beyond Happiness: How Authentic Leaders Prioritize Purpose and People for Growth and Impact, Grand Central Publishing, October 2021.
2020 introduced the greatest challenge we have faced collectively in our lifetime.
The New American Dream
The devastation of a pandemic, climate change, and social unrest—globally—impacted our economy, livelihood, and everyone we know. As a result, people started asking tough questions to prioritize what’s most important in 2021. Are they willing to settle or make changes, and risk job security for themselves?
According to npr.org, a record 4 million people quit their jobs in April 2021 alone.
People are waking up from the prescribed “American Dream”. The desire for a white picket fence and a two-car garage are artifacts of the past. But the silver lining for those that adapted with resilience is that we’re waking up to a new dream… one wrapped in values and purpose.
Today, employees need something deeper to sustain and thrive. 2020 gave us the nudge we needed to prioritize what is truly important and let go of the norm.
Responding with a people-first approach helped companies weather the storm better than those who didn’t.
Northwell Health is an important (and counterintuitive) example to consider as we grapple with the Delta variant this fall. They have over 76,000 employees at 23 hospitals throughout New York. In early 2020, they treated 20% of New York’s COVID-19 patients. Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, ranked the company as #19 in 2021, up from its #93 ranking in 2020.
Northwell Health’s commitment to the emotional health and wellbeing of their employees was a huge factor in their ranking. While under tremendous pressure during the pandemic, the company set up tranquility tents outside of the hospitals when cases were at its highest. The tents offered employees a calm, healing retreat.
Lisa Khavkin, VP of Human Resources at Huntington Hospital (a Northwell Health organization) says, “[The tents] have become a place our team can rely on to find a shoulder to cry on, a place to pray, to stretch, listen to music, or paint a stone to memorialize their feelings. While the journey is still ahead of us all, the tranquility tent has become a place of solace and healing.”
Today, those tents have been restructured with actual walls and they now hold a permanent space within their hospitals.
The company offered crisis care reimbursement for their employees’ families, to help with financial burdens of the pandemic. By grounding themselves in a culture of C.A.R.E. — Connectedness, Awareness, Respect, and Empathy — years before COVID hit, they were ready to adapt and create their own dream of what success means.
84% of their employees say Northwell Health is a great place to work. Many say they felt safe psychologically and emotionally by leadership throughout the crisis. They’ve added another 3000 employees since last year, and continue to be a leader in healthcare across the nation.
The Science Of Happiness
In 2010 Tony Hsieh and I co-founded the company Delivering Happiness. We realized leaders needed help taking the science of happiness and applying it to their organizations, and we’d help them do it. From the US to Egypt to Kazakhstan, and across industries from construction to real estate, we helped businesses create ripple effects from the inside out.
When Tony passed last year this tragic event reminded me that my American Dream was never the norm. Just when I thought a horrendous year couldn’t get worse, I was pushed to the limits, but also reflected on the highs and lows of true happiness.
After working with clients for over a decade, I knew our original concepts and learnings had evolved and there’s more to share. There is something beyond happiness at work… and life.
Now more than ever, we see the value in bridging the gap between business and humanity. We also understand how detrimental it can be when we don’t have that harmony.
Impact Of The Pandemic On Bird
Bird is an electric scooter company that was founded in 2017. Before the COVID-19 crisis, they operated in over 100 cities across North America, Europe and the Middle East. At their height, they reached a $2 billion valuation in under a year.
According to The Verge, when the pandemic hit, they were forced to pause operations and the company coldly laid off over 400 employees over a Zoom meeting. But that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for the company to do, according to employees. They described leadership as careless and erratic. They claimed they had unachievable metrics they felt they could never live up to. Others complained of low pay and false promises.
After the layoffs, the company received an ongoing streak of bad press. As word spread about their toxic culture, the company lost brand loyalty and satisfaction—a hefty price to pay.
Bird paid great attention and focus to becoming the fastest growing scooter company, but they didn’t direct some of that care and attention towards their asset of people.
A former employee at Bird said, “When you put that crown on a company they owe it to investors and to themselves to grow at all costs. And when you only focus on growth, you stop focusing on people. Once that snowball started rolling down the hill, there was no stopping it.”
It’s counterintuitive and surprising that Northwell Health, a network of hospitals, —during the height of stress in a physically and emotionally-taxing pandemic—was still a great place to work, as expressed by their own employees.
And who would’ve guessed that Bird, a supposedly “cool” place to work, neglected employees at a time they most needed empathy and support.
Our Humanity In The Workplace
2020 surfaced our humanity in the workplace, good and bad. Now, it’s up to companies and leaders to decide what to do with that knowledge, and whether they’ll make decisions that will leave a living legacy they can look back at and say I’m so glad I did that.
The concept of the American dream has drastically changed since the 1950’s. Our values and need for security, freedom, and achievement are still there but it’s evolved from rigidity and hierarchy to flexibility and distributed leadership. Today, the dream goes beyond manicured lawns and a white picket fence. It’s about the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual space we build, because we’re the one that knows ourselves best. From frontliners to CEOs, these spaces allow room for our vulnerabilities, and encourages an environment of interpersonal trust and respect.
In the new American dream, people bring their authentic selves into the workplace. People choose to be a leader in what they do, at work and in life.
Whether you want to call it the Great Resignation, a reset, or awakening, people are voicing their needs more than ever before. As leaders, we can listen in order to retain our best talent for the long-term, or we can keep up that white picket fence until they’re all on the other side of it.
About the Author
Jenn Lim is the CEO of Delivering Happiness (DH), a company she and Tony Hsieh (the late CEO of Zappos.com) cofounded to create happier company cultures for a more profitable and sustainable approach to business. Delivering Happiness started as a book (New York Times and WSJ Bestseller and sold over 1 million copies) and evolved into a business consultancy and global movement that has impacted and inspired companies and organizations around the world. Jenn’s mission is both simple and profound: to teach businesses how to create workplaces—led with happiness and humanity—that generate more profit, sustain all people at every level of the organization, and share how we can make an impact by being true to our authentic selves.
In 2017, Jenn was selected to be on the Global Happiness Council of Work and Wellbeing and in 2020, Delivering Happiness [DH] was placed on the Inc. 5000 list, becoming one of the fastest-growing private companies in the US. Jenn helped create the world’s first series of Culture Books at Zappos.com and has been featured in [Fox Business, Inc., Forbes, Fortune, Entrepreneur, The World Happiness Report, The Guardian, Fast Company, Thrive Global, and more]. You can find Jenn speaking at events [such as Facebook, McDonalds, Pixar, World Government Summit, SHRM] around the globe [and in Zoomland], on podcasts like The Dave Ramsey Show and Don Miller’s Building a Storybrand, working with organizations to create positive change in the world, or starting spontaneous dance parties with her friends and family. Jenn lives in the Oakland Hills, CA.