There have been hundreds of articles written about workplace culture and countless opinions about the key ingredients of the best workplaces. And for good reason. The very best candidates today are considering culture along with compensation and positivity as much as a paycheck.

So what does it take to be considered a top workplace? The answer will surprise you. Turns out, many of the solutions to transform work cultures today are actually founded in family science.

This is according to David Schramm, family scholar at Utah State University, TEDx speaker, consultant, and trainer. Schramm's research centers on couple relationships, parenting, and flourishing at home and at work.

What's the link to business? Well, workplaces and culture boil down to creating and maintaining happy, healthy relationships for leveraging business outcomes.

What employees most need

And it starts with understanding human needs. In my intriguing chat with Schramm, he said humans enter this world with fundamental needs for surviving and thriving, like the need for physical and emotional safety, validation, mental well-being, learning new things, and moving toward rewards that bring us pleasure. 

But one human need is especially powerful--the need for connection and attachment. We are all born with a longing for belonging--a craving for connection with other people. Children and adults flourish in close loving relationships. In fact, the quality of our close connections is one of the strongest predictors of how long and how well we will live in this life.

So how do these needs relate to winning workplaces? Here's where it gets interesting.

For the past few years, Inc. has provided a list of the top workplaces in the nation. In 2019, more than 139,000 employees rated their workplaces, and 346 came out on top. Top brass were also allowed 100 words to describe why they think their companies are a great place to work.

Schramm analyzed each of their 100-word summaries, including the words they used, and shared these in a TEDx talk. "I could hardly believe the pattern I discovered," says Schramm. "It turns out that the 15 words used most frequently in their descriptions aligned precisely with the same three needs for human flourishing."

Top workplaces meet the need for physical and emotional safety, using words such as benefits, care, environment, help, and support. The best businesses also fulfill the need for satisfaction, using words such as fun, flexible, happy, perks, and growth.

But what stood out most to Schramm was the way the best places to work meet the deep human need for connection. The use of the words "culture" and "team" dominated their descriptions. He also noticed the words "people" and "values."

And the ninth most frequently-used word? Family.

5 tips from family science to meet employees' needs

Schramm believes the secret sauce to booming business and being a top workplace is meeting all three human needs--safety, satisfaction, and connection--and treating employees like family. Many workplaces are able to meet the needs of safety and satisfaction with great compensation, rewards, and perks. But what about connection?

Here are five things he advises leaders to consider when trying to meet their employees' need for genuine connection.

1. Build trust.

Strong families and couple relationships are founded on trust. Above all else, leaders and managers must be ethical, honest, and earn the trust of those throughout every level of the company.

2. Value people.

Feeling valued, recognized, and appreciated is a hallmark of strong families. When managers lead with gratitude, it results in feelings of belonging and commitment.

3. Act with kindness.

Happy families are characterized by kindness, generosity, and sacrifice. A random act of kindness from a manager will create connection faster than nearly anything else.

4. Activate play.

Flourishing families make time for play, celebrations, traditions, and fun time together. The same thing occurs in top workplaces. A sense of humor and smiling turns leaders into humans.

5. Listen to many voices.

Strong families hold family councils and discussions, where all opinions and voices are valued. The best leaders listen, learn, and are open to suggestions and ideas from everyone on the team.

Where does your company stand when it comes to workplace culture and meeting the three needs of safety, satisfaction, and connection? What Schramm's research validates for me is that the very best leaders understand that connecting with people is more important than focusing only on the problems, profits, and projects. If your workplace culture could use a boost, maybe it's time to turn to family science for solutions.

Published on: Feb 25, 2020
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The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.