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Companies are finding that improving employee well-being is a difficult task to execute. "A lot of where engagement occurs is really local," says Gallup's Harter. St. Lucie Medical Center in South Florida, for example, traced dissatisfaction among its nurses to work teams organized the same way in every department. Consistency seems like a logical management approach. But by adjusting the teams to the strengths of individual nurses, hospital managers have reduced nurse turnover 65% and improved the medical center's scores in patient satisfaction.
Making any of those changes depends on the boss, although not necessarily the CEO. So a handful of business schools are trying to create a new kind of frontline manager, based on the idea of "authentic leadership." Instead of imposing faddish management techniques on each supervisor, authentic leadership begins with self-awareness. Introverted bosses have to know their own style and then find strategies to manage people that feel natural. In other words, by figuring out their strengths, they learn to recognize those of employees.
The goal of all that rethinking, however, is not necessarily a world in which people love their work above everything else. Work, by definition, is somewhat unpleasant relative to all the other things we could be doing. That's why we still expect to get paid for doing it. But at the very least, businesses could do better just by paying attention to what their employees want and need. Then more of us could find a measure of fulfillment in what we do. And once in a while, we might hope to transcend it all. It can happen on the basketball court, in front of a roaring crowd, or in a classroom, in front of just one grateful student. --With reporting by Elizabeth Coady/ Chicago, Dan Cray and Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles, Jeanne Dequine/Miami, Sean Gregory/New York and Adam Pitluk/Dallas