Matthew T. Lee, Harvard, on Flourishing Business

“Flourishing” is a concept that has become more mainstream over the past few years and companies have worked to integrate its principles. What does it mean for a business to “flourish?” Further, is there a Christian perspective on flourishing?

Dr. Matthew T. Lee, Senior Research Scientist and Director of Empirical Research at the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University, addressed these issues in a recent session for the ELO Peer Advisory Group Network leaders on July 20th.

The starting point is to put some parameters around the concept of flourishing. The development of a disposition to flourish and to promote flourishing for others goes beyond wellness, well-being, and happiness.

The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard attempts to integrate knowledge across disciplines. According to its website, “It accomplishes this by considering a number of important topics relevant to human flourishing, which may include family, friendship, virtue, community, work, beauty, forgiveness, religion, purpose, and meaning. The program aims to bring together knowledge across disciplines and attempt to integrate such knowledge into a coherent whole, with the goal of a better understanding of and capacity to promote human well-being.”

The concept of flourishing is very relevant for leaders in relation to their workforces. A massive challenge with the workforce is related to the lack of meaning and purpose among younger workers. ELO Peer Advisory Group members routinely comment on the very different motivations and higher work ethic of workers aged 55 and over and those under 55.

Hiring and retaining employees in a low unemployment environment is difficult. One aspect of the value of flourishing in a corporate context is the ability to tie it into measurables and practical outcomes. How to do this? Lack of purpose is often manifested in issues such as employee absenteeism and sick days.

Younger workers expect more in terms of meaning in the workplace and it is often more important than their compensation. Perhaps the issue is particularly relevant in a Covid context, where people commented on how people are languishing due to increased social isolation and death of community. This seems to be the precise opposite of flourishing.

The concept of flourishing includes outcomes such as happiness and life satisfaction, physical and mental health, meaning and purpose, character and virtue, and close social relationships. 

Dr. Lee proposes some questions for a quick self-assessment as to whether a person is flourishing (scale: 1 (very low) to 10 (very high)):

  1. Overall, to what extent do I feel the things I do in my life are worthwhile?
  2. Do I always act to promote good in all circumstances, even in difficult and challenging situations?
  3. Are my relationships as satisfying as I would want them to be?
  4. How often do I worry about safety, food, or housing?

From a spiritual well-being perspective, additional questions would include, "To what degree do I love my neighbour as myself?" and "To what extent do I regularly reflect on my life to understand what I have done wrong and to improve?”

The above two questions would be consistent with a Christian, approach. A related follow on question would be, is there a Christian perspective on flourishing? Dr. Lee suggested that, yes, there is. Psalm 92:12 points us in the right direction by reminding us that “the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree.”

More specifically, there is the biblical notion of wholeness. For example, Matthew 9:22 says: “But Jesus turned about, and when He saw her, He said, “Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” And the woman was made whole from that hour. The concept of “whole” is beyond simply being restored to health, but rather a notion of multidimensional well-being.

The spiritual dimension is also integrated into the perspective of others, such as the work of Manuel Guillen, RCC-Harvard, and his book titled, Motivation in Organisations. Guillen suggests that people should ask themselves, "To what extent am I engaging with the full range of motivations, in our lives and in the lives of those we serve, and helping others to do the same?" Guillen includes useful good (physical), pleasant good (psychological), moral good (ethical), and spiritual good (higher spiritual realm).

The bottom line is that leaders should aspire to create a flourishing business. The concept of flourishing can be a framework through which to assess the satisfaction of the workforce and how to make changes, which addresses the whole person, including the spiritual dimension of flourishing.