Improve Belonging and Wellbeing Using FISH!

Published On: February 15, 2024Categories: Blog

One of the biggest workforce challenges facing the education and public service industries is employee recruitment and retention. A big reason: lower compensation compared to the private sector. With inflation at its highest point in several decades, it’s harder for public servants to make a living, with some leaving for higher pay outside their industries. For example, in 2022 an Ohio teacher left his teaching job for a job at Walmart because it paid $12,000 more per year, even with 5.5 years of teaching experience. Unfortunately, employee compensation is directly controlled by funding allocated at the local, county, and state levels, creating challenges for public agencies. However, there are several aspects of the workplace that are within our control, especially a culture of belonging and workplace wellbeing, which can help improve employee recruitment and retention.

According to a recent article in Forbes, belonging is a top 2024 workforce strategy for increasing productivity. Furthermore, workplace safety and wellbeing are on the decline in 2024, according to another recent article in Forbes. Issues like belonging and wellbeing are more important now than ever, which can impact employee recruitment and retention by creating a workplace culture that employees want to be a part of and don’t want to leave, even for higher pay. The FISH! Philosophy is the perfect solution to create a workplace culture where employees belong and thrive. The following are some ways to use FISH! to create more belonging and wellbeing.

Be There for Others to Improve Belonging

We spend the majority of our waking hours at work. When we feel better connected to others in our workplace, we have a greater sense of belonging. We can accomplish this by being there for each other at work. Whether it’s being intentional by including everyone or simply helping a team member with a project, we foster a greater sense of belonging at work. This is not just essential in the workplace, but it’s a part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. While belonging may not increase extrinsic rewards like compensation, it can increase intrinsic rewards like greater job satisfaction.

Play More to Strengthen Relationships

The great philosopher Plato said, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” By incorporating more play into our work, we can learn more about others. For example, during a recent multi-day leadership training for the frontline leaders of our organization, a colleague planned and organized two social networking events – a bowling night and an indoor mini-golf night. Both events included dinner and activities. The goal for these events was to create a sense of belonging and community by building relationships through play. The feedback from these events was overwhelmingly positive. While the technical training during the daytime was important for our frontline leaders, the networking that took place during our evening social events was just as valuable, if not more. In addition to the relationships that were strengthened through play, our frontline leaders also felt valued by our organization investing funding and time in them through these fun events.

Make Their Day by Recognizing and Rewarding

Another way to improve belonging and wellbeing is by making time to recognize and reward employees regularly. Whether it’s informal recognition like an email or handwritten thank you note or formal recognition like an award, we can make their day by showing appreciation and value for our employees. For example, here at NC State University we have the PAWS and Say Thanks program, “an on-the-spot, peer-to-peer recognition program that allows employees to send electronic or physical thank-you cards to outstanding colleagues throughout the university.” This is just one simple automated way to recognize our employees for doing outstanding work. While it may not cost a lot of money to build an automated email system like this, it can go a long way in improving belonging and wellbeing by employees feeling appreciated and valued.

Choose Your Attitude to Improve Wellbeing

It’s often been said that employees “leave their manager, not their job.” One of the other biggest retention challenges, in addition to compensation, is a toxic work environment. This is especially true for the employee’s manager. It’s also been said that an employee’s manager has more impact on their overall health than their doctor or therapist. That’s why choose your attitude is such an important practice, especially for managers. When managers choose a positive attitude, it has a positive impact on employee wellbeing. When managers choose a negative attitude, it has a negative impact on employee wellbeing. By choosing a positive attitude by not bullying or micromanaging, it improves employee wellbeing, which improves retention.

About the Author:

David J. Herpy, M.S. serves as Extension Organizational Development Coordinator at NC State University in Raleigh, NC, where he is responsible for developing and implementing professional and leadership development programs for a workforce of over 1,000 employees with NC Cooperative Extension Service, working in collaboration with their Extension leadership team. Prior to his current role, Dave worked with summer camps for over twenty-five years as a camp counselor, camp director, and state camping specialist. He has also served as a graduate teaching associate and adjunct lecturer at three universities for over the past twenty years, as well as a freelance facilitator, trainer, and writer for over the past decade.

For more information, check out Dave’s website or email him directly at

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