The Case for a People Support System

February 22, 2020
Paul LaRue

What is a support system? And how does it apply to business?

In the technology sphere, many businesses operating today have support systems that manage the digital and telecommunications supports of their operations. These go by the acronyms of BSS (Business Support System) or OSS (Operating Support System). There are also DSS (Decision Support Systems) that are computerized programs that sift through massive data and analyze it to help in decision making. These support systems keep the vitality of digital information and communication healthy and flowing in the organization.

In the wider sphere of business, a support system is defined as a network of goods, services, resources, and organizations that sustain an entity in its survival and growth. These support systems can be QA processes, efficiency studies or other procedures that check and improve the success of the company.

But when the phrase “support system” is mentioned outside of the business context, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

Usually most people talk about a support system as the thing a person needs in order to recover from a traumatic experience or difficult situation. A person’s support system can be defined as a network of family, friends, and strangers who they can lean on for support in both good and challenging times.

So, what if companies made an effort to create People Support Systems in their organization? Apart from the outmoded Human Resources model, the Employee Assistance Program helpline, and other traditional programs that give mixed results, can there be a transformative focus to ensure the most precious resources any company has – its people – has a support system that genuinely meets their needs?

What if we combined the above business definition of support system with a focus on people? It would read “a network of goods, services, resources, and organizations that sustain an employee in their survival and growth.“ If that definition could be a more focused part of the culture, companies could make a great impact on the work-life balance of their people, create deeper engagement, lower turnover, and create people who become more successful, which in turn will enable to company to become more successful as well.

Most companies do this well in some aspects that were mentioned above, and in others like gym membership benefits, culture and engagement change, and unlimited vacation policies.

But many times employees need more to cope with the challenges of growing their careers, maintaining healthy work-life balance, and coping with the challenges of life that collide in their homes, work, or both.

Knowing today’s employees’ needs for life coping skills, mental health, professional development, and non-bias in the workplace and making no excuses for meeting those needs will be the measure of successful businesses in the not too distant future.

Here’s what a few companies are trying to do to create these types of focused people support systems.

Starbucks announced that it is extending its employee mental health benefits to help meet a growing – and oftentimes ignored – need that 1 in 5 people in the U.S. workplace suffer from, according to Justworks. This is a huge step to provide a deeper support system to help employees find success in their lives, which will then impact their work performance.

15Five is an organization gaining recognition in creating a more positive employee engagement process focused on positive psychology, employee centric check-ins, and support that is geared towards employee success, not just a metric or a subjective feeling of performance. These 1-to-1’s are designed to help companies meet employee needs first through a support system based on psychological science and best practices of organizations that are noted for proper development of their people.

Grocery retailer Nugget Market and major retailer The Container Store offer 143 hours and 263 hours of continued training for full-time employees annually, substantially more that any of their competitors or the industry average. This results in lower turnover but, most importantly, a higher rate of promotion and engagement because their people’s needs are met by investing the time that employees need and creating a system to support their growth.

Tata Teleservices Limited has brought a variety of family counseling benefits to their people to help them with the challenges of life outside of work.

Starbucks (again!) and other companies are helping employees who may be academically ineligible to attend college with programs that give them another chance to qualify for post-secondary education.

PwC assists its employees in paying their student loan debts.

Penguin Random House has created a program for their employees and other companies to order and download thousands of free books and participate in book clubs with their colleagues to discuss business, team building, or professional growth.

These are wonderful examples of the burgeoning People Support Systems that companies recognize are the greatest need in creating best-in-class workplace cultures.

What sets these companies apart is their recognition that they need to do something more to support their employees. In a world where companies still expect employees to work six or seven days, spend long hours connected to their emails/phones, and do more with less, employees are seeking for more support to cope with these issues. These companies, and the leaders who run them, know that the best thing to do is to put their employees first by creating better support systems for their people.

People support systems should be the foundation and framework of every company. While the race for talent continues, employees are looking out for businesses that are looking out for the employees themselves as individuals.

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Paul LaRue is the creator of The UPwards Leader and Instigator for Lead Change Group. His background in senior leadership, strategic planning, culture change, and people and organizational development gives him unique insight into the workings of successful organizations. Paul has given speeches and training sessions for many public and private entities and stresses the virtue of a culture that centers around core values and character in leadership.

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