Professor, Human Resource and Organizational Development
College of Education and Human Development
Around 2006 Brad Shuck, a College of Education and Human Development professor who specializes in organizational culture, was supervising a team of 25 or so employees and looking for ways to grow as a leader.
So, he attended a presentation at his university on a topic in an emerging field – employee engagement.
“(The speaker) was talking about workplaces where people can live their best life, where people can flourish, where people are healthy, where they’ve got friends at work and where they’re supported by their colleagues,” he said. “As a young leader, I thought, how do I do that for my team? What can I do to help make their lives a little bit better through their work?”
That presentation changed the course of Shuck’s career (and gained him a mentor). Now a leading researcher in employee engagement in his own right, Shuck wants to change the way the world works – literally.
“I want people to live better lives through their work, not just go to work,” he said. “And I think that’s the future.”
Now a topic that is highly discussed thanks to cultural shifts like the Great Resignation, the concept of employee engagement was somewhat abstract when Shuck began studying it. His own first presentation nearly two decades ago on the subject was done to a mostly empty room.
“I dedicated the next 15 years of my life to dissecting that concept, coming up with what I think are really innovative ways to look at, to measure and then to apply those things in practice inside organizations,” he said.
The first challenge was how to explain employee engagement. Shuck and his colleagues conceptualized a framework for how to define it, eventually creating a predictive data intelligence software to help companies better understand organizational culture. Shuck licensed that technology and began OrgVitals, a startup which provides employers the tools to cultivate an environment that retains talent and makes employee wellbeing a priority.
But it’s his latest efforts that resulted in a groundbreaking discovery in the field.
Leading a team of researchers from across UofL, including the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Medicine and the Envirome Institute, Shuck completed a study that for the first time connected workplace culture with biological health and coined the concept of “Work Determinants of Health.”
“When it comes to Work Determinants of Health, what we’re really talking about is the social and emotional environment of culture. How does it feel to work here? Do I belong? Am I included? Can I raise my hand? Do I feel like I’m supported? Can I engage?,” he said. “What we found is that there’s an undeniable connection between how you experience your work and how your body physiologically responds and your risk for long term chronic disease.”
Simply put, yes, work can make you sick.
“The things that are happening today could impact you 10 years from now and these are the early warning bells that are going off that are saying this is not good. And if we don’t pay attention to those things, we can develop things like hypertension and heart disease and type 2 diabetes and depression,” he said.
Shuck’s goal is for his research to reframe what work looks like, contributing to a cultural shift.
“In 10 years, the future of work is going to look decidedly different than it does today,” he said. “I think the employee will rebalance and re-empower their own lives through their work. And I think organizations will respond in a really healthy way.”
It’s a shift that Shuck is implementing in his own workspace and one that he sees beginning to gain traction at UofL. He is grateful his colleagues and leaders have allowed him to explore his passions to impact the greater good.
“I tell organizations all the time: There are two things that are driving your culture right now and that’s purpose and belonging,” he said. “And to the degree that I can see meaning in my work, I feel supported. I can do anything.”