Back to Basics: What Are Life Events?

August 13, 2020 Aaron Kinne

8-minute read


“The best places to work provide people with life satisfaction, as opposed to job satisfaction alone,” writes Michael O’Malley, Ph.D., in his pre-COVID-19 Harvard Business Review (HBR) article.

As we navigate our way through the pandemic, Dr. O’Malley’s view that work should be an integral, enriching component of our total being – rather than something that’s apart from our “real” life – takes on a profound new meaning. In these times, the need for community, connection, and belonging with our work family is more important than ever. If ever there was a time we should celebrate the life events of our colleagues, that time is now.

What are examples of major life events? 

Life events are joyous occasions in the personal lives of the work community. They can include birthdays, engagements, marriages, births, anniversaries, graduations, a new home, a new pet – even retirement.

But how can co-workers throughout an organization know about the personal, celebratory moments of their peers? Especially if that organization is a large enterprise? Many world-class organizations have turned to a flexible software solution like Life Events®, part of Workhuman Cloud®

Through such platforms, life-affirming events are presented throughout an organization by an online feed, making it easy for co-workers to participate in and celebrate the personal milestones of the entire work family. 

Try Life Events from Workhuman®.

Because we believe celebrating the work community’s life milestones is so important during these challenging times, we are offering Live Events free through March 2021. (You can also try our Social Recognition® platform – GratitudesTM – and our performance management solution – Conversations® – for free through March 2021, as well.)

Why do we want to make this vital solution available to companies at no cost? It all comes down to this: The COVID-19 crisis has intensified and accelerated the need to transform from work-life balance to work-life blending. We do that by celebrating life milestones in the workplace in a truly meaningful way. 

It’s about empowering employees to bring their whole selves to work. Or, as Dr. O’Malley puts it, “recognizing the human as the heart of the workplace, the thing that keeps everything else running.”

How can you make life events a cornerstone of your workplace culture?

Even before COVID-19 entered our lives – back when many of us were working in an office setting – celebrating life milestones was, at best, a transitory ritual. Employees would pass around a greeting card to commemorate a special occasion – such as a birthday. There may have been cake and a brief gathering. But soon the moment passed. 

Workhuman believes – now more than ever – that celebrations can and should be memorable and enduring. We believe they can be truly personalized and easy for the employees’ peers to share in the joy and excitement. They can offer a reward that employees will cherish and remember – even a contribution to a charitable cause for which they are passionate.

That’s where a software solution such as Live Events comes in. It enables organizations to make the shift from work-life balance to work-life blending with key features such as: 

  • Open invitations – Even though many employees are now working remotely, everyone can still be part of Life Events online celebrations.
  • Personalized experience – Colleagues can share moments that matter in a truly personal way as they contribute stories, pictures, and videos that make each celebration unique.
  • Crowdsourced approach – Life Events taps into the people who know your employees the best – their colleagues and friends – so congratulatory messages resonate in a profoundly unique and personal way.
  • Tailored rewards – Why not commemorate your employees’ life events with rewards they actually care about, such as gift cards, merchandise, or charitable contributions?
  • Congratulations timeline – Because it lives online, the Life Events timeline extends the lifespan and impact of the traditional signed greeting card.
  • Administrative ease – Rather than leaving the task solely to managers, Life Events automatically invites your employees’ peers – the people who really know them – to create an award and join in the celebration.

What are the benefits of a comprehensive life events approach?

Recognizing your employees’ joyous life milestones helps create a culture of celebration. Such celebratory cultures are built on a foundation of belonging, social support, and social exchange. A culture of celebration is even more important in today’s world, and includes the following benefits:

  • Higher employee engagement: Social support from co-workers has been shown to significantly impact engagement.
  • Higher productivity: Employees who feel they are part of a group – working toward shared goals – report increased motivation, positivity, and overall productivity.
  • Reduced conflict and improved relationshipsSocial exchange reduces conflict, improves performance, facilitates information sharing, deepens empathy – while promoting more pleasant and efficient patterns of exchanges, boosting trust, and increasing “tolerance of imbalance in exchange relationships.”
  • Higher levels of learning and performance: A culture of psychological safety and inclusion leads to better learning and performance outcomes.
  • Reduced stress: When co-workers provide social support, it can ameliorate the impact of a large workload and thereby buffer the impact of burnout.
  • Increased resilience and trust: A consistent flow of relational exchanges raises levels of commitment, concern for the reputation of oneself and others, and levels of trust and resilience
  • Better health: When belonging has been established, it contributes to improvements of the physical body system. Likewise, those who feel they don’t belong may experience both psychological and biological illness effects and even a weakened immune system
  • Happier, more productive employees: According to one study, “participants stated that organizational celebrations made them happier in their job, improved diversity and workplace knowledge, reduced isolation, and cultivated relationships, which all contributed to their desire to be more productive in their job.”
  • Greater affective commitment: Reward and perceived social support are direct contributors to affective commitment – thereby increasing an employee’s intent to stay.

How does a comprehensive approach to life events impact the bottom line? 

In his HBR article, Dr. O’Malley notes that the best places to work have an unwavering focus on life satisfaction, rather than job satisfaction alone: “Almost all of the corporate founders and CEOs we spoke with told us that they built their companies with people in mind. To them, a healthy culture is as important as a healthy balance sheet.” 

Celebrating your employees’ life milestones can deliver the best of both worlds – a healthy culture and a healthy bottom line. That’s because a truly human culture is the cornerstone of an engaged workforce. And employee engagement has a direct and measurable impact on your organization’s financial success. Engaged employees are more productive. And they increase customer loyalty, sales, and profits. 

Check out our engagement checklist: 7 Ways to Boost Your Engagement Scores

The bottom line? According to a recent SHRM/Workhuman employee recognition report, it’s all about humanizing the employee experience. The report found when employees are very/somewhat satisfied with the celebration of life events, they are nearly 2x as likely to agree their company is a good place to work, and the organization is 95% more likely to have won awards for its culture. That’s the kind of culture that will lift up an organization during a crisis like the one we’re in now.

Celebrating life events in times like these is an effective and inspiring way to not only create a community atmosphere; it also helps HR professionals differentiate the organization.

The move from work-life balance to work-life blending

In his article, Dr. O’Malley notes that in our personal lives, we inherently celebrate, sympathize, uplift, comfort, and help. Shouldn’t it be the same in the workplace? Especially now? “Like good families, good organizations have the same responsibility. If they want to create a real sense of community among their teams, they also need to create shared experiences.”

He admits that he and his team were unprepared for the impact celebrating life milestones can have on an organization: “Before beginning this project, we considered life events, rituals, and rites of passage – such as marriages, birthdays, and anniversaries – as trivial to the work environment. But the companies that we visited gave us a new perspective. In fact, they made a big deal out of significant dates. Why? Because it is the human, or considerate thing to do.” 

A baby, a marriage, and a new home

While writing this post, I thought back to a moving story Workhuman managing editor Sarah Payne shared about her experiences buying a house, getting engaged, and having a baby – all in the course of just a few months. Her reflections on her own life events resonate even more profoundly through the lens of our current situation: 

“These life events are all part of our shared human experience. So if we want to create more human work cultures for our people, it only makes sense that we would share in these happy moments with our teams, the people we often spend more time with than even our own families.”

Discover how you can bring the power of Life Events to your organization.


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About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.