* This post is modified from the original, which I wrote on our Impact99 website in 2013.*
Recently, I have been reflecting on what Authentic Humanity actually means and why it is so important in the workplace. This is one of my favourite pieces of our Blueprint for Workplace Reinvention. Those of you who know me will know that my style is genuine and natural. I don’t operate under pretence, I tend to say what I think (which sometimes gets me into trouble) and I am, above all, extremely values-driven.
On an episode of DriveThruHR radio show last year, Christine McLeod and I discussed what motivates us and keeps us up at night. We are both frustrated with seeing 70% of employees disengaged at work, year after year, and we believe that, with the amount of change that technology is creating in the world, the extreme pressures of globalization, economics, and ultimately doing more with less, NOW is the time for change in the workplace. For me, a lot of the deeper reasoning that change is needed in the workplace comes down to the need for Authentic Humanity.
Finding what feeds you
I have been extremely fortunate to have jobs that I really enjoyed in the past. I love learning, solving problems, inspiring teams, and developing people, so my roles in operations, training and HR gave me an opportunity to do that and more. I also am extremely passionate about giving back to my community. In the past, I turned to volunteering and external activities for that chunk of life. I loved volunteering with the Hamilton Police Service. I ran programs for kids like “Earn a Bike” where we took a group of 30 kids around the city to clean up parks, do community chores, and experience parts of the city, in order to earn a bike; and a Christmas Hamper program for families in need. I also loved my work with the Junior League, especially the two trips to New Orleans, where we helped to rebuild homes that had been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Doing that work “fed” me.
As time went on, I got more and more busy at work. There was less and less time for friends or community work. I had to quit my volunteer “jobs” and I started losing touch with friends. I worked in a culture where those who worked the longest wore a badge of honour. People boasted about how they were too busy to take vacation. The sludge that was spread there was massive – “Oh, must be nice to be able to come in at 9:30”, or “Hmm, we’re too busy to take summer hours here – must be nice to work in that department”. It became tiring wading through it day by day. And I realized that I was starting to spread it myself. I started questioning my own values.
I felt like a chunk of my life was missing, and that it was becoming a bigger chunk every day.
All of this, coupled with two other catalysts – a personal medical scare and transitioning into a job where I no longer loved the actual work – ultimately caused my leaving work and starting my own business. When I work with my clients, I am constantly looking for ways to make their workplace culture more positive, because I don’t think anyone should feel that they are losing parts of their soul by working every day.
I think it is important to stay close to what “feeds” you and find a way to incorporate that into your life. When work doesn’t allow us extra-curricular time for the things we are passionate about, we start searching within work. This is where organizations are struggling to keep people engaged.
All roads lead to Maslow
It wasn’t until Chris Taylor, the Founder of Actionable Books, was giving a keynote recently that I realized that this need for Authentic Humanity in the workplace leads back to Maslow. Chris spoke about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, explaining that back in the days when people spent their 8 hours at work and then left to participate in life for the rest of the day, they were able to realize the upper levels of Maslow’s hierarchy outside of work, through associations and clubs like Rotary or other volunteer organizations. Now, when we spend more time at work or connected to work via technology, we are failing in meeting our needs for self esteem and self actualization. We are turning to work to give us more as we give work more of ourselves.
So how can an organization provide some of what Maslow says we need? Well, for starters, Chapter 2 of our Blueprint for Workplace Reinvention Handbook provides 10 actionable tips. For me, the foundational part of it is for leaders to first understand themselves and behave in a genuine way with their teams. Self awareness in leaders is the first step towards development of yourself and others. I’m a huge fan of assessments like Thomas International’s TEIQue and PPA for that. Secondly, I think leaders need to get to know their employees and what motivates them on a personal level. If your one-to-one conversations are a download and upload of information or project updates, you’re missing the entire authentic humanity piece. Once you know what drives individual people, you can connect their work to that purpose and provide opportunities for them to get more of that. It might be as simple as a discussion about how your department’s work affects the organizations customers, and how you can keep that top of mind. You may decide to partner with a community event as volunteers, or put together a Christmas hamper of gifts and essentials for a family in need at holiday time.
Strengthening Authentic Humanity in your workplace doesn’t need to cost money and it doesn’t need to be complicated. Check out our eBook to find examples and tips for getting started, and please connect with me and share your stories of what you have done or seen in other organizations!