I’ve been thinking a lot about the de-humanization of the work world over the past number of years. I know I’m not alone in seeing a lack of humanity in the corporate world. So much so that the word “corporate” has become the most anti-human word in the english vocabulary.
Last year, I asked people on Facebook and LinkedIn what came to mind when they thought of the word “corporate”, and the responses included:
- Red tape
- Rigid, archaic, silos
- Suits and formalities
- Gamesmanship over true merit
Politics over actually getting things done
This makes me sad! In fact, the definition of “corporate” is simply:
“Of or relating to a corporation, especially a large company or group.”
So why is it that there is such a negative vocabulary around the corporate world? I think a lot of the issues with work can be summed up in that last comment – we’ve taken the humanity out of work.
So let’s talk about humanity for a moment. Humanity is defined by vocabulary.com as:
“the human race, which includes everyone on Earth. It’s also a word for the qualities that make us human, such as the ability to love and have compassion, be creative, and not be a robot or alien.”
When it comes to the workplace, though, it’s almost as though we’ve done whatever we can to remove compassion and creativity and to encourage robotic sameness across people. We’ve created policy upon policy. We tell people when to show up at work. We rate them or stack-rank them in performance appraisals, or assign a “box” to them. We tell them to leave their lives at the door. We give people higher in the hierarchy privileges that others don’t get.
We assume that these humans, who somehow have managed to become adults, buy or rent homes, find significant others, maybe even care for children, don’t have the common sense to get their work done without a profusion of rules and a boss to keep them in line.
I’m looking forward to hearing what the amazing speakers – Michael J Fox (have you read his book “Always Looking Up”? It’s fabulous!), Amy Cuddy, Shawn Achor, Gary Hamel and more – will have to say about “working human” at Workhuman in May (read on for a promocode for $300 off your registration). For now, I’ll share 6 simple steps that will make a difference to making work more human.
When it comes to policies, less is more
Review your existing policies. Are they truly needed? Can they be simplified? Are they written in human language? Stop writing policies for the exception. If someone does something that is a risk to the company or should be known to be wrong, manage their performance. Every mishap doesn’t mean a policy is needed.
In a recent study by DDI, empathy was found to be the most effective driver of performance, yet only 40% of leaders were found to be skilled at listening and responding with empathy. When I think of humanity, empathy is one of the pieces that stands out to me. People have lives outside of work, and when their child is sick (dog dies/parent needs care/marriage is failing), it will affect their work life. Be human about it. I remember a case at one company, where someone’s aunt passed away. Her aunt had lived with her family from childhood and they were very close. Our bereavement policy didn’t afford people a day off for the death of an aunt, as she wasn’t immediate family. Thankfully, I was able to convince her manager that it was the human thing to do to give the person the time they need to grieve. If you’re that worried about people lying about deaths in the family, you’ve got a bigger problem with engagement…
Talk to people
You’re probably saying “Meetings are a big part of every organization – surely people are talking!” Let’s start by clarifying that meetings are a whole other beast on their own… but aside from them, I cannot get over the times I walk through offices where people completely ignore others they pass by in the hallways. It’s as if I’ve shocked them when I smile and say “hi”. Anyone can start changing this. Smile, introduce yourself if you don’t know them yet, ask people how their weekend was. Please, just talk to people!
Have the right conversation about work
If you want people to be creative in their work, they should be able to be creative about how they work. It is the year 2016, and we are still managing people as though there is one specific process for doing work and it mist be done at a certain time and place each day. For many people today, work can be done from anywhere, any time. We can figure out faster, different ways to do things using technology. In fact, a 2013 survey found that Employees who have choice in when, where and how they work ranked higher in levels of job satisfaction, innovation and performance: Let’s stop talking about how people spend their time and treat them like adults, with the right conversation about the result they’re getting.
Scrap your Vision and Values
I’m not saying to scrap strategy altogether, but so many organizations have generic values (Enron’s were “Communication”, “Respect”, “Integrity”, and “Excellence”) that should really be the basic cost of entry, and a vision of becoming “the biggest / best / most profitable widget maker in the world”. Inspiring, huh? Other than profit, what’s the purpose of your organization? If you focus on purpose and align people with passion, you just might get the profitability you’re hoping for. Consider why your organization exists, and how it makes a difference to people. Make these your strategic focus and engage people in how they contribute.
Get real about your personal Values
Especially for leaders, this is key. So many leaders never take the time to reflect on what’s important tot hem, on the legacy they want to leave their team or their company. When you’ve done this, and can speak to people about what is important to you, and then live your work and life in alignment with these, it makes you more credible and more human.
There’s work to be done to humanize work. Every single one of us can do things to make a difference.
If you agree with me that this is important – that work can be awesome and we can make it so – then please, join me (and hundreds of other workplace game changers) at Globoforce’s WorkHuman conference in May.
Use promocode WH16PR300 when you register to get $300 off.