How to Celebrate Your Employees and Boost Your Bottom Line. #WorkHuman

06/16/2015 03:31 pm ET | Updated Jun 15, 2016

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The banner ad cut through the online clutter and caught my eye.

WorkHuman 2015 - unlocking the future of the human workplace

Two of my favorite words, work and human, had been joined at the hip, pulling me into its orb, inviting me to see what unexplored online world lay behind the ad.

It did not disappoint.

I've spent several years uncovering and now following my latest professional bliss - a quest to bring more heart, soul and inner peace into the workplace. Globoforce, the progressive company and thought leadership powerhouse responsible for creating WorkHuman 2015, their inaugural human resources (HR) conference, was singing my tune. And judging from the lineup of speakers they'd assembled, from Thrive author and HuffPost editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington to happiness researcher Shawn Achor, they were serious about wanting to infuse the world of work with more humanity.

So when one of the keynote speakers and Onlyness champion presented a chance to attend WorkHuman (thank you again Nilofer Merchant!), I didn't hesitate. This wasn't just my curious inner explorer wanting to experience something new. The promise of the event was a clarion call that pierced my soul deeply and resoundingly. Could it be possible that there were many more people like me in corporate America, people who were tired of being beaten down by bottom-line-only management practices and who were ready to champion the humanity that sparks truly sustainable workplace creativity and innovation?

My intuition told me I had to attend. My heart opened up to the possibility of meeting humane HR leaders throughout the 2.5-day conference. And my mind stayed open to receive the wisdom that seemed destined to unfold at WorkHuman 2015.

Fortune favors the bold
The themes and speakers at WorkHuman have been circulating in our consciousness for a year or two. Mindfulness, positive psychology, thriving, wellbeing, employee engagement and recognition...none of this was breaking news. What was different was that WorkHuman had curated and collated these synergistic threads with care, and had served them up with a huge dose of heart. We were all aware of the human resources challenges at work, and we were beginning to see the seeds of solutions to those challenges. What we needed most was a watering hole, a campfire where we could raise our hands in solidarity and pride to say "Yes, I too believe that a humane workplace is more sensible and more profitable than the status quo."

After each keynote speech or breakout session, I could see the glimmer of hope in my fellow attendees' eyes shine just that little bit brighter. I could sense the growing relief and awe of each Globoforce employee, initially unsure if they'd truly been on to something and then thrilled that their instincts to create WorkHuman had been spot on. As I'd remarked to event host and head of Globoforce's consulting services Derek Irvine on the first morning of WorkHuman (captured by their videographer at 0:06 to 0:07 in the wrap video below), "Derek - this is such a brilliantly-timed event. Kudos to the entire team for thinking of this and pulling it off."

They had me at sunrise yoga
And lest you think that we were herded from one room to another, with no down time in between, WorkHuman walked its talk by including pockets of time to network or recharge. There was no stress hanging in the air, forcibly interlacing itself with our self-recriminating thoughts and pushing us into each and every session. Instead, we were encouraged to go with our own flow, at critical points choosing between stimulating walk and talk sessions, nourishing yoga and meditation sessions, or laughter-inducing improv workshops. These are all modalities and skills that I love and practice in my own life and leadership and with my clients. Having them at my disposal during WorkHuman made the experience all the sweeter.

Tangible takeaways
The harshest cynics and critics among you, assuming you've even read this article up to this point, are probably scoffing at this love fest and wondering if anything of substance and bottom-line significance was shared.

Beyond the feel-good energy of the event, which to me is its own endorphin-laden reward, we were introduced to the data visualization capabilities of technology-enabled social recognition, the ability to quantify and actively reward the expression of company values, the mounting and undeniable scientific evidence that there is no tradeoff between professional success and inner peace, the surprising fact that givers can and do achieve extraordinary results across a wide range of industries, and the growing body of positive psychology research that asserts how happiness inspires and boosts productivity.

The rest is up to us
Despite both the hard evidence delivered by the speakers and the heartfelt desire of WorkHuman attendees, many questions remain. Some of these were voiced during the Q&A sessions. What data can you share with me so that I can convince my senior leadership team that this matters? How do I bring this back to work with me when my company leaders don't and probably won't walk this talk? How can we continue to support each other, because so much of this still feels like we're salmon swimming against the tide of the mechanistic status quo?

Change rarely occurs in a straight line. And change agents need equal doses of patience and conviction. It's easy to ignore us when we're outliers, telling stories and sharing proof points that seem far-fetched or irrelevant.

But this is no longer a problem to ignore. The war for talent rages on. Disgruntled employees are reaching the end of their rope. When it comes to workplace practices, the chasm between what senior leaders expect and what employees crave grows ever wider. Whether or not we care to admit it, burnout is killing our bottom lines.

As leaders of our organizations, it's time to question our singular obsession with data, and with treating our human resources as little more than digits on a management dashboard. Big data and data mining are sexy and powerful constructs, but they cannot fully quantify the collaborative yearnings of a compassionate heart, or adequately measure the creative thirst of a spirited soul. All we need do is to look beyond our spreadsheets and data visualizations, to listen to the drumbeat of our own hearts and souls. Then we will naturally, and yes happily, unlock our own will to champion more humanity at work.

This article originally appeared on Maya's Musings blog. Maya is also the creator, producer and host of the Executive Book Club Podcast, where she shares practical wisdom for soul-searching leaders.

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