3 Ways You’ve Forgotten Your Employees are Human

09/14/2016 10:55 am ET

There’s an increasing chorus of voices talking about making the workplace “more human.”

On the surface, that seems a little odd. Our workplaces are full of humans, so how could they not be human enough?

Gallup’s employee engagement data suggests that less than 35 percent of the US workforce is fully engaged. Our own analysis of over millions of employee survey responses, collected through our Best Places to Work contests across the US, indicates that employee engagement is on the decline. It appears as if our workplaces just aren’t working great for the humans who inhabit them.

That’s not to say that you have created a workplace that’s intentionally bad for humans. It’s just that in your quest for results, you may have lost focus on the humans who make those results possible.

Here are three ways you’ve forgotten that your employees are human and what you should start doing today:

1. You expect your employees to react rationally when changes are made.

One of the fundamental mistakes we make as leaders is forgetting that humans are emotional, not rational creatures.

A friend recently shared a story with me about a tough decision she had to make at work. The decision, while difficult and potentially unpopular, was in the best interest of the organization. After sharing the story she said, “I may not have a job when this is over.” I stopped her and asked why she thought that way. It turns out, she didn’t have a shred of evidence to suggest that her job was in jeopardy. It was simply fear talking -- her emotions were getting the best of her.

Human emotion can create chaos in the workplace if not embraced. For example, when things change and we don’t know why, we fill in our own details -- details fueled by emotion. When our boss schedules an impromptu meeting without telling us why, we assume we are in trouble (or worse). We all do it.

To combat this, anticipate an emotional reaction to change. Communicate early and often about what’s happening and why. Give people an opportunity to ask questions and to vent about it. Then, give them guidance on how to move forward positively.

2. You view socialization in the office as lost productivity.

We have been asked to do more with less as managers for decades. As a result, we have squeezed the social space out of our organizations in the name of efficiency. Those water-cooler conversations and coffee breaks came to be seen as lost productivity.

The problem is that humans crave connection with other humans. When we feel connected with the people we work with and for, we are more invested in our work and it is more enjoyable.

Connection helps us contribute more fully as well. Research done by Dr. Ronald Burt at the University of Chicago revealed that employees who have more diverse networks of relationships within organizations are more likely to have and share ideas deemed as valuable to the organization. Connection helps us both feel and perform better as humans at work.

We have to intentionally put some social space back into our workplaces. Employees need both the time and permission to spend that time together getting to know each other. Our study of Best Places to Work reveals this is a common strength. These organizations have regular (and often ritualized) approaches to socialization. Examples include everything from monthly potlucks or happy hours to community volunteer projects and team outings.

3. You assume that work is the most important thing in people’s lives.

Chances are, if you are a leader or owner of your business, you love the work you do. You live to work. It is who you are.

This isn’t the case for everyone. Most people work to live. Work provides a means to turn an individual’s skills and abilities into income.

It’s what happens outside of work that matters to most people -- spending time with family, working at a hobby or traveling with friends. When you ask an employee to prioritize work (a necessity) over life (the priority), you lose.

A workplace that is good for humans must be as flexible as your business can allow. Flexibility can range from flexible scheduling to remote working opportunities. It is also important to offer employees the ability to adjust schedules to easily allow for attendance at school activities, doctor appointments, or even important errands. When an employee can shape work to fit with their life, you win.

One last piece of advice: the important and wonderful thing about humans is that we have the ability to communicate. Ask your employees what would make your workplace better. Ask them what connects them to your organization and what drives their productivity on a daily basis. The most powerful way to make your workplace a great one for humans is to ask the humans who work there for suggestions. Because a workplace that’s good for humans is also good for business.

How do you show preference to the human side of business and empower your employees to succeed?

Jason Lauritsen is the director of client success at Quantum Workplace, an accomplished keynote speaker, and the author of “Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationship.” At Quantum Workplace, Jason is dedicated to providing every organization with quality engagement tools that guide their next step in making work better every day. Connect with Jason on LinkedIn.

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