Workplace culture

Want to Make Your Workplace More Human? Here Are 4 Foolproof Ways.

Just take care not to get overly involved in employees' problems.
Want to Make Your Workplace More Human? Here Are 4 Foolproof Ways.
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Employers are actively working to make the cliche “another cog in the machine” a thing of the past. Their priorities have shifted from treating employees like drones to understanding who they are as people. To achieve this, leaders are focusing on ways to make the workplace more human.

Related: What Happened to the Workplace? How to Make It More Human.

In fact, a January study of 738 HR professionals by the Society for Human Resource Management and Globoforce found that 75 percent of companies examined were actively trying to create positive relationships and teamwork in the office. Seventy-five percent said they were working to create a compassionate culture; 73 percent were focusing on employee appreciation.

While these are all good goals, as with any company change, there are bound to be hiccups. To smoothly transition to a more human workplace, you need to understand the road ahead. Here are some suggestions:

Differentiate between 'supporting' and 'fixing.'

Part of creating a more human workplace is getting to know employees as complete people with goals, families and interests. When leaders take the time to learn this information, a deeper bond is forged in the workplace.

For example, Murray Nossel, the New York-based founder and director of the storytelling-based business communications solution Narativ, said he encourages employees to share their story, in order to improve company communications. However, he found that when employees talked about past traumas, he felt a knee-jerk reaction to help. “Meetings became about sharing and processing emotions, which bled into the rest of the workday,” Nossel said in an email.

Thankfully, Nossel showed some wisdom about the underside of getting to know employees -- getting overly involved.

Nossel said he had to realize it was not his or his team members’ job to fix the underlying issues of these stories. They could listen to the facts, but their task ended at offering external resources rather than trying directly to help.

When you, as a leader, find yourself in an emotional conversation, prioritize listening. Let the employee share what he or she is facing, and that trauma's personal impact. Often, listening is all such a person needs from a leader. Should employees need more help, it’s better to direct them to a professional.

Have the right infrastructure in place.

Many employee benefits sound great in theory, but there needs to be a solid foundation and support system to make them effective. Leaders need to make sure the proper procedures, communication channels and guidelines are set up. Otherwise, benefits aimed at creating a more human workplace will fail.

For example, Susan Matejka, director of leadership development at the Chicago-based HR consulting firm Cognos HR, had a client who wanted to institute an unlimited PTO policy. At first, that benefit seemed like a great move and helped attract talent. But it quickly took its toll on business outcomes.

“What they discovered is that many employees were taking full advantage (some up to 40 days per year) of this benefit,” Matejka said in an email.

Related: 4 Ways Innovative Companies are Celebrating Their Employees

When introducing new benefits, make sure they have a slow rollout period. This will allow you to collect data and see what unforeseen obstacles pop up. Through trial and error, employers can refine benefits and avoid major backfires.

Create a two-way street.

Many leaders think that creating a human workplace is just about giving. The more benefits and perks, the better the employee experience, right? Wrong, because this this attitude misses the point.

“Human relationships are two-way. This isn’t about organizations just giving more to their people; it’s about a reciprocal, adult relationship that creates a platform for mutual success,”  Lori Ames, said via email. She's founder and president of the Babylon, N.Y-based company ThePRFreelancer, Inc., for nonfiction authors.

If a company is built on benefits, employees won’t be truly invested in team success. Instead, leaders shold focus on finding employees who align with the organization’s mission, vision and values. Their priority needs to be contributing to a working relationship rather than receiving great perks.

Stop thinking like a tech company.

The relationship between technology and the human workplace is interesting. It’s only been since automation and AI tools started taking over repetitive jobs that employers have begun prioritizing the deeper needs of employees. Yet, as a company begins to rely more heavily on tech, it may also start behaving more like a tech company -- no matter what the industry.

“As [technology] reshapes the world of work, companies are going to need to start thinking like learning companies,” Jeremy Auger, chief strategy officer of Ontario-based online education platform D2L, said by email.

Focus on all the ways employees can grow and evolve while they're working at your organization. Curiosity is a part of human nature, and it’s up to you as leader to provide learning opportunities. For example, schedule a day once a month when employees can shadow co-workers in other departments. This will give them a chance to learn and to see the company from a new perspective.

Related: Seven Employee Warning Signs

Just continue to recognize that fine but all-important line between getting to know employees and getting overly involved.

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