30 November 2019

Bringing humanity to the workplace

We recently had the pleasure of speaking at the Engaging Employees, Optimising Performance conference in London.

Our Behavioural Strategist Chloe took to the stage to talk about something she feels incredibly passionate about: bringing more humanity into the workplace. 

With a background in behavioural science at the London School of Economics, Chloe drew inspiration for her talk from her research, and this quote in particular: 

“Our environment and lifestyle has changed dramatically, however, genetically, we have not.”

We’re still homo sapiens with basic needs that help us survive and thrive in today’s modern working world. Yet there are so many things that harm our happiness that also affect the bottom line. 

Chloe’s talk focused on how we should communicate, how we act and why we need to design our organisations that bring us back to humanity. Here are some of the highlights…


What comes to mind when you think of work? 

While some are lucky and love turning up to work every morning, there are many people out there who when asked what they think of their jobs may talk of being overworked, having no voice, not having the freedom to take risks or even being patronised.  

As HR and comms professionals, it’s our job to help people to enjoy work. When people are able to have their say without judgement, show their true self and have real conversations with their colleagues, workplaces will thrive (check out our recent post all about psychological safety at work for more on this). Sure, it could cause conflict but it’s authentic, truthful and ultimately achieves better results in the long-run. 

The most engaged workers can be up to 21% more productive, which can have a huge impact on results, profits and business success, so it’s worth ensuring that people are happy at work. 


Managers count for 70% of engagement

So many people in today’s workforce have become managers out of necessity, rather than because they wanted to. This means that too many managers don’t actually know what being a good manager actually means. Take engineering as an example: engineers can train for up to 7 years to become the skilled workers that they need to be. But many of them will receive no years of training to become a manager. 

With only 1 in 10 people having the natural talent to manage a team of people, it’s unsurprising that 19% of people are unhappy with their line manager and 1 in 6 people don’t feel any support from their line manager. 


So, what can we do to improve that?

Changing or reframing the way we communicate can help to make a difference to engagement. From “here’s what we’re going to do” to “what do you think?” and “don’t do that, do this” to “how could you do it differently”, there are ways of helping co-workers that are framed constructively and proactively, rather than stirring up negative feelings or feeling controlled. 

Annual appraisals are dying fast and we’re seeing more forward-looking coaching for development, rather than backward-focused rating and ranking. A more collaborative approach in the workplace can see much better results and communication between managers and employees flourish. 


Meaning over money

Countless studies show that humans are increasingly motivated by meaning and purpose, yet how often do people at work bring meaning and purpose to a project? Engaging people in things that they truly care about can produce much better results and mean they are more passionate for their work. 


The importance of feedback

Feedback in the workplace is key; it’s how we learn, how we progress and what keeps us engaged and improving. At Netflix, a culture of continuous feedback is encouraged. Employees give each other blunt feedback, which can feel abrasive at first but also provides an ongoing opportunity for improvement, throughout the working year, rather than a single, isolated annual review. Employees will have greater incentive to remain productive and engaged when their performance is an ongoing conversation. 


Keeping it real: the art of being vulnerable

Being vulnerable and getting things wrong are part of being human. A study showed that when a boss claimed he was nervous for a speech he was rated more favourably than the ones who hadn’t mentioned it. Vulnerability at work can increase trust and trust is worth $12.4trillion in the United States alone, so it’s worth remembering that we’re all human, we all make mistakes and we all get nervous. Being open about that can help people to work better together. 

And trust at work must be a two-way street. According to research, 67% of people leave their jobs because they don’t feel they’re trusted; all the more reason to build trust and ensure managers are trustworthy. 


So what does humanity mean for business?

Bringing more humanity into the workplace increases engagement which means productivity goes up. So perhaps as HR and internal comms pros, we need to move away from a focus on return-on-investment, towards return-on-engagement. Measuring your engagement can demonstrate the benefits of people-focused activities and as a result, increase the buy-in for HR and internal comms efforts. When you invest in your people, business does better. 


And don’t just take our word for it. We surveyed 3,000 people in our recent research study about what they want out of the future of work which is what a lot of Chloe’s talk was based on. It’ll be available in January, so for more insights like these, sign up for early access

And get in touch with Chloe to talk more about how you can bring more humanity into your workplace, she’d love to help. 

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