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5 Human Truths in the Modern Workplace and How to Address Them

by Derek Irvine

3903889peoplecreatetheheartofthehouseRecognize This! – We are all human. Our workplaces, relationships and interactions need to reflect our humanity to help us all deliver more productively and achieve success together.

I had the pleasure and honor of speaking again this year at SHRM’s 2015 annual conference. My topic – “The Power of Thanks: Bringing Workplace Gratitude to the Next Level” – involved a wide range through the history of humans at work, most of which was hard labor. For the majority of our history at work, we’ve mostly relied on our muscle for hard, physical labor. Only in the last few decades did we begin to rely heavily on our minds as well as the focus at work shifted to the knowledge worker. Now, we are finally moving into a whole body experience at work, involving our hearts, too. I asked the SHRM audience and I’ll ask you, “Can you  ‘heart’ (holding my hands like in the picture) your company?” Most at SHRM could not. And those that can have a significant competitive advantage.

Now, it’s all about the “H” in HR – our humanity. That’s why I call this the “human decade.” And, to that end, why my SHRM talk focused on how the power of thanks, combined with technology, advances human truths. Indeed, there are 5 human truths at work.

Human Truth #1 – We seek meaning, purpose and basic needs.

Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, compensation only satisfies the most basic of needs. In the average company today, the way people are compensated has very little to do with great performance. The good news is you don’t have to spend more money to get great performance; you just have to redirect some of what you’re currently spending. The social technology revolution – and it’s a genuine revolution – is empowering HR and executives to create and maintain a unique culture.

The revolution, which means a turning around of the status quo – means that humans are no longer going to change to fit business requirements, but instead business is going to prosper by more carefully harnessing human nature. The top two-thirds of Maslow’s Hierarchy are needs that can only be met by authentic human interaction – shared values, shared esteem, recognition and appreciation.

One of the most powerful methods of conveying meaning and purpose is through recognition and appreciation. And yet, a recent Harvard Business Review report showed recognition is the number one issue preventing effective leadership. That’s the power of social recognition to reinforce your company values, broadcast your culture, empower and strengthen relationships, and energize and inspire all employees.

Human Truth #2 – We enjoy telling and hearing our success stories.

Our brains are wired for stories. We remember stories far better than we remember facts and stats. Effective storytelling at work relies on being real, being positive, celebrating each other, and showing growth. Clear, descriptive, detailed messages of appreciation that tell the story of how others contributed, helped and achieved success build deeper relationships and heighten our sense of meaning and purpose.

Human Truth #3 – We want to be inspired at our service anniversaries.

Nearly every company offers some form of acknowledgment of major milestone service anniversaries for employees. Yet 31% rate their years of service programs as fair or poor (according to the recently released 2015 SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey). Too many think of these programs as merely “thank you for not quitting programs.” And that’s largely because the most critical element of a celebration such as this missing. That element is the people. Ideally, milestone anniversary celebrations should highlight previous recognition moments and mobilize one’s community of colleagues to celebrate.

Human Truth #4 – We crave a more complete view of our performance.

“I can’t wait until my performance review with my manager,” said no one, ever. Search twitter for “Performance Review” and you’ll get comments like “Feeling completely dejected and destroyed after the performance review I received from the central office. #killmeknow” and “’Errors and Lies’ is trending on Twitter right now which is pretty much what my last job performance review was.”

Performance reviews as traditionally applied fail for several reasons – they are awkward, infrequent, and rely on a single point of failure. “Innovations” in this area in the last decade have largely taken the same process and applied new technology, computerizing and exhaustive form. Crowdsourcing performance through peer recognition gives another level of insight for managers for a far more meaningful, helpful and real appraisal process.

Human Truth #5 – Everyone seeks a more human workplace.  

A fundamental aspect of being a human being is the need for companionship, friendship, relationships – connections with others. For the longest time, we ignored this truth in the workplace, to our detriment.

Our Fall 2014 Workforce Mood Tracker revealed several expectations and needs from employees regarding the nature of relationships at work. 89% of workers say relationships matter to the quality of life. And those with more friends at work are also more likely to love and have pride in their companies, are 2 times more likely to trust leadership, are more engaged, and far less likely to jump ship.

Applying the 5 Human Truths in Your Workplace

So, what can you do to make your workplaces more human? First and foremost, always remember that the opposite of saying “thanks” is to make no acknowledgment of others at all. With that in mind, you can:

  1. Notice and appreciate the great work happening around you every day
  2. Lead by example
  3. Be the catalyst for change at your organization
  4. Be the steward for a more human workplace

You don’t need to be in a position of formal leadership to create a more human workplace. You can begin in your cube, on your manufacturing line, in your vehicle – wherever you work, you can be more human towards others.

Let’s Work Human together.

What aspects of inhumanity or humanity do you see in your workplace?


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