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Make Work Human by Making it Personal

By Derek Irvine

Painting on wallRecognize This! – Providing an individualized experience to employees, rather than one-size-fits-all, is a key to making work human and improving well-being.

One of the characteristics of modern organizations and the WorkHuman movement at large is making the workplace a more individualized experience as one part of a larger unified and human-centered culture.

This often stands in contrast to thinking that still lingers from the early days of scientific management, when science was first applied to workplaces in order to uncover and standardize the single most efficient way of working. The primary consequence has been the assumption that what works for one employee will work for the next.

As science has progressed, however, we are beginning to understand the important role of more human ways of working – through individual preferences, styles, motivations, and abilities. Building appreciation and care for the individual into a human-powered culture can lead companies to greater productivity and success.

One need look only as far as desk arrangements to see progress away from a one-size-fits-all mentality. I came across a paper in an ergonomics journal just this morning, questioning the feasibility of guidelines for sit-stand workstation positioning to improve well-being. It turns out that the standing and sitting configurations were “unique to each participant… and each was significantly different from [the other].” Everyone, it turns out, has their own set of “sweet spots” in terms of what ideally works for them.

I bring up this research to illustrate not only how work can be quite individualized at the most basic of levels, but also how quickly complexity can increase. Desk preferences are shaped by a few variables; work overall is defined by a breadth of physical, psychological, and social factors that shape our experience. The challenge for company leaders is to balance the flexibility of allowing employees to work in their sweet spots, while also providing some measure of cohesion and alignment across the organization.

The essential secret to success, as some have written, is to pay attention to the key differences between and among employees, and use that information to individualize and humanize the work experience.

In some instances, there are broad practices that meet fundamental human needs around accomplishment, communication, and purpose. Individualization within this scope entails listening and understanding what specifically motivates employees and delivering recognition and feedback, for example, in a manner that aligns with each individual’s preferences.

There are other practices- policies and procedures for example- that are more specific. Individualization here means offering greater flexibility and choice, in order to meet employees where they are. Such policies could run the gamut from flexible workstations to remote working arrangements, providing spaces for fun and spaces for recharging, and allowing flexibility or autonomy in the way work is done.

All of these practices reflect a greater appreciation of the different ways in which people can bring more of themselves to work, ultimately creating more well-being and productivity. By approaching the design of work on an individualized basis, and amplifying that effect through a powerful shared culture, leaders can show that they care about creating a more human workplace and reap the benefits of an engaged and motivated workforce.

What types of practices would help make your workplace more individualized?

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