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8 Powerful Ways that Encourage Employees in Being Human at Work

We all know the world of work is undergoing profound changes. What makes change difficult is that organisations, and leaders, are still applying a framework designed for another time and place.

A time when there was rote, repetitive work and people were treated as human resources – not human beings. A time when companies mattered, not people.

Hybrid working requires overhauling the relationship between employers and workers. It's really about humanising the workplace which starts with putting your people at the centre of everything you do. This involves handing power to employees – to choose how they work, when they work, what they work on and why.

At its core, a humanised workplace requires leaders understanding and celebrating, as Lolly Daskal says "that people make businesses work, rather than business is about making people work."
Above all, employees no longer want to be treated like a number. Employees don't want transactional work and relationships. Today, people want an elevated employee experience that accepts their humanness. Unlike the old days when crying at work, complaining about a toxic boss or leaving work early to tend sick children were forbidden. 
Let's take a look at the eight areas where humanisation at work has now become an expectation from employees, not a nice-to-have:
1. Customised Employee Communication
The days of generic email blasts that tell every employee, across every department, every office and country the same thing are no longer tolerated.

Most employees are struggling with email overwhelm with multiple departments vying for their attention. Time-poor employees want less general email preferring specific communication relevant to their job role. 

A common misperception with corporate communication is that awareness building is equal to communication. Yet, sharing information doesn’t always produce awareness.

Today, employees want corporate communication that consolidates the right information, in the right sequence, when they need it.

Employees want more than just the one-way style of communication email blast. Instead, they want more opportunities for dialogue, rather than the standard monologue.

To engage the hearts and minds of employees requires developing powerful emotional content. Communication that leverages a variety of communication methods and is personalised and contextualised for different employee groups.

2. Flexible work

Working 9 to 5 might be a catchy song, but it is still no way to make a living these days. 

According to a recent Future Forum survey, ninety-four (94%) of employees want flexibility in when they work, while 84% of employees want flexibility in where they work.

Flexible working is more than having the freedom to work from home a couple of days a week. It's also the opportunity to work where you want - whether that be while you take a short trip to a tropical island or if you have to move back to your mother land because of a sick relative.

It's time for leaders to detach themselves from the belief that people must be working from 9 to 5. The truth is people love the flexibility to work the hours around their lifestyles. 

A lack of schedule flexibility dramatically impacts employee experience scores. Compared to those with moderate schedule flexibility, knowledge workers who say they have little to no ability to set their own hours report:
  • 3.4x worse work-related stress and anxiety
  • 2.2x worse work-life balance
Employees with rigid work schedules also say they are 3x more likely to “definitely” look for a new job in the next year (up from 2.6x in February).

3. Meaningful work

People love their job if it matters whether they show up to work. Most of us have had the experience of turning up to work, not because we wanted to, but because we knew we were needed. Our presence and effort made a real difference to those around us.

As I unpack in my book, Trusted to Thrive: How leaders create connected and accountable teams, there are four types of meaningful work that revolve around understanding the different types of beneficiaries of the work we do.  These being - understanding how work helps internal customers, external customers, yourself and your boss. It's about understanding both the intrinsic and extrinsic impact of work.

This requires leaders who know how to link each of their direct reports with how their work matters to everyone around them. 

According to The Energy Project, employees who derive meaning from their work are:

- 3 times more likely to stay at their organisation.

- 1.7 times more satisfied in their job, and

- 1.4 times more engaged at work.

4. Creating Connection 

Connection has always been important to employees but has charged remarkably in hybrid working.

One of the downsides of remote work is minimal contact with other humans. Employees who feel disconnected from their colleagues are more likely to feel undervalued, disrespected and leave their organisation. Dehumanisation is a common side effect to hybrid work.

It means updating the old perception that culture lives in the office. It actually lives in our interactions and communication. Culture has transitioned from physical proximity to emotional proximity.

Today, leaders must work harder so their employees feel connected to them and one another. It requires being more conscious about making every interaction count, so that people feel seen, valued and heard. 

This requires making team meetings more meaningful and one-on-one's. It also means understanding that every email, text or phone conversation is contributing to the culture of your team.

Now, leaders must ensure they do emotional check-ins with their employees and really take the time to understand each of their employees for who they really are. It means encouraging people to talk about their personal lives and interests. If you want more tips on how to do this, my book Trusted to Thrive, unpacks an easy system to help.

5. Making In-person Events Matter

People will come into the office if there is perceived value.

What people miss about being in the office are being with their friends, birthday celebrations, collaborating on complex projects, doing hands-on training and having complex conversations.
Hybrid work doesn't mean people won't go back into the office at all. It just means that when they do it's got to be worth their time. This requires being really intentional about the purpose of meeting up and respecting people's time and energy to get there. It means only conveying an in-person event when there are things that need to be done physically rather than virtually. 
Let's face it, before the pandemic managers held meetings that could have just been solved in an email. Now, leaders must be more respectful of people's time and workloads before requiring everyone to convene in person. This might mean coming in less - once a month or even once a quarter, but when it does happen people feel celebrated for who they are.
6. Provide Autonomy

People thrive in their jobs when they have autonomy and the power to control their work environment.  It also sends the message that leaders trust employees to do the right thing, which is one of the most important building blocks of trust.  Without autonomy, employees feel devalued and suffer poor mental health.  

Ask employees how they want to do things and give them the freedom to plan and do work their way.

7. Leading through Consultation

Employees will always reject any new process, system, training or change that feels as if it's being done to them, not for them.

As mentioned in the first item, employees want to be consulted. They don't want one-way communication that tells them what to do.

Employees want more opportunities for dialogue, rather than the standard monologue. Leaders who seek the opinions of their employees and collect employee feedback ensure that people's needs are being addressed.

8. Encouraging employees to be more inclusive

If we are going to celebrate our humanness and banish the old saying "leave your personal issues at the door," then we also need to provide a safe space for people to be themselves.

I am not talking about the negative, ego-fuelled self that can create a lot of havoc in the workplace, but the authentic self. This means that employees and leaders need to accept people no matter their religion, gender identity, race or political standing.

The Future of Work is about Humanity at Work

Today, there is a realisation that workplaces are so much more than a place for work to be done. Work gets done better when we feel connected, safe, valued and share a bright future together. Meaningful work that has a purpose and makes a difference to customers and employees. 
Elevating the employee experience so that people feel that they are not cogs in a system is important not only for their mental health and wellbeing, but also their productivity. Delineating personal lives from our work lives is no longer reasonable.
An IBM Smarter Workforce Institute WorkHuman study, found that organisations that score in the top 25 percent on employee experience report double the return on sales
compared to organisations in the bottom quartile.
It's time we acknowledged and celebrated our human needs in working, rather than pretending they do not exist. All it takes are leaders who work with their people to do their best work in a way that suits them and their team.
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