If We’re Not Human at Work, What are We?

I’ve been receiving a series of emails lately from a high-profile organization with the subject line “How to Be More Human at Work.”

Funny. Aren’t we being human all the time?

Now, for most of us it's not that we’re being inhuman at work, but I understand the point.

Creating more human work cultures is trending. The great news is that we’re beginning to realize that those who happen to be employees are human.

If this is a new perspective for you to consider, that subject line is perfect. How do we “be more human” at work?

What it doesn't mean

Some think it involves oversharing or they fear finding themselves in awkward team-building activities. Nah. Let’s not go there.

What if it’s about normalizing real human experiences in a work-appropriate ways? How about addressing the real human needs to be seen and to belong? What then could we accomplish?

Humanity at work -- this means you

Let’s revisit that email subject line, “How to Be Human at Work.” That’s about us.

Being human at work is not just about treating others like human beings. Are we behaving like human beings? What does that even mean?

People ask me for the steps for an organizational development intervention to make their work cultures more human. Nope. We’re not starting there. There’s other work needed first.

Until those of us who have some degree of influence or leadership take responsibility for cultivating our own humanity, we aren’t getting anywhere. Demonstrating commitment comes first. We know actions that lack strong foundations are a waste of time.

How to be more human at work

Are you ready to take the challenge of connecting with your own humanity? Let this be about you, and about behaving like a human being in the context of work. It might look like this:

  • Acknowledging behavior that bothers you. (I once asked a man I worked with if he was okay with his colleagues teasing him publicly about his appearance. He pooh-poohed it. No big deal. One year later he showed up in my office ready to address it.)
  • Being persistent when you’re not heard. Find someone who will listen.
  • Fostering better interactions with a key co-worker when you notice your dislike for them creates more work for everyone.
  • Being willing to say no. This can be done artfully.
  • Making the time to encourage another when you know they’re struggling. It doesn’t have to take long.
  • Asking others you trust what they like about working with you.
  • Investigating your assumptions when you find yourself making up stories about someone’s behavior. (Once two women shared some significant negative feedback with me at work. Despite a rough start, I appreciated they had come straight to me. By the end of the discussion we had grown our relationships.)

With some of these suggestions, I get questions about potential confrontation. It doesn't have to be that way. It can also feel vulnerable to admit we felt something personally about another's actions.

Embrace that your human reactions matter and being human at work is worth the effort. When you embody your intention, you express the mindset, the confidence, and the words to get you through with more ease.

Thought leader and author Debbie Ford offered this great analogy about the possible outcome of trying to suppress, in my words, our humanity. It’s like trying to keep a beach ball underwater. It’s taxing to hold down this thing we want to hide. At some point it’s going to slip, smack us in the face, and pop up for all to see.

We do ourselves a disservice, and the organizations we work with, when we do not bring all of ourselves to work. At a minimum, holding down that beach ball wastes energy that could be used more productively.

We already know “how to be human”

Let’s concede our humanity. A key is choosing to be conscious about it.

Learn to manage your humanity at work, and sow the seeds of a more human culture. Truth, direct communication, and genuine curiosity and encouragement release pent-up energy. Your demonstration is a model for others. Start your own trend.