The following is an excerpt from Erica Kewsin’s Bring Your Human to Work: Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Design a Workplace That is Good for People, Great for Business, and Just Might Change the World. The book translates key practices of the most human companies into applicable advice that any business leader can use to a “human workplace.” In addition to her role as author, Erica is the Founder of the Spaghetti Project, a platform devoted to sharing the science and stories of human connections with global brands, community groups, teams and individuals.
Getting Started on This Human Business
I’ve always been a connector. Whether I was connecting people with great jobs as an executive recruiter, or setting up marriages as a side hustle, I’ve long believed in the importance of connection. I also know firsthand that, in this digital age, it’s getting harder and harder to set aside our devices and the alluring promise of all those digital “friends.” Even for me.
Which is to say I get why my three teenage kids feel so drawn to their digital lives. I understand how digital distractions complicate the workplace. I see the challenges, because technology is front and center in all of our lives.
I remember a lunch with a close friend where technology completely changed the dynamic of our friendship. My girlfriend couldn’t put away her phone when I tried to confide in her. Every time I opened my mouth to share something, she would look down, or her phone would buzz again and again, until I finally gave up.
In my role as a workplace strategist for the past 25 years, my focus has been on helping companies improve their performance through people. A few years ago, I started seeing behaviors I had not seen before. More and more, employees were calling into meetings from down the hall, texting bad news to clients instead of calling, and eating lunch alone at their desks, wearing headphones.
Parents, friends, CEOs, and managers all know that something’s off, but they don’t know exactly what it is, or how to fix it.
Let’s face it. We’re living in the Wild West. And there’s no new sheriff coming to town.
That’s one of the reasons why I wrote this book—to help create some rules of the road. At home, at school, and in the workplace, we’re frowning into our phones, shooting for “Inbox Zero,” and obsessively framing our lives into selfie-ops instead of living them. In so many ways, we’re missing out on one another.
I wrote Bring Your Human to Work to inspire and guide those of us who want to be truly connected, to be real humans— in our lives, and especially at work.
What It Means to Be Human
Over the last five years, I started hearing a buzz about “human” workplaces. Even the most senior leaders—male ones at that— were talking about being vulnerable, compassionate, and yes, human. I found myself wondering: “What did people mean by ‘working human’?” “As opposed to what?” I wanted to know.
What I’ve discovered is that while everyone uses the term “human” differently, they are all pointing in the same general direction: people crave work-life balance, sustainable work practices, and authentic, purpose-driven work cultures. People are no longer willing to accept work as a soul-crushing, Dilbertesque, cubicled nightmare. However, as with many trends, while a strong, shared sentiment is being expressed and a legitimate problem is being revealed, the solutions are a little bit all over the place. I became very curious about this so-called “human” business, and I wanted to learn more. I set out to investigate the buzz and to determine if it really matters.
After talking to hundreds of CEOs, entrepreneurs, managers, and employees around the country, I have found that, in light of the digital deluge occurring around us, we all need a more human workplace. Putting phones in a basket during a meeting, eliminating email, ensuring that employees take vacation—all of these mini-fixes are on the right track. But I’ve learned that there is one thing anyone and everyone can do to ensure a more human workplace: Honor relationships.
A human workplace honors relationships. And yes, it matters.
Bringing your human to work is not rocket science, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It takes hard work and discipline. It requires honoring relationships in everything we do—creating our values, running meetings, deciding who we hire, using technology, choosing whom we partner with, and evaluating and rewarding talent. Working human in the twenty-first century means that we absolutely must come to terms with the ubiquitous digital presence that sometimes feels overwhelming but can also be a powerful tool for getting ourselves, our products, and our messages out there. Bringing our human to work is both about putting technology in its place in order to build strong relationships and about inviting technology to the table, making good use of everything that can create a more human workplace.
Bringing our human to work will help us manage our technology and ourselves, too. Yet that’s not the only reason this book is so important for businesses today. As you may have heard, the millennial generation (people born between 1981 and 1996) will comprise nearly 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025. These young, passionate people are changing the game in many important ways. And their influence on today’s society and workplace includes a demand for a more human life at work.
For instance, this generation has redefined what it means to be “social,” blurring the boundaries between private, public, and work lives, and demanding that company values be taken off the walls and actually felt through the halls. Millennials want their work lives to have meaning and to work for companies that lead with a purposeful culture. Too many business owners aren’t sure how to do that or even what it means. I know, though, that meaningful values play an important role in the human workplace.
So for starters, let’s define “culture.” Culture refers to how it feels to interact with a company, as a consumer, an employee, a vendor, or a partner. What is the company vibe or personality? How do people behave when nobody’s looking? Culture is important, often thought to be number one on the list of critical factors in building a successful business. One of my favorite companies is JetBlue, a true leader in establishing a human workplace (and a company I have studied in depth). They hold top leaders accountable for maintaining the super cool, connected feeling of their corporate culture. Management is expected to show up to flip burgers at the holiday barbeque, attend regular new-hire orientations, and uphold and promote this uncommonly human culture. They are evaluated on how well they do this—in fact, their bonuses are based on it!
So let’s agree that culture matters. But what kind of culture is a human culture? Fun cultures are great. By-any-means-necessary money-making cultures certainly have their fans. A meaningful culture—a place where people can feel like they are plugged into something bigger than themselves—that’s a human culture. That’s the kind of place that businesses need to create if they want to succeed in this purpose-driven marketplace and the race for young, very-much-in-demand talent.
As important as culture is, it is just one part of creating a human workplace. Honoring relationships is the theme that brings everything a human workplace stands for together. What does this mean, on the ground, in your particular company? And even if you get it right, will all this human business help the bottom line?
Here’s a number to consider: $300 billion. According to the American Institute of Stress, $300 billion is lost in our economy every year to stress. Imagine the human impact we could make if we could get that money back. Or, better yet, if that stress hadn’t happened in the first place. By working human, I believe we can begin to literally cut our losses and cultivate a more human world.
Prepare to change the way you do business.