It is encouraging to hear more people talking about making work a more human experience.
But I often wonder what exactly people mean when they say they want work to be more human.
In a lot of cases, what we really want is to make work more “humane.” We want to eliminate the unnecessary suffering caused by work experiences that treat people more like machines or livestock than human beings.
While this is certainly a worthy aspiration, simply eliminating the inhumane falls far short of creating a truly human organization.
A human organization is one designed to make work feel like a nourishing and fulfilling experience for employees. Work processes and policies are designed around the needs of humans so they\ offer their full potential and best effort in their job.
At a human organization, people are enriched and energized by work, rather than depleted by it. The positive experience of work reverberates through all parts of their lives. Employees in human organizations are better partners, parents, and friends because of where they work, not in spite of it.
In short, human organizations thrive by helping the people they employ thrive. This type of organization is designed around unleashing the enormous potential within each human being.
I don’t know about you, but when you actually lay out what it’s like to work at a human organization, it sounds invigorating and exciting.
Which begs the question: Why aren’t all organizations already operating like this?
The legacy of work that we inherited is one that was created to serve everyone except the employee. It was designed to efficiently extract and exploit the efforts of employees in the same way you would any other resource.
To create a human organization requires that we rethink how work is designed and managed. And thankfully, there’s a blueprint that already exists to guide our work. It’s called well-being.
The blueprint to a human organization
For several decades, a small army of committed people, including practitioners, academics, and others, have been studying and experimenting to understand what matters most to help people thrive in life and at work.
They want to understand what helps people be happier, healthier, and more successful in all areas of their lives. Today, most of this work is described as either “well-being” or “wellness.”
In time, the wellness experts started identifying and creating models for how an employer could support and encourage the individual employee in their own efforts to thrive through enhanced well-being. These models are based on decades of study and research into what really works.
One such model comes from the Wellness Council of America (WELCOA), a 30-year-old, membership-based nonprofit with amission is to help leaders create high-performing, healthy organizations through wellness.
Here is WELCOA’s definition of wellness, which serves as the foundation for all of their programs and resources:
“Wellness is the active pursuit to understand and fulfill your individual human needs – which allows you to reach a state where you are flourishing and able to realize your full potential in all aspects of life. Every person has wellness aspirations.”
According to WELCOA, successful workplace wellness initiatives require supporting employees in fulfilling their needs in these seven areas:
- HEALTH Beyond the absence of mental and physical illness, health is a feeling of strength and energy from your body and mind.
- MEANING Feeling part of something bigger than yourself. Knowing that your work matters. Having purpose in your life.
- SAFETY Knowing that you are safe from physical and psychological harm at work. Feeling secure enough to take calculated risks and show vulnerability. Free of concern about meeting basic life needs.
- CONNECTION Experiencing positive, trusting relationships with others. Feeling a sense of belonging, acceptance and support.
- ACHIEVEMENT Feeling you have the support, resources and autonomy to achieve your goals. Succeeding at meeting your individual goals and work aspirations.
- GROWTH Feeling like you are progressing in your career. Learning and being challenged to use and expand on your strengths.
- RESILIENCY Viewing life with optimism. Feeling grateful and expressing appreciation. Feeling validated and encouraged.
The key to truly building a human organization is really understanding and meeting the needs of your people. WELCOA’s model gives you one lens to understand those needs.
Getting started can be as simple as asking yourself (and your employees) different questions based on this model:
How are we actively working to meet employee needs in this area?
What might we be doing that’s either interfering with or preventing these needs from being met?
What could we do to more effectively meet these needs for employees?
When you start answering these questions with your employees’ help and take action on what you learn, you’ll be well on your way to being a more human organization.
Why making work human through well-being is good for business
Making the shift to become a human organization is no easy task, but it’s perhaps the most important work before us in the evolution of work.
So, how do you make the case to convince your leaders that this is worth the effort? There are a variety of reasons that making work more human is important to the success of your organization. Let’s touch on a couple.
The first is what I’ve already mentioned. People want to work at organizations that care about people. In a job market where it’s increasingly challenging to find and attract quality people, creating a work experience that is attractive to people is vital.
If you care about attracting and retaining the best people, investing in their well-being is no longer a “nice-to-have” benefit. It’s expected.
Perhaps more importantly is the link between our individual well-being and our ability to perform effectively at work. We’ve all been confronted with challenges to our well-being throughout the pandemic. Between threats to our physical health, mental health, and loss of safety and security. we all came face to face with the consequences of reduced well-being.
My personal wake-up call came through an experience with burnout. It seemed to me that almost overnight I lost my motivation and joy. Suddenly, things that used to be easy to do took far more effort. Everything felt like a slog.
It was a stark reminder for me that well-being is vital to our ability to perform at our best at work (and everywhere in our lives). If we feel sick or unwell, it’s hard to keep up with the expectations of work and life, let alone trying to give our very best.
You may have been through contracting COVID (or having a loved one who did), managing a team in a face-to-face environment that felt very unsafe, taking on your child’s schooling at home, losing your home or your job, suffering through anxiety or depression, or any number of other things.
The punchline is this: When we aren’t well or don’t feel well, we don’t perform well.
This has always been true. But it took a global pandemic to give us the wake-up call we needed to finally get serious about moving well-being to the front of the line.
The time for action is now
The future of work belongs to the organizations who design work to work better for the humans who do it. If you want an organization where people desire to work, stick around after they get hired, offer up their most inspired effort, and become better people as a result of it, then it’s time to commit yourself to understanding well-being.
The blueprint is ready and at your fingertips. What will you build with it?
About the AuthorMore Content by Jason Lauritsen