A couple of weeks ago, I went to my local pharmacy to pick up a prescription. I normally experience long lines there, even by New York City standards. I was waiting in line when I suddenly heard a man’s voice screaming the words, “Who did this?” Immediately I saw fear and anger on the faces of the pharmacy staff. The man, obviously their manager, walked through the department loudly berating everyone for some mistake - humiliating them and causing all customer service to stop while he went on a tirade.
By the time my turn came, the pharmacist looked pretty upset and certainly didn’t provide the best service I have received in this pharmacy. But I couldn’t blame her after what I just saw. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated experience. More than half of the US workforce may be having a similar experience based on the findings of a study we conducted with a representative sample of the US labor market in 2018.
The study found that just 46 percent of Americans call their workplaces emotionally healthy. Only slightly more—48 percent—say their managers care about them as people rather than simply as “employees.” In effect, work is a dehumanizing experience for most people. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
If we spend most of our awake hours at work we should treat everyone around us with respect. In my experience as a workplace researcher and consultant over the past decade, most leaders who disrespect people at work also seem to be quite unhappy. I wonder, what keeps unhappy leaders at a job they don’t like for years? What is their daily motivation? If it’s not purpose, it may be power.
Fearful leaders who do not acknowledge their own humanity will have a difficult time acknowledging the humanity of others. As explained by our CEO, Michael Bush, during the 2019 Great Place to Work Summit, nothing inhibits innovation more than fear at work does. When people are afraid, they can't bring their full, creative, collaborative selves to work. Fear turns off innovation and creativity, and it creates a transactional relationship with our work.
The great news is that leaders and CEOs in Great Place to Work-Certified Companies and Best Workplaces are setting a new trend around acknowledging the whole person at work. They encourage their teams to bring their full emotional, creative selves to work. 'For All' leaders know that to dim or damage anyone's spirit comes at too great a cost to the business and to society.
Here are two practical examples from our 2019 For All Summit of how companies are acknowledging the whole person and fostering innovation as a result:
Asana, #1 Best Small & Medum Workplace in the Bay Area, has an outstanding culture even for Silicon Valley standards. Asana is a web and mobile application designed to help teams organize, track, and manage their work. At our Summit, company leaders shared their approach to supporting personal development for everyone. Everyone has access to executive coaching and “Conscious Leadership” training. The company also helps employees build communication skills that are not just limited to a work context, but that can be applied to other important aspects of life.
Joanna Miller, Lead of Learning & Development at Asana, shared that as a result of this investment, they have seen more genuine and authentic connections between people and leaders, especially across generations. What I found most impactful is that over time they have received feedback that the leadership and communication training is helping employees communicate better with their spouses, kids, and family and friends in general.
What Asana is doing goes way beyond standard leadership training. By equipping their workforce to feel comfortable communicating in authentic ways about what they truly think and feel, they are helping to build a more resilient and connected society.
Leaders at medical device company Stryker understand the vital role they play in helping people to see the bigger picture. Stryker offers innovative products and services in the areas of orthopedics, medical and surgical, neurotechnology and spine care. They ranked #11 on the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list in 2019.
At our Summit, Stryker’s Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer, Katy Fink, shared a wonderful story. A woman who was given the opportunity to live a healthy and functional life thanks to a Stryker device traveled to the manufacturing facility to meet and thank the line workers who produced the device that cured her.
Far from an isolated instance, Stryker regularly invites physicians, healthcare professionals, sales representatives and patients to come to their facilities to speak to employees. These stories draw powerful and highly emotional connections between what employees do every day and the effects their products have after they leave their hands. It brings a human touch to work and gives them purpose.
When I think about these examples, I imagine what could be possible for the 51% of people in the US who are having low-trust experience at work. What could my local pharmacists achieve, and how much happier would they be, if they were able to experience their humanity at work, without fear of being publicly humiliated?
Leaders like Asana and Stryker are showing us the way. We can re-humanize work.