Bring Humanity Back to the Workplace

It’s safe to say that we all want to be happy. Although there are some people who seemingly love misery, they really don’t; they want to be happy too.

Generally speaking, we spend roughly a third of our time at work, and a third of our “off” time sleeping, so that leaves us maybe a third for everything else. Therefore, it follows that finding some measure of satisfaction at work is vital for achieving overall happiness.

There are many ways to go about this (some easy, some not).  I’ll focus on an area that I find often gets missed, and I’ll start by sharing a story:

In my past career life, I was an HR professional. I was typically in roles where I was the youngest person at the proverbial table, often much younger than many of the employees I worked with (many of whom looked to me as the expert). I knew there were high expectations and I was determined to fulfill them. One method of doing this was to maintain “hyper-professionalism”.

Professionalism can mean a lot of things but, one critical factor (as a young, professional woman), is to never “get emotional.” Additionally, since I knew that I was in the role of a key company role model, I endeavored to also be perfect, which is, of course, impossible.

Unfortunately, when I’m highly stressed, my way of releasing stress is to cry (not preferred, it just happens). There were more than a few occasions when I would get blindsided at work and then find myself locked in a women’s bathroom stall, holding my breath to stop the quiet sobs and hoping my make-up didn’t run and that no one would walk in.

In hindsight, I was doing no one any favors by hiding my emotions, especially myself. It also meant that the example I was setting for others included leaving their humanity at the door before coming into work. By attempting to be the perfect professional HR employee, I wasn’t helping others and I certainly wasn’t helping myself.

Psychologists have a term for my unexpected sob attacks.  “The return of the repressed”, which is defined as repressed and unprocessed emotion that comes back in a dysfunctional form.  Yes, suppressed sobs while locked in the bathroom are dysfunctional.

We are humans and we have no choice but to bring our humanity to work. So why do we think we can either ignore the emotional part of ourselves or turn it off for a third of our waking hours?

Organizations all too often believe professional environments should suppress emotions, especially the emotions categorized as negative.

In reality, it would be much more “normal” if we practiced being more human at work; fully showing up as authentic beings with feelings, passions, and imperfections. Does this mean we should stop being professional?  Of course not, there are many aspects of professionalism such as respect, listening, collaboration, transparency, consideration… basically being a conscientious person who is fully showing up to do their best work on a consistent basis. 

Would I feel comfortable crying at work today? Maybe not but, if it got to that point, I would recognize my human emotions and I would be okay with myself. More importantly, I would seek support from co-workers and also take care of myself proactively so I wasn’t blindsided with tears.

What does being human at work look like and how will it help you be happier?

1. Be vulnerable so you can do your best work and feel fulfilled.

Being vulnerable comes in many forms. In the workplace it most commonly means not being perfect and allowing yourself to make mistakes.

Sure, we’ve all heard the quotes supporting failure…

  • “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy
  • “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.” – Ken Robinson
  • “Anyone  who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

We get it, failure is how we learn.

Except, we don’t get it. We might acknowledge this on an intellectual level, but we aren’t willing to truly give ourselves permission to fail. It’s OK for someone else, but not us. But to get out of our comfort zone and REALLY push ourselves to try something new, to be creative, messy and innovative, we must give ourselves permission to fail.

Our best work comes from trying things out, making mistakes, learning what works and what doesn’t: from NOT being perfect. Perfection kills creativity, innovation, and meaningful work.

Vulnerability allows us to do our best work and to feel more fulfilled and to be human is to be vulnerable.

Easier said than put into practice? To read more on this, check out Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly.

2. Be empathetic to build your workplace social support network.

Many of us spend more time at work than with our family. According to Globoforce’s research 92 percent of people spend more than 30 hours a week with colleagues, as opposed to only 52 percent who spend that much time with family. It’s safe to say that the people we work with make up the vast majority of human interactions we have on a daily basis.

As humans we need social connection and support and, since we spend more time interacting with work colleagues than family, it makes sense to make many of them friends.    

Brene Brown defines empathy as “an emotional skill that allows us to respond to others in a meaningful, caring way. Empathy is the ability to understand what someone is experiencing and to reflect back that understanding.”

Empathy is a critical skill in building deeper social connections and it cannot be faked (I’m sure we’ve all felt the fake empathy at some point and we can feel inauthenticity on a visceral level), so you’ve got to bring your entire humanness to make connection. 

According to a Gallup survey, employees who not only have friends at work, but who have a best friend there were more likely to say that they felt encouraged, their work had purpose, and their opinion counted.

According to an Australian study by the Centre for Aging Studies at Flinders University, those who had a large network of friends outlived those with the fewest friends by 22%.

So, widening the network of friends and making connections not only increases your happiness at work but also helps you to live longer!

3. Be intentional regarding HOW you work, as often the end does not justify the means.

We are often asked to be results-driven in the workplace. Do, do, DO! We have our action plans and we’re great taskmasters. After all, what’s the point if nothing gets created, built, processed or serviced?

However, at the end of it all, our results are not what will give us the most joy or fulfillment – it’s how we do our work each day that actually determines our happiness.  

Maya Angelou said it best, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

We get to choose how we show up and how we do our work.  This includes how we treat ourselves (self-care) then how we treat others.

If we abuse ourselves during a project by losing sleep, allowing stress to accumulate, not eating well or neglecting our social connections then, when the project is done, it won’t fill the tremendous gap that the flawed process created.

Connection with others is one means of getting work done. We need to be more mindful of how we treat and interact with others. The way we collaborate could enhance the quality of our work as well.

What can you do differently to bring more humanity into your work? Do you need to start with how you treat yourself? Do you respect yourself and treat yourself with empathy and kindness? Can you connect more at work, give more empathy, laugh more, and collaborate more?

Do you need help with what you struggle with most at work? If so, I’m here for you.