How “human” is your workplace?

Building a human-centred workforce can lead to long-term employee retention and is an attractive proposition in a competitive labour market.

Group of colleagues celebrating success

Businesses in Canada are facing the biggest talent crisis since the 2008 recession. Unlike then, people are no longer competing for jobs; companies are competing for people. 

Workhuman, a significant player in the field of employee recognition, conducted a poll of more than 3,500 workers in the U.S., U.K. and Canada about how employees’ connect to their jobs and companies, and what’s on the horizon. 

Results showed that more than 40 per cent of workers will be looking for new jobs in the next year, with greater flexibility a primary motivation for 40 per cent of those leavers. Interesting to note, working parents pose the greatest flight risk. Burnout is a huge factor, with 64 per cent of workers suffering, and 41 per cent pointing to the specific impact of the last two years on their stress levels. 

These are sobering statistics. Businesses will need to come to terms with how they will approach this massive shift in the employment landscape. While this includes a priority focus on retention, it is equally important for companies to understand what will draw employees to them as an employer of choice in a competitive labour market.

What are Employees Looking For? 

In their recent book, Making Work Human: How Human-Centred Companies are Changing the Future of Work and the World, authors Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine talk about the future of work as “human,” and “the new community.” By creating connections, they say, we can “restore humanity in the workplace.” 

We are moving from a data-driven era to one where human connection will trump everything else. 

“As we emerge from the social isolation of the last few years, we must recognize the economic impact of loneliness is staggering,” say Mosley and Irvine. “Cultures of support, inclusion, transparency and trustworthiness attract talent that is longing for psychological safety and belonging.”

Current research on workforce trends affirm the concept that people are looking for more than jobs — they are seeking connection and want to work for companies that apply a more whole-person approach to employment. 

Here are the elements of a “human-centred” workplace.

Build Connections and Community

“Community creates belonging,” says Dede Henley, principal of Henley Leadership Group, “and belonging can motivate members to elevate their performance and dedication to what they care about most. Isolation, by contrast, creates hopelessness. We can’t impact the complexities we’re facing today alone.” 

The idea that people can find their “tribe” — friendships, collaboration and a sense of belonging — at work is immensely attractive, especially now. People who feel they belong to a community work harder and better for each other. Human-centred workplaces create opportunities for a community to emerge and grow.

“People who feel they belong to a community work harder and better for each other. Human-centred workplaces create opportunities for a community to emerge and grow.”

Invite Whole People to Work 

There was a time when work was work and home was home, and the two were quite separate. In the current climate, however, people bring their whole selves (including what’s happening at home) to work.

Being able to celebrate personal milestones such as birthdays, marriages, babies, educational accomplishments and other important life events at work creates a sense of community that many workers are craving. Pets are showing up at work, kids are moving in and out of Zoom screens, work colleagues are being invited to personal celebrations. The line between personal and work is dissipating, and a whole life approach in the workplace is what’s desired.

People also want to be real with their leaders without fear of job repercussions. They want to be able to talk about their needs for well-being, home-life and personal struggles that impact how they are showing up at work. Employers need to adapt to this changing expectation with flexibility and with strategies to support team members when they need it.

Create Meaningful Work  

People want to know that what they contribute day-to-day at work matters. If meaning is missing from their work, a critical engagement factor is affected, leading to turnover. For employers, this means making sure the team is connected to the company’s mission, purpose and values, more than ever before, and helping employees see how their specific contributions are connected to the big picture.

When recruiting, it means taking the time to find that value-match: what lights up the individual should be in line with the motivations of the organization and the specific role. 

Prioritize Recognition and Feedback 

Individuals want to see their contributions recognized and valued by their employers. Recognition is important at all levels — from both a company’s leader and peers. The rising popularity of peer recognition software underscores employees’ needs to know their efforts are being noticed and acknowledged.

Recognition is also connected to building community: people flourish when they are recognized and when they have opportunities to recognize others. Gratitude and appreciation are game-changers for human-centred work environments.

Embrace Vulnerability 

Researcher, author and leadership expert, Brené Brown, has championed vulnerability — “the emotion we experience during times of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure” — as a key factor in creating healthy organizations for over 20 years. 

Over the last two years, it has felt impossible to bottle up our feelings of uncertainty, risk and exposure; put them on a shelf, and go to work. Leaders who embrace vulnerability and bring their authentic selves to work create a space for others to do the same and build trust in their teams, which is a precursor to success. Brown’s research shows a tangible connection between vulnerability within organizations and business success.

Business is changing at a speed we could never have imagined a decade ago. We are living in a constant state of disruption, and the ever-increasing pace requires every organization to constantly adapt.

As a society, we are not what we were prior to 2020. If we are to be successful in the next evolution of the workplace, we must consider how we have changed, and how we will adapt. Considering how your business can become more “human,” maybe the next step.

Ingrid Vaughan, principal of Smart HR and founder of the Smart Leadership Academy, provides HR support and leadership coaching to small business owners and managers.