I’ve recently begun rereading Brene Brown’s book, “Daring Greatly.” In the introduction, she says, “If we want to reignite innovation and passion, we have to re-humanize work. When shame becomes a management style, engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity, and innovation.” This got me thinking about what it means to re-humanize work. And, if we have to re-humanize it, how did it get dehumanized in the first place?

Rather than looking to theory to examine this, I decided to turn to my own decades-long experience as an employee, a manager, and a leader.

Here are just a few of the signals that we might have forgotten that our employees are also human beings:

– I recall, early in my career, being handed my employee badge on my first day at my new job and being told “When you clock in, leave your personality at the door.”

– In my first role in Human Resources, there was a union attempt at our organization. Management was perplexed as to what the employees could possibly think they had to gain by unionizing. Turns out the union did something management had not. They took the time to listen to, understand, and respond to, the concerns and worries of the employees.

– Later in my career, the organization I worked for acquired another company. This saw us having to “identify and eliminate redundancies” and “maximize efficiencies by adopting and enforcing best practices.” The impact on the employees who were let go and those who remained were of little concern.

– The last example I’ll share happened when I was a kid but I think the profound effect it had on me is why I have spent my career trying to make workplaces more humane. My dad was a manager of a department store in a small town. Just before Christmas, he received word that he was to close the store, effective immediately. This devastated the employees that had worked there and, as a major employer in the region, the impact was broadly felt.

While writing this blog, Tony asked what I was doing. When I explained, he asked if work had ever been humanized. Fair point. I do think there have been attempts such as:

– Henry Ford’s living wage and 40-hour workweek,

– Howard Schultz’s full benefits to all Starbucks employees, and

– Aaron Feuerstein’s continuing to pay wages after Malden Mills burned down.

A recent survey showed that the “most in-demand skills” are creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence, according to LinkedIn Learning’s

2020 Workplace Learning Report. These are not skills that can be demanded from employees. Rather, we must create a culture that supports and encourages these behaviors in our employees.

Employing the SOAR model is one way to engage your employees. The SOAR model, which came out of my research on transformative teaching and learning, stands for:

Setting your intentions

Optimizing obstacles

Aligning your resources

Reaching new heights

By working with our employees to learn what their aspirations are for their careers, to understand their strengths and the obstacles that may be preventing their success, and to clarify the results that matter most to them (in other words, what motivates them), we are able to (where possible) create the conditions that allow them to feel as though their talents and contributions are valued by the organization in a way that is meaningful to them. The organization is then able to get the best from an employee who feels motivated and fulfilled.

This is one way to humanize the workplace.