By Adam Fridman, CEO of ProHabits
Imagine a CEO standing before their gathered workforce expounding on the organization’s shared values of integrity, teamwork, innovation, customer service, and respect. (These aren’t random values, by the way: They’re the top five values listed by Fortune 500 companies.) Whether their audience nods in agreement or rolls their eyes at the truth-stretching doesn’t depend on the speaker’s eloquence. Rather, employee engagement is an outcome of workplace experience, which includes the daily actions, large and small, of leaders and managers. In a word, it’s a measure of the organization’s humanity.
Making workplaces more human is a hot topic right now, but it’s one that’s easy for business leaders to dismiss as a “soft” goal that doesn’t boost performance numbers. Not true: A more human workplace leads to greater engagement, which, in turn, has a positive effect on profitability. A recent Gallup study showed that business units that score in the top 20% in engagement realize 21% greater profitability than their peers with less engagement.
In my own practice, we’ve seen clients, such as one San Francisco-based insurer, achieve a 15% improvement in net promoter score (NPS) thanks to a strategy of workplace humanization. Additionally, initial results suggest that a similar program contributed, along with other initiatives, to a 60% reduction in turnover for a client in the food service industry, which has notorious attrition challenges.
Engaged employees also are better prepared for the increasing pace of change in today’s white-hot competitive environment. Business leaders who want to build more agile, efficient, and responsive organizations must draw a direct line from their corporate values to everyday actions that make work more human by operationalizing those values.
What does a more human workplace look like? It’s a fair question. Leaders and employees have a relationship not unlike those between spouses or among parents and children. These relationships are defined by communication, recognition, and an understanding of one another’s priorities and needs, expressed in the “little things” we do every day.
We recently asked 100 people leaders what “little thing” they do to elevate human relationships in the workplace. Here’s what they told us:
For its part, technology—once thought to be the bane of workplace humanity—can now make the workplace more human. Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are becoming increasingly capable of automating many rote tasks so that your employees have more time to focus on creativity, strategy, and connecting with customers and one another.
Change Starts with Leaders
Transforming your workplace into a humanizing environment that engages employees starts at the top. I like to say that purpose inspires, values guide, and habits define. The process begins with these questions: “Why do we exist as the organization? What is the impact we'd like to create in the world?”
The answers will then guide not just values but action. When I ask business leaders how they live their values every day, they are hard-pressed for an answer. The majority do not have a direct line of sight between abstract concepts and action.
To draw this line of sight, you should next ask yourself: “What's our workflow for making work more human?” Companies have clear workflows for every business process, so why not one for humanizing the workplace? It’s one thing to say you’ll recognize good work, but quite another to do it regularly. I recommend putting reminders on your to-do list or app for “micro-actions,” such as recognizing effort, listening to feedback, or creating any other humanizing “micro-moment.”
These are the “little things” that generate big results in terms of forging strong employee relationships—those myriad choices you make in a day’s interactions, sometimes automatically. At the same time, I urge you to make your own workday more human. Take care of yourself. Be mindful. Take moments of quiet time. Find what helps bring out your best so that you can bring out the best in others.
I believe that humanizing the workplace is a reward in itself, but it also produces real-world results. You cannot compete with an organization that's more human than you are. You're going to lose great people and reduce performance. That competitor will out-innovate you and outperform you in every category. To stay in the game, stay human.
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Adam Fridman is the founder and CEO of ProHabits and the co-author of The Science of Story.