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Being Human At Work

Doing things from the heart doesn’t come naturally to anyone in a work context. Working on self-improvement even less so. Unless you’re blessed enough to have a vocational career and be an artist or a teacher if you’re a white-collar worker you’re likely to have spent a lot of time doing things in corseted work rituals underpinned by your set of beliefs and those of others as to what is “professional conduct”.

Most of the time this boils down to rigid, numbers-based logical precepts that leave no room for being human – having emotions, intuition or empathy.

This needs to be challenged as it needs to change rapidly for the good of all of us, but to achieve this change it takes a lot of work both from us broken records preachers and from those who “get it” in the field but still have “day jobs” to do.

Regaining our humanity in the workplace will take sustained effort. To learn how to listen to our emotions in lieu of ignore them, to remember it’s ok and desirable to open-hearted-ly listen to the voices of others, to give ourselves permission to have reactions and emotions and be a better team member or leader for it, most importantly, to feel you have the space, resources and permission to work on yourself, all of that is as uncomfortable as any sudden betterment work.

Getting in the gym midway through life after a youth spent on good times filled with takeaways and pints is never easy or joyous. It’s painful and demoralizing and so uncomfortable it makes you question the meaning of life on an hourly basis but it’s undoubtedly necessary for survival.

There’s no contest that getting our bodies healthy is hygiene and thankfully, the same acceptance is starting to apply to having our minds healthy as well.

“Mens sana in corpore sano” (healthy mind in a healthy body) a concept so clear to the ancient Romans has been lost while humanity went through some bouts where survival took center stage but is finally starting to click in the heads of this generation and the next (in fact it seems to do so faster in the kids than us if the latest global statistics are to be believed) but what is much slower to click in place is the fact that the “mens” part has to include our work life.

In fact, what good can we expect our efforts to better ourselves would bring if we leave out our work persona? What is the point of waking up early to meditate and do a Cross Fit class before work, if we then put on our office-worker persona, swallow our pride, ambition, opinions, feelings of all kinds and sit in interminable meetings for reasons we can’t comprehend surrounded by people we neither like nor trust?

While the discourse on mental well being is getting stronger in the society at large and the apps to count breaths and give you mental space to regroup are no longer reserved for hipsters and mommy groups, the conversation abruptly stops once the ping-pong table has been purchased or the marathon pledge has been press released at work.

Is it any wonder that a larger percentage of office worker report they don’t even feel they have permission to think of self-improvement in a work context? Spending time thinking, learning, questioning the purpose, trust, learning, and moral values, working on ourselves to be better listeners and carers, doing any of our inner homework all seems so awfully self-indulgent and somewhat naughty to the average office worker as a result of the decades of drilling the opposite, that it’s easy to use as a good excuse for not doing it.

It’s as if enterprise tells us “if you’re going to breathe, meditate, think or feel you need to do so on your own time, at work you’re only paid to show up, punch numbers and look semi-alive in meetings.”

That isn’t what everyone “hears” though. “Consummate professionals” aka “smart grown-up’s” at the top have always spent a lot more time doing the self-improvement work as they realized the need and the value but this appetite for betterment has traditionally never trickled down the ranks of the organization. Executives with flexible working schedules, decision autonomy, their yoga teachers and their therapists aren’t uncommon but companies are awfully good at making it sound as if being a better version of yourself is only the apanage of the management layer.

Some Silicon Valley darlings are starting to actively change that by exposing all types of activities and asking their employees to find what works for them and include what they are doing on the “mens” topic alongside what they are doing on their “corpore” topic in their KPIs. They look at performance holistically and ask their valuable human capital to have a plan as to how to keep healthy and better themselves from all points of view.

Even when employees feel they have “permission” or even encouragement, the work in itself is far from easy to do and the habit, just like the gym one, needs creation.

As opposed to when we first start working on our bodies where the effects are immediate and within weeks we can visibly see better numbers or emerging muscle definition when we start working on our minds and on being better humans work wise, the progress is a lot more subtle and harder to demonstrate. We have to pay close attention to notice minute and discrete differences in how we treat others and ourselves when we change perspective and focus on it. We have to listen very closely to hear what are small internal and external rumblings. We have to remind ourselves daily to be a better X and focus on the Y. It’s hard work and it’s work that we have no practice with and no guidance for but we know in our hearts of hearts to be important and what we truly need.

One of the things we advise smart organizations to do and that we are working on incorporating in the Leader’s Dashboard in Psychological Safety Works is a simple 2 step version of the “NYE Resolution to be started on a Wednesday”: 1. Choose what 3 physical and emotional goals you’ll work on for the next 90 days and what you’ll use to achieve them; then 2. Work on creating the habit.

It’s that simple. If you add to it an ability to visualize progress -the progress of keeping to the habit, not measurable gains or losses- and a sprinkle of accountability if the goals are shared in the team, magic happens.

The beauty of doing work on ourselves work wise – learning, increasing our EQ, growing our capacity for empathy, starting to listen to our intuition, and just overall being better at being human at work- is that everyone wins once it happens. Starting with the undeserving, short-sighted, P&L driven enterprise as productivity goes up, but above all the employees who are then starting on the true self-value-creation work where they make themselves invaluably irreplaceable by either machines or the slackers who didn’t put in the hours to work on being human.

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