Humanizing Work for a Better World

Humanizing Work for a Better World

By Dr. Laura Hambley Lovett with Dr. Steve Hunt & Robert Richardson

August 9, 2021

As I reflect on my 20 years as an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, I realize a consistent, underlying pain point – the great need to humanize work and workplaces. A large portion of many people’s waking lives are spent working. How they are treated as human beings at work transcends into their personal lives and impacts how they contribute to the world.

This blog summarizes the takeaways from my conversation on Humanizing Work for a Better World, with fellow Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, Dr. Steve Hunt, and his colleague and podcast co-host, Robert Richardson. Steve and Robert are both thought leaders on technology as a way to influence and shape our experience of work. Technology can, in fact, be leveraged to humanize work, and thereby influence the lives of millions of people across industries.

Why does work matter? Tell us about your Work Matters! Podcast

Steve and Robert envisioned talking with thought leaders who are focused on making work better and sharing this with employees across a variety of industries. Work affects everything – your self-esteem, health,  family, and relationships. So, to make this dream a reality, they co-host the Work Matters! Podcast, which shares a wealth of information, tips, and tricks around solving real problems in work and life.

How and why does focusing on people’s wellness also benefit the organization?

Steve and Robert explain that people have often been treated like machines at work, performing repetitive, mindless, and physically damaging work. Now, however, technology has largely replaced these physical, repetitive elements of work, allowing us humans to focus on work that is uniquely human. While the machines do the repetitive work, humans are needed in the workplace to be creative, innovative, and caring.

TECHNOLOGY HAS LARGELY REPLACED THE PHYSICAL, REPETITIVE ELEMENTS OF WORK, ALLOWING US HUMANS TO FOCUS ON WORK THAT IS UNIQUELY HUMAN.

Steve and Robert note that people can’t be creative and caring if they do not feel mentally well. When we’re stressed, it becomes challenging to be our authentic selves. It is exhausting to express happiness and warmth externally when we do not actually feel that way internally. When employees feel healthy and well supported, they can better create, collaborate, and be present in their roles.

If leaders treat people right, they are happier, healthier and more productive, helping their company perform better and become more profitable. The organizations that are doing the best tend not to be the ones who have laid off masses of people during the pandemic. In fact, agile and adaptable organizations tend to treat people as human beings versus ”resources”, leading to a healthier and more successful workplace overall. Bottom line: healthy employees make healthier and more productive organizations.

HEALTHY EMPLOYEES MAKE HEALTHIER AND MORE PRODUCTIVE ORGANIZATIONS.

How can workplaces become more human-centric?

Challenging assumptions and maximizing transparency are both key to humanizing the workplace. For example, it is important to challenge why leaders do not share hiring decision-making processes, payment differences, and other important behind-the-scenes aspects of the workplace. Maximizing flexibility is also crucial. Technology allows us to be way more flexible than we were in the past, and organizations need to continue to embrace this new flexibility. According to Dr. Steve Hunt, “flexibility is freedom,” and it is a key ingredient to humanizing work for a better world.

 “FLEXIBILITY IS FREEDOM,” AND IT IS A KEY INGREDIENT TO HUMANIZING WORK FOR A BETTER WORLD.

How has the pandemic been an opportunity to transform our work and lives?

If the pandemic didn’t last for as long as it did, we would have snapped back to doing things the old way.  We need to ensure we continue on this path of shifting the leader mindset. To do so, it is necessary to challenge our assumptions about work, remote work, and the intersection between work and family.

The pandemic has allowed us to break the false separation between our work life and our family life, and instead embrace the integration of these two worlds. Or, as Steve Hunt aptly puts it: we have the opportunity to “challenge assumptions about how work should work.”

Further, the practice of listening has grown throughout the pandemic. People want to be listened to and supported by their leaders, and when this happens authentically, as it did during COVID, people are happier, and they perform better. Let’s keep this momentum up in the post-pandemic world.

During our conversation, Robert was logged on from a beautiful cabin where he works remotely during the day and spends time with his family in nature during the evenings. His friends received this cabin as a perk from their company. This ability to work from anywhere, which took off over the past couple years, is quite amazing for employees’ wellbeing. Appreciating the importance of fun and relaxation amidst productivity and focus is central to humanizing work.

APPRECIATING THE IMPORTANCE OF FUN AND RELAXATION AMIDST PRODUCTIVITY AND FOCUS IS CENTRAL TO HUMANIZING WORK.

What has been your greatest challenge and how have you overcome it?

Both Steve and Robert note how they are passionate about what they do, making it a challenge to shift their attention away from work. Robert explains how his family has a tradition of fathers who work themselves to death. To break this tradition, Robert has been working hard not to let work consume his family time. He is learning to acknowledge that he can give work his full attention, and gain purpose and meaning from his work, but he can still completely disconnect when necessary and spend time hanging out with his kids.

Many of us share this propensity, having learned this from generations before. Over-work can become a habit, and then an addiction; indeed, workaholism is a form of addiction. Robert notes how workaholics who came before him in his own family had far less focus on health, and developed horrific sleep patterns – not a smart way to work and live.

What’s one book or podcast you’d each recommend to improve their work life wellness?

According to Steve, we need to get rid of word retirement; “the word retirement needs to be retired.” Instead, It’s all about transitions. Steve recommends the book Stretch by Karie Willyerd. This book focuses on how you can approach work as a constant learning opportunity, and it is filled with practical strategies.

Robert recommends an amazing podcast, Hidden Brain.  The episodes can apply to both work and home life. He also recommends the book: The Code of Trust by Robin Dreeke, focusing on five principles that can help to build bridges between people, and pay dividends in your personal and work life.

Moving Forward

We ended our conversation looking to the future. Steve’s wish for a better world was societal – it’s time for us all to admit that people need to support each other in order to thrive. Looking to the future, Steve hopes that society will wake up to this reality and shift away from a grit-your-teeth mentality to a more community-based way of living and working.

Lastly, Robert focussed the importance of trying to live your “bucket list.” It’s so important to make sure you always have something you’re looking forward to – something that you’ve also wanted to do or experience. Every month or year, we should actively plan something memorable in our calendars. When it comes to your work, always strive for a sense of purpose and fulfillment in whatever you do.

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Dr. Hunt’s work focuses on using technology to increase workforce agility and performance by improving employees’ capabilities experience, engagement, inclusion, and well-being. An internationally recognized industrial-organizational psychologist, he has helped create human resource solutions that have positively influenced millions of employees working for thousands of companies around the globe.

Robert Richardson’s driving ambition is to help organizations navigate transformations that bring about greater sustainable impact, wellbeing, and profitability as a result. In pursuit of that goal, Robert serves as Human Experience Advisor at SAP. There he helps guide internal teams and about 100 external companies, states, and federal agencies per year working to develop their next generation of recruiting and talent management capabilities. A startup alumni and enthusiast, Robert mentors purpose built high growth companies within the SAP.iO Foundry portfolio and also serves as a CleanTech Angel & Advisor.

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