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5 Ways HR Leaders Can Help Humanize the Organization

Daniel Ross
April 10, 2018

5 Ways HR Leaders Can Help Humanize the Organization

Now, more than ever, people are clamoring for a humanized workplace one where employees feel safe and respected, motivated to innovate, and inspired to get work done efficiently.

Historically speaking, business strategies have always revolved around production and outcomes. And for the longest time, human capital was deemed a mere instrument to achieving those goals.  

While some businesses may have managed to stay afloat by following such principles, the ones that can truly endure the tests of time are the organizations that provide the best conditions for employees to thrive and to innovate.

Today, the workforce has been empowered to set their own terms. Financial compensation alone is not enough to motivate people to work hard, as professionals are seeking humanized work environments — where their voices can be heard, and where collaboration, inclusivity, and transparency are upheld. Below are the top 5 ways HR leaders can humanize an organization.

1. Promote Equality and Diversity

A humanized organization is one that supports diversity and equality in the workplace.

Since the New York Times published that expose on the now-disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein’s sexual impropriety, Hollywood and various other industries have made great strides to overcome workplace inequality.

Through global movements such as #TimesUp and #MeToo, women and men from all around the globe have gained a platform where they can speak up and stand up against the prejudices and injustices they often have to face, especially from those in power at their workplaces. You might see social media as a new challenge because it has armed employees or even potential hires with a means to reveal your company’s undesirable actions. In the course of a year, these hashtags have brought down several public figures, corporate leaders, and celebrities who have abused their position and power.

But if you’re making sure the company supports equality and diversity, then there’s no need to be afraid of the hashtags. If there’s still room for improvement — and there almost always is — don’t wait to take steps to make progress in these areas.

Step 1: A committee on equality and diversity should be created and tasked to ensure that the company promotes equitable hiring. Of course, this team must be diverse in nature.

Step 2: You must offer job opportunities to a diverse audience. Always encourage minorities and women to send in their applications, and make sure hiring managers and team leads give these applicants equal consideration.

Step 3: Review company policies and make sure the organization complies with federal laws. Rewrite if you must, and have the legal department review the policies before they are implemented. Schedule periodic reviews, and keep the policies up-to-date.

Step 4: You must invest in workplace diversity, sensitivity, and harassment training. These programs can equip employees with the necessary skills and strategies to advance their careers. Plus, it should strengthen workplace relationships. For new hires, set mentoring programs to make the adjustment process easier for them.

Step 5: Set progressive disciplinary procedures for the company to follow whenever an employee files a complaint against a co-worker or their boss. Reprimand the necessary people if they convey racial discrimination and other inappropriate behavior.

And, remember to set a good example. Don’t be afraid to take the necessary measures if your own boss happens to be in the wrong. So many employees are counting on you. If you fail to address the elephant in the room, they will continue to lose trust.

For equality to be prevalent within the organization, gender, religious beliefs, and other aspects of cultural identity should not dictate employees’ rights. Everyone must have equal opportunities for employment and equal access to resources and benefits for development.

2. Encourage Open Communication

Effective communication is what will help you establish strong relationships with co-workers. It is what will get things done. Although businesses need a managerial structure, traditional hierarchies often impede innovative thoughts. So, open up communication channels and encourage employees to take part in important conversations and provide feedback.

Step 1: Start by establishing rapport with your employees. You can take new hires, for instance, out to lunch. But instead of talking about business, you should take it as an opportunity to break the ice and get to know each other.

Step 2: Actively listen to employees and encourage them to do the same towards their colleagues. Statistics show that nearly a quarter of employees don’t trust their own employers, as indicated by the American Psychological Association.

By lending them your ear, you can prove that you are interested in what they have to say. Just remember to stop what you’re doing and give them your full attention. Once employees know you can listen and empathize, they should be more likely to open up about their challenges. And of course, once they do, you must work together to solve the issues.

Step 3: Don’t be condescending, even unintentionally. To avoid coming off as offensive, be more aware of how you communicate.

Avoid saying things like: “Is that the best you can do?”

Instead, show people how they can improve in the future. Before you set assignments, you must make your expectations absolutely clear.

Step 4: Don’t make quick assumptions. For example, when employees are lagging behind in areas where you thought they would excel, don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t assume they failed because they slacked off.

Establish a non-confrontational setting where employees can tell you how they have been doing. They might be going through the death of a loved one, a break-up, or they might be overwhelmed by juggling several projects at once.

Step 5: Schedule weekly or monthly one-on-one meetings. Your employees might often be apprehensive to approach you and share their recent concerns or triumphs but by establishing recurring meetings, you can keep an open line of communication with your employees.

Meetings don’t always have to be at the office. You can do this by getting coffee together or you can go for a stroll.

Effective communication in the workplace is an ingredient to success. Hence, strive to keep the team’s lines of communication open.

3. Infuse Appropriate Fun

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” The same can be said about your employees. Creativity is crippled and the joys of work are taken away from them when they are deprived of “playtime.”

Though the origins of the proverb remain unclear, research supports the idea that playing at work has numerous benefits for employees, teams, and entire organizations, because workers feel less fatigued and stressed. “Playtime” can mean time to socialize or take a brain break, or it can mean structuring work to be more playful. By presenting tasks in a creative fashion, employees become more invested in these tasks. They are also willing to dedicate more time to accomplish their tasks.

For teams of employees, playtime at work does the following:

  • It increases trust
  • It enhances social interaction and promotes a sense of solidarity
  • It decreases a sense of hierarchy

For the organization as a whole, playtime does the following:

  • It creates a friendly work atmosphere
  • It increases levels of employee commitment
  • It promotes a flexible organization-wide decision-making process
  • It boosts organizational creativity

To help leaders better understand how to incorporate playtime into the workday successfully, the term was defined by scientists Meredith Van Vleet and Brooke Feeney in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

According to them, playtime refers to a behavior or an activity that is highly interactive and is carried out for the purpose of amusement.

Since researchers were deliberately looking for the positive effects of playtime at work, they were less likely to discover its drawbacks. For that reason, there’s still room for research on the disadvantages of play at work.

Much like how a child can fall over while running around, employees playing at work might produce unintended harm. For example, workers may have trouble juggling these brief stints of playtime with work. It may distract them and hamper productivity.

Since research is still scarce, don’t be afraid to do your own. Start with simple activities like brain teasers. When you do integrate play with work, take note of how it affects the employees’ use of resources (time, energy, etc.), how workers use play to handle emotions, and how they are using it to achieve goals. Pay attention to short-term impacts as well as long-term changes in behavior and outcomes. For example, an employee may accomplish less this hour, but do they accomplish more in the week overall?

4. Focus on the Little Details

These person-oriented strategies don’t always have to be so grand. Something as simple as allowing workers to display personal items such as family photos in their cubicles can have a profound effect on their experience and how they perform.

Another approach to humanizing the workplace that won’t cost the organization resources is by allowing casual Fridays, or a more relaxed dress code overall. By letting employees come to work dressed as they like, you are permitting them to express their personalities through their clothes.

At times, this policy of relaxing the dress code confuses people, especially if they belong to different age groups, so be sure to inform them about what constitutes casual wear and what’s just plain inappropriate.

5. Understand Millennials

Millennials believe more in life than in work-life balance, according to Fidelity Investments’ Evaluate a Job Offer Study. When made to choose between financial benefits or improving the quality of work life, about 58% of the respondents chose the latter.

This generation demands a say in their contracts, their work arrangements, as well as their benefits. Compared to other generations, they live for flexibility and mobility.

On average, they want a $7,600 pay cut.  

A survey conducted by PwC revealed that 66% of millennials feel the need to gain international experience to progress in their careers. About 72% made sacrifices to get into a company, and almost 60% will seek employees that embody their own principles about corporate responsibility. Not to mention, one-third of them don’t expect to work regular office hours.

Obviously, they are quite a handful.

The emergence of this entirely new workforce will present fresh challenges to the HR team. As early as today, you must start looking into employing digital tools and strategies that can maximize their potential.

Why should your company invest in the millennial generation?

Millennials are going to make up the bulk of the workforce in a few years’ time. They are going to represent 40% of the total workforce by 2020. And in the next 10 years, they will represent 75% of the workforce, according to a Governance Studies at Brookings report.

Invest well in these tech-savvy natural-born multi-taskers as they are primed for success.

Lead your Organization by Putting the “Human” in HR

The HR team is responsible for keeping the heart of the organization beating strong.  Hence, be empowered to maintain an organization that upholds a culture of well-being, learning, and meaning, and that can balance the demands of a diverse workforce

Humanizing the organization is about building a place where people feel inspired to do their best work. So, keep investing in what makes us inherently human: emotions, empathy, imagination, and vulnerability. The business gets to prosper and employees get to have extra time for themselves and their families at the end of their work. It’s a win-win.

About the Author

Daniel Ross

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