As we slowly emerge from the pandemic and begin to process the seismic change the world has seen over the past year, what can we do to ensure that we create a meaningful, engaging and frictionless work environment?
In March 2020, just after the UK went into lockdown, I posted a blog about handling the crisis and mentioned kindness. I wrote about humanity kicking in and how this was the time for employers to look after their staff, because people will never forget how they were treated. I advised that employers should consider how they treated people, using moral judgment within the scope of employment legislation.
At the time, even lawyers were of the view that we were in unchartered waters and that it will not always be possible to provide straightforward answers to legal questions. I talked about communicating openly, being honest, involving people in decision-making, and putting mental health and wellbeing support in place.
In order to really bring real humanity into the workplace, I believe that we have to ensure that our values and behaviours facilitate that.
A few weeks ago, the BBC published an article about ‘The Great Resignation‘, outlining how, since the pandemic, employees have been leaving or switching jobs in their droves. It’s clear that people have evaluated their lives, decided what is important, and decided to change careers and leave employers that had not treated them well, or to depart from organisations with toxic cultures.
It’s clear then that employee experience and organisational cultures matter. A recent McKinsey article discussed the desire for more people-centric strategies. So how does this work in practice? What are some of the practical steps that can be taken?
The starting point is openness and being able to have honest conversations. I even tell managers and leaders to speak to colleagues like they would a friend – get rid of the jargon! In this article, I’ll offer a few examples, based on my favourite HR mantras.
1. Think person, not process
An example would be a change programme involving a restructure where some jobs are at risk. The usual scenario is a slide deck including a business case with a big picture view and a lot of talk about how ‘we are going to be amazing’. This is usually accompanied by ‘scripts’ and a whole host of legal speak.
That is all well and good; however, think about the person receiving that message. Consider the sequencing, the timing of the message, and have a bit of empathy. A better way to go about it would be to present a simple business case, some discussion of the future state of the business, a valid rationale, and then break it down by how it affects their team, and then open the floor to questions. Ultimately, the employee is interested in whether they have a job or not and how it affects them, not just fancy slide decks.
2. The policy is a guide, not a cage
Structure and guidelines are definitely needed in any area of life, so I will not advise you to get rid of HR policies and procedures. Things are not always black and white, however. We are dealing with humans, and sometimes we need to flex.
I recall a manager once asked me for advice about a staff member who wanted to take four weeks’ holiday to attend his wedding abroad. The policy stated that staff were not allowed to take more than two weeks’ holiday at a time. This was a tricky one. The individual had planned said holiday prior to joining the organisation and the leave had been honoured at offer stage, but somehow this information had not been communicated when he joined. I saw the rationale, the concerns around workload and of course not setting a precedent, but would we really ask someone to cancel their wedding?
3. Have a conversation where possible
This is another favourite of mine: just talk to people! Sometimes communication by email gets lost in translation. Even when we all used to be in the office, people used to email one another. I used to find that amusing. Things are often better resolved by a straightforward conversation, rather than an email chain. Go and see them, or pick up the phone – it usually cuts out any potential for miscommunication.
4. Engage people and make them feel valued
In everything, including change and OD programmes, communication is key. Many change programmes fail because of lack of communication. That lack of communication causes fear, uncertainty and resistance. People feel as though change is being done to them instead of them being engaged with the process. People need to know what is going on.
Of course, there are times when we would have to maintain confidentiality and be sensitive about the timing and sequencing of information flow. Changing the structure of an organisation and people’s roles without talking to them first, however, and then expecting them to give their best in the new structure, really rubs them up the wrong way. There are indeed a few exceptions and scenarios where it might be tricky or impossible to do this, but in general engaging people wherever possible reaps dividends. Discussions around ‘what exactly is this job?’, ‘how much has the job description changed in the last five years?’ ‘what do you do?’, ‘what works and what doesn’t?’, and ‘how can we make this better?’ are all important to have.
Finally, to bring real humanity into the workplace, I believe that we have to ensure that our values and behaviours facilitate that. By that I mean to ensure that we are all singing the same tune and are all on the boat together. That begins with hiring the right people – people we can trust, can have honest conversations with and who want the business to succeed. Being human does not mean pandering to every whim, it simply means treating people as we would wish to be treated, communicating with them and showing empathy. A more human-centered workplace is what we all need now.
Interested in this topic? Read Why the future of business and HR is indefinitely tied to the human experience.