The Case for a More Human Workplace

In the wake of artificial intelligence, automation, and other emerging tech trends, it’s time to reimagine how we do business. With my clients, I call this “future-proofing.” And amidst all this talk of innovation, I always remind them about the importance of human influence.

While machines are replacing some people tasks, the human workforce will never become obsolete. In fact, now is the time to be more human than ever—to hire and keep the people so crucial to maintaining your competitive edge.

What would a more human workplace look like? Here are a few ideas whose time has come.

Embrace Wellness

“Wellness” is a broad term, encompassing our physical, mental, financial, social health, and more. Think of how you can care for the whole person, not just the employee.

One of my clients displays fresh fruit every day in the kitchen, sparing employees from the vending machines. Another has a financial planner come in once a month to help workers optimize their retirement plans. Many companies have introduced private lactation and nursing rooms for new mothers.

Such examples send a message: “We agree that what is important to you—eating healthy, feeling financially secure, feeding your baby—is important to us, and we are here to help you achieve these personal goals.” Respecting employees as people is how you treat people like humans.

Aligning the Workspace

Human-friendly work environments are about the physical as much as the philosophical.

I once had an injury that caused me to spend a fair amount of time in a physical therapist’s office. There, I learned that the majority of patients had come in for posture-related issues. The number-one source of poor posture? Hunching over desks. Imagine being responsible for someone’s physical ailments, not to mention healthcare costs stemming from all those neck and back aches, stiff hips, and tight hamstrings.

What can you do? Consider introducing ergonomic furniture and standing desks. (While an investment, they really do work.) Offer lush greenery and quiet zones for people to meditate.  If you don’t have the budget to overhaul your workspace, encourage healthy workday activities like taking a walk outside.  Anyone can break away to catch some fresh air, eat lunch, or host a walking meeting. And if you’re a fan of four-inch stilettos like me, keep a pair of walking shoes under your desk.

As a leader, you can model healthy habits and bring your teams along with you. Create an intentional culture that is committed to finding creative solutions to workplace wellness challenges.  

Offer Child Care

When my kids were younger, I was fortunate to work for a company that had onsite child care and allowed me to work from home as needed, even though remote work was less common then. While not every company can afford a child care facility, there are other steps you can take to make your workplace more family-friendly. Could you allow people to bring their kids to work in an emergency?

Former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer made headlines for bringing her babies to work, but this perk shouldn’t be reserved for the C-level nor for women only, lest we give in to gender bias.

There will come a time when you have a big deadline, and your kid’s school has a snow day or teacher workday, or—depending where you live—a hurricane day. Suddenly, bringing him or her to the office feels like the best solution, and it can be, if everyone keeps their sense of humor. (Just ask NBC News reporter Courtney Kube.)

The idea isn’t to give people free rein just because they have kids, but to make it easier for parents—or any caregivers—to balance their obligations at home and at work. Today, I sometimes find myself in the company of my team members’ kids because hey, we needed to meet, and they needed to be with their kids.

Flex Time

Encourage your employees to take time off. When people feel in control of their time—and trusted to do so—their satisfaction skyrockets.

As an entrepreneur and business owner, I’m as prone to that 24/7, “always on” mindset as much as anyone else but I also know the value of taking time away to recharge. Post-vacation, my brain is always buzzing with new, creative ideas for my clients.

My experience is certainly not unique. A generous vacation policy is a good start, but more to the point, smaller gestures can add up to greater productivity.

Flexible work schedules appeal to caregivers, people with chronic medical conditions, dedicated hobbyists, and myriad other personal situations. One person might value a 9/80 work schedule, allowing for a long weekend of fishing twice a month. Another might thrive on core hours that mimic the school day, leaving extra time for errands and carpooling. Meanwhile, your night owl of an engineer could be perfectly happy coming in at 11 a.m. and leaving after dark.

Think about what alternate work schedules your business can accommodate. While long hours do not equate to an employee’s level of commitment or success, it’s OK to require predictability and open communication. I recommend formalizing any flexible work policy, so the ground rules are ultra-clear.

Take the perspective that, in the end, all that matters is the work gets done well and your organizational culture rewards results. And you want an organizational culture that rewards results.

We may one day be surrounded by robots, but we should never treat our people like ones. Show your humanity: keep a box of Legos handy for the occasional colleague’s kindergartner.

You’re not only encouraging work-life balance. You’re normalizing people who need the flexibility to thrive. Take care of your employees, and they will repay you with creativity, productivity, and loyalty in the future—when you’re going to need it most.