Why we should all be a little more human at work

We can all agree that the workplace today looks completely different than that of yesterday. Two years ago, Covid threw the world into tumult and what never seemed possible suddenly was. No more so than the overnight shift to working from home and now the rocky journey towards hybrid work.

In March 2020 Roger Urwin, TAI’s Co-founder, sent around an article in the Harvard Business Review titled, 8 ways to manage your team while social distancing. In this article the author recommended asking your team periodically to rate their stress and engagement on a zero-to-10 scale. The TAI team liked the idea and because they were all looking for new ways to connect from home, started doing it. They began experimenting with these scores in 2020, reported on them last year, and two years later the team still share every Wednesday.

I joined TAI in February this year and in my first couple of days I was warned about this interesting quirk at the Wednesday meetings. Do I really have to tell my new team members, including senior leadership, how I am feeling? Should I really admit that I am slightly overwhelmed by the number of people to meet and papers to read, that I just got back from Australia and am struggling with jet lag? Why do I need to know about team members’ varied experiences with their pets, their children and climate anxiety? Or that someone saw a beautiful yellow daffodil for the first time this spring, another is still buzzing from their birthday party on the weekend or that someone else’s parents are visiting?

My second week we were all in the office together. It was also the team’s first time in the same room for two years. I must admit, sharing stress and engagement scores without the protection of the screen was a little awkward. Many stories were infused with stilted laughter, but we all muddled through and I came away from that meeting realising I had never shared so much of myself at work, especially so soon after starting a new role.

And what are the benefits that I have observed so far? Well, from what I have seen, this approach teaches you that it is okay to bring your most authentic self to work. Humans are not robots, we are psychologically predisposed to have emotions, so why do we feel the need to stimy these at work? Relatedness is a core human need, this is ‘people’s need to care about and be cared about by others’. A workplace that not only allows but cultivates a sense of belonging is surely more likely to foster greater work life satisfaction.

It lets you know whom you need to extend leniency or compassion to that week. Sometimes there is a reason someone is taking a couple of days to get back to you that has nothing to do with commitment to work. If you are aware of what is going on it makes it easier to support your colleagues. The admission of climate anxiety in one of my first meetings led me to share whatever positive climate stories I came across that week, alleviating some of my own.

And it helps you step outside your own life and celebrate the joys of others. Work can consume us and stepping outside of that fosters balance and resilience. The daffodil story helped me get out of my busy head that day on my neighbourhood walk and fully appreciate the cherry blossoms blooming, bringing me a similar spark of wonder.

The world is changing all the time. In fact, the only constant in life is change – no person will be the same on any given day. To truly understand someone, their ideal work style and their values, you cannot separate work and home life. This is a false divide. Hence the nod towards human-centred management which is an acknowledgement that to survive for the next, what is surely going to be a tumultuous decade, you need to address and meet the human needs of your employees.

How can you embody this in your organisation? You don’t have to use the stress and engagement scores, but I would suggest that you do throw out the premise that any minute spent chatting about personal lives in meetings is wasted time. You could use as little as 15 minutes a week to find out how your team is going.

I can only speak from my experience, but I have never felt more heard, valued, and welcome in a team. Which in turn has empowered me to share so much of my experience here.  

Let’s not kid ourselves. No one brings 100% of themselves to work, all of us need and deserve some privacy, but my start at TAI has certainly shown me the benefits of being a little more human at work.