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The 7 Rules of Being Human in the Workplace

The ability to sever one's "work self" from their "personal self" is not human.

Key points

  • Working remotely has resulted in a merger between the personal self and the work self.
  • With the Great Resignation, we may have realized that severing our "personal selves" from our "work selves" is not possible.
  • Being human at work requires a collaborative effort between employer and employee.

I recently finished watching the series Severance on Apple TV+. It is the story of a dystopian company whose employees sever their work-life selves from their personal-life selves. The problems and relationships of personal life and memories never “interfere” with work-life and memories.

To some, this might seem ideal, especially those who view their personal lives as miserable' or employers who want workers not to bring their personal problems to work.

In my previous post, I wrote about why these expectations were not realistic and led to unhealthy coping skills such as substance abuse. In Severance, the employees go even further: They “choose” to have a futuristic lobotomy performed.

This series has seemed to strike a chord with many of its viewers. It has a 97 percent Rotten Tomatoes rating and was picked up for a second season. Perhaps what captured viewer interest was the ability to compartmentalize one's memories. I found solace when (spoiler alert) the choice to sever had some tragic consequences. It also made me aware of the importance of being human at work. But I am not alone in this mission.

Much has been written about humanizing the workplace; organizations such as Lawyering While Human and the Humanized Lawyer Project seek to humanize law practice. There is even an app called Work Human that recognizes the needs of humans in the workplace. If we seek to humanize the workplace, though, certain core beliefs are necessary.

The 7 Rules of Being Human in the Workplace

  1. Part of being human recognizes that wellness is an effort that must be cultivated and practiced professionally and personally.
  2. Part of being human acknowledges that resilience is a philosophy, and although we might be resilient by nature, we are not necessarily by practice.
  3. Part of being human acknowledges that we come to work with our personal problems and require connection and support at work and home to improve.
  4. Part of being human acknowledges that there are certain occupational mindset hazards that are adaptive at work but undermine our resiliency. For example, being hypervigilant at work might be necessary if you are a police officer, but being maladaptive with family and friends could threaten relationships.
  5. Part of being human acknowledges that conflict is inevitable.
  6. Part of being human acknowledges that we are motivated by having autonomy at work, feeling competent, and being connected to the values of the workplace.1
  7. Part of being human understands that humans excel in a climate in which all individuals feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of judgment or backlash.

Acknowledging these seven rules is only one part of joining both parts of the brain. The employer and the employee need to value the importance of being human at work. From the employee’s perspective, the personal narratives of people who have struggled at their job with mental illness have inspired others to seek help.

While more employees worked at home during COVID, their work lives merged with their personal lives, something that would be abhorrent at the corporation depicted in Severance, resulting in a reprioritization of what matters most. Consequently, employees have left their jobs in droves culminating in what has been referred to as the “Great Resignation.”

Employers are beginning to offer employees hybrid work schedules, so they can work some days remotely during the week. However, this is only putting a band-aid on the problem. While big business tries to automate as many services as possible, there is still a need for human services.

For real change to occur, employers must value being human at work and implement a customized curriculum uniquely tailored to meet the needs of the workplace and ensure that employees are in an environment where they can be optimally human.

The customized curriculum needs to put into action the seven rules of being human in the workplace. For example, employees need access to education about how humans are genetically predisposed to worry and what can be done to counter it. When it comes to resiliency, humans are resilient. We know that humans who are positive, connected to others, and take care of their physical health are more resilient. This needs to be taught in the workplace.

Each job has its own occupational mindset hazard that is necessary for the job but undermines resiliency. Since we are human, we cannot shut off the maladaptive mindset outside the workplace. On-the-job education needs to be implemented about how to confront the occupational mindset and promote resiliency.

Since conflict is part of being human, we need to educate the workplace about how to approach conflict in a meaningful way so that it becomes transformative. Humans need intrinsic motivation to be effective. The workplace needs to create a place where they feel autonomous, can develop competency, and are connected to the values of the company. Often, this involves education with management.

Humans need more than just a hybrid work schedule. They need a workplace where they can express themselves safely and without fear of being human.

References

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York, NY: Plenum

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