Humanising Work…why is this so hard?


There is more and more out there about the concept of humanising work. It fascinates me. Why? Because it goes to the heart of much of my curiosity about humanity – why do we do what we do?…more specifically how do we then shift our behaviour? In this instance I am talking about watching the shift from working in an industrialised fashion to a modern digital economy.

The last time I saw this happen was in a very different construct. My heritage is Hungarian and I have spent much time going back and forth, and spending time with family and friends over the years. From childhood days, where Communism was the state of play and then through its transition in the late 80s and 90s (and I would argue still today) to Democracy/ Capitalism. As a person who grew up assuming democratic civil liberties I would to stare at amazement at the queues for bread and staple products…and even experience thrill when joining my grandparents in such a queue. Or going to the supermarket and seeing 1 milk on offer or 2 types of yoghurt (plain and strawberry). The point is that change takes a very long time even if it is good change (from Communism to Democracy, from queues to choice); people are creatures of habit and subsequently you still see many remnants of Communism in most ex-Communist countries today.

Jumping back to the topic de jour, humanising work, I think about how long women have been battling for fair and equal treatment in the work environment (and even more broadly too) and we are still far from the finish line. But when I look at the issue from a work perspective and think further about the other areas of work that I have been involved with to humanise work including flexibility for all, I realise that we are stuck in a mentality of human capital where people are still products or things within an organisation so it is easy to de-humanise the experience of others in our work environment.

The de-humanising of work goes right back to the Industrial Revolution where people became the workers, the property of the employers with limited rights. Things became worse when Henry Ford introduced mass production factories for the Model T car. All in all people became an aspect of the “machine” of work, cogs in the wheel – think Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. Although things may look different with computers and cleanliness the mentality of how we view our people has not.

So why haven’t we changed? There are many reasons but one keeps coming up which goes back to what I was saying before in my Communism transition analogy – people like familiarity and don’t like change. In addition to that we like things in boxes…neat and compact – things are easier to understand and figure out. But as humans we are not neat and compact, we are messy emotional beings with complexities. This doesn’t fit well in the work construct. So by taking the ‘human’ aspect it becomes easier to deal with the human capital.

By humanising work we are dipping our toes into the grey murky water of uncertainty…but I say bring it on! We know the research and we can see the benefits of treating our people well. Flexibility is a great example of recognising our humanness at work…we may have responsibilities (children, ageing parents) or we may like to surf or go to yoga in the morning and would like to work 11-8pm each day…whatever the flexibility looks like, there is less and less reason why more and more roles can’t become fully flexible and we are starting to see companies recognising this (slowly). Furthermore the infrastructure (i.e. technology) is fully available to ensure that full productivity can be maintained. We can work from almost anywhere at anytime. 9-5pm is as antiquated as Communist Hungary…change will take time, it requires us to step out of our comfort zones and recognise the fact that we are each human, trying to live our lives to the best way we can. It is time to release ourselves from the shackles of antiquated perspectives and embrace the reality that most people are wanting: flexibility and a humanising of work.


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