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Creatif Talks; 'How to Make Work Work for Humans' with Lorna Leeson

Lorna Leeson believes that work needs to be more human.

It's been over two centuries since the Industrial Revolution changed how we, as humans, work. Yet many of our standard practices remain rooted in the 1800s and haven't adapted as the world around us has evolved. As a consequence, the office doesn't exactly allow us to display our individuality. In many cases, it inadvertently hampers our human-ness.

"What do we mean by ‘human’?"

This was the opening question asked by Lorna. Someone in the audience suggested that one definition of being human was “to have feelings and emotions,". Lorna wholeheartedly agreed, and suggested that although we can automatically come to that (correct) interpretation, the workplace still seems to treat us like machines.

As mammals, we need love, connection, trust and attachment. It is a danger to our health to be lonely; loneliness affects the same part of our brain as physical pain. At work, we pretend we don’t need to connect with people, whereas we spend the rest of our lives intentionally connecting with others through socialising, dating, and leisure activities.

Lorna pointed out that workspaces are, in fact, the building blocks of a cortisol factory. Well, what does this mean exactly?

Cortisol is a steroid hormone that's triggered when we feel fear, or shock, or danger. The workplace, although evolved in many ways, is still triggering our danger receptors and in turn, helping to suppress our immune systems.

How? Well, for example, offices can have;

  • Policies rooted in fear or distrust
  • Aggressive communications that are laminated and placed around the office, kitchen and toilets
  • Arbitrary rules, such as parking spaces closest to the door are for senior management only
  • Rigid expectations and  ‘those have always been the rules, so we’re not changing them’
  • Defensive positions, where Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are signed that protect the company more than the individual
  • Dispassionate policies, such as laws having to be made to allow parents who’ve lost a child to have a set time to mourn, rather than an instinctive allowance being made.

These are inhumane ways of restricting our human-ness. When we embrace humanity, and when we’re more human ourselves, others are more like to follow suit.

Inclusion should be considered more than diversity; diversity suggests “you are different” whereas inclusion suggests acceptance of everyone regardless of their differences.

Lorna suggested meeting people where they are; take time to imagine what it’s like for pregnant women in the office, imagine what it’s like being a deaf person visiting the working environment, how accessible is the office for someone with physical disabilities?

And, lastly, try to eliminate the micro-stressors. Fixing these – such as ensuring there are enough toilets for your staff so there aren’t long queues – can make a bigger difference to worker’s lives than a grand gesture.

To make the office a more hospitable place, Lorna suggested that we all note down one micro-stressor that we encounter on a daily basis and try to see if we can eliminate it, or at the least reduce it. By doing so, everyone will help make their workplace that little more human. And at the end of the day, isn't that what we all want?

Written by Creatif