We are experiencing new pressures that are leading to human disconnect. The workplace is a vital community for interaction and support.
I define workplace dignity as having a personal sense of worth, value, or respect as a human being at work. Since most of us spend roughly a third of our adult life in a workplace, it’s more than reasonable to expect workplace dignity. Yet, this isn’t the case in many organisations. Here are four key drivers for establishing a dignified workplace.
A feeling of alienation
Relentless organisational restructuring and downsizing is now commonplace. This inevitably unsettles and demoralises employees, particularly those who lose their job! Throw into the mix the growing inequality of wages, and insecurity understandably builds. Although people feel separated from their work more than ever, they paradoxically yearn for a more humanising workplace. The estrangement caused by these factors presents real opportunities for organisations to rectify this situation.
The pervasive influence of technology is a driving force for humanising work. At the click of a button, we can link with someone anywhere on the planet in seconds. Yet there’s been a rapid erosion in human connectivity. We don’t always know our neighbours, let alone the people who live in the house across the street. What’s more, we’re not all that interested in knowing. We keep to ourselves. And yet, we humans still have a deep hunger for human connection.
The workplace can fill this void, acting as our de facto community. Traditional communities for emotional bonding are evaporating. There’s a decline of neighbourhood, dwindling church attendance, disappearing civic groups, and less reliance on extended families. For an increasing percentage of employees, the workplace offers the only steady link to other people and constant source of ongoing human interaction.
Exposure to new ideas
With the digital explosion comes exposure to new ideas, philosophies, and perspectives. For instance, Eastern philosophies are no longer mysterious to Westerners. There’s a growing curiosity in Buddhism and Confucianism, for example. Zen Buddhism and Confucianism promote practices like mindfulness and meditation, and emphasise values such as loyalty to one’s group instead of individualism. These sorts of ideas are finding greater acceptance and application in our society. Time-honoured beliefs such as these are shaping the way we think about our lives, including the role that work plays.
With a large slice of the current workforce contemplating retirement and about to depart full-time work, baby boomers are reflecting on the meaning of their lives and the legacy they leave behind. As ageing boomers move closer to life’s greatest certainty, death, they naturally have a growing interest in contemplating life’s meaning. I know I do! This reflection concentrates more attention on a person’s contribution in their work.
People as human resources
There’s a lot of talk, and already some instances, of AI replacing humans in the workplace. Escalating global competition has shifted attention from machines to people as the primary source of competitive edge. Despite this movement, people are increasingly being treated as a disposable commodity, regardless of their capabilities or educational attainment. Yet it’s the technological tools we take for granted that are the real commodities. Technology is continually reducing in price, and offers the customer a bewildering array of options. It’s no longer the edge it once was. It’s people who are the differentiators in the working world.
Even though they are treated as a resource, high performing people are in great demand worldwide, across all industries. The relentless pressure of global competition has escalated the value of people’s creative energy; “thinking outside the box” is the new black.
Innovative thinking that translates to practice is a rich source of adaptive advantage. It’s the fuel that drives the necessary adaptive advantage in an economy characterised by accelerated change and uncertainty. Even with these four drivers to humanise our places of work, there are factors working against this. Instead of a place of dignity and security, today’s workplace is one of unease and insecurity. Work was once a stable and predictable pillar. But today, more and more people are changing jobs for a variety of reasons every couple of years or less.
Dr Tim Baker is an international consultant and author.