Employees Are People Too: Their Humanity Belongs at the Office
During a recent conversation, my good friend Adesuyi and I realized that there are some common reasons so many people have painful organizational experiences.
The command and control leadership tactics; overemphasis on achieving organizational goals like meeting target bottom-line figures; reducing costs (for businesses) by all means necessary; neglecting the human spirit—it’s almost as though many organizations are designed to hurt the people who work in them.
As our conversation unfolded, we discussed ways of helping create spaces within organizations that accommodate the need to accomplish organizational goals while nurturing the human spirit.
It’s a worthwhile, if not crucial goal. To accomplish it, we need to change one of the fundamental premises on which modern organizations operate: the idea that employees are commodities, and that expressions of their humanity are unprofessional and must be left outside of the office.
Over the course of my career, I have heard people use expressions like “people should leave their feelings and emotions at the door before checking themselves into the workplace.” I have also heard phrases like “people are not hired to think, they are hired to do what they are told to do.” Organizational cultures that produce and accommodate these types of conversations reflect a way for thinking and systems that pick and choose what aspects of the human being they need. In essence these organizations expect people to leave their feelings, emotions and/or thinking capabilities at the door; an aspect that mirrors the reductionist way to viewing the world where everything is fragmented and understood within the context of the its parts.
This makes me wonder whether organizational leaders in such organizations really understand the implications of creating such organization cultures. In my opinion, these types of organizations expect people to strip themselves off of or suppress certain aspects of who they are before entering organizational settings. They expect people to enter into organizational space as shells, imitations or shadows of themselves – having “self mutilated” their person and checked in the pieces at the door. These types of organizational spaces exist at the family, community, institutional, organizational, national, regional and global levels.
How is it that we have created and many have come to largely accept an organizational world and life style that rejects certain “parts” of a person and only accepts those “parts” that are perceived to be most beneficial to the organization or people concerned at any given time? I find this way of being in organization to be utterly opportunistic, exploitative and indeed an act of violence to the human spirit where people consciously or unconsciously agree to strip off “parts” of their selves or “self mutilate” their person in exchange for acceptance into organizations.
I cannot help but wonder whether organizations that do not accept the whole person are demanding for too much from people? Why are we knowingly or unknowingly stripping off “parts” of who we are and walking into organizational settings as shells or imitations of ourselves? Are we really aware of how this journey will end? Having been in situations where I have felt that I had to strip off certain “parts” of who I am, I know that it is no wonder that some people continue to experience pain within the organizations they participate in.
My friend Adesuyi quickly reminded me that as long as people are viewed as “commodities that can be bought (for example through monetary incentives, wages and perks) used and disposed of or replaced” and “as long as there are people willing to step in as replacements for ‘discarded people”, it will be extremely difficult to change things. He explained that for example if all an organization cares about is its bottom-line and it can readily find people that are willing to help it accomplish this goal it (the organization) has no incentive to do the extra work of “nurturing the human spirit.” Although Adesuyi’s perspective on people being viewed as “commodities” was not entirely new to me, it presented a high definition mosaic of part of the complexity today’s organizations and organizational leaders face.
The question then is, how can we cultivate organizational spaces that responsibly accomplish organizational goals and at the same time nurture and accommodate the human spirit? How can we create organizational spaces that are non-violent to the human spirit and embrace the whole person as opposed to shells or imitations of the person? How can we foster organizational life that seeks and accepts the whole person intact within the authentic abode of body, mind and soul?
First and foremost, there needs to be individual and collective awareness and understanding of what is going on within our organizations. A collective awareness and understanding that, as long as we are not accepted and are not accepting others as whole persons in the full presence of who we/they are in mind, body and spirit, we are indeed creating spaces that are violent to the human spirit. While some would argue that for example, some businesses still make profits without what some consider to be the “soft touchy feely fluff” of accommodating people’s feelings and emotions, I cannot help but wonder about how humane and sustainable this approach is? I also cannot help but wonder how much more productivity and other gains these organizations might realize if they accomodated the “soft touchy feely fluff” of human thinking, feelings and emotions.
Creating the individual and collective awareness that will help us understand what is going on in our organizations starts with a process of deep self reflection and self awareness – a process that would place us on a path to discover our real and authentic selves. In finding our authentic and real selves we might be able to remove the scales in our eyes that prevent us from SEEING the OTHER’S authentic and real self – the whole person.
If we collectively seek and access our real selves we improve our chances of creating organizational spaces that nurture and accommodate the human spirit. The more of us that are aware of what it means to be in relation with others from the space of the “Real Self" the better chances we have at creating spaces that operate within the level of collective consciousness that is needed to enable a humanistic and systemic organizational experience - where the whole person is embraced in the spirit of reciprocal authenticity.
So what is the real and authentic self? John Rowan in Reason and Bradbury in The Handbook of Action Research both describe the “real self” as “the feeling of being in touch with your own centre, my inner identity, my true self, my authenticity - that self which lies behind or beyond all self-image or self concepts or sub-personalities."
Rowan further explains that the “real self... offers a centre for full integration of the person" where "the usual splits which are found in so many people, between body and mind, intellect and emotions, duty and inclination, top-dog and underdog and all the rest, can now be healed very simply... although… there may be some painful choices to be made along the way, but the essential blocks to full integration have now been removed and the process is not so hard."
Rowan further elaborates that through the “real self” we experience “a sense of personal power which is quite different from the old kind of power associated with the mental ego. Power at the mental ego stage is always power over other people; power at the real self stage is power with others, or power from within. And this means that the whole person is acting at once, with no splits, no reservations and no holding back.”
I think that Rowan describes the very essence of authenticity. If we can all embrace the concept of being authentic and welcome other people’s authenticity we develop the understanding that the power we should exhibit and operate within is "power with others and power from within". This self awareness and authenticity grounded in individual and collective values that enable cultures of service to each other, distributed and values-based leadership, collaboration, democratic participation, dialogue, open communication, inclusion, empathy, compassion, sustainability and empowering relationships serve as pillars of support in creating systemic circles of caring, helping and shared meaning for a more humane and sustainable world that embraces the whole person. These would be organizational cultures that thrive on the full participation and contribution of the thinking and feeling human beings that we are as we embrace the full color spectrum of our humanity in all our humanness and splendor.