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Infusing humanity into the workplace

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Christine McCauley
Corporate Vice President
Human Resources at Edwards Lifesciences

The workplace has changed

Managers can no longer just think about the teams they manage – they must also think about the people they manage. To be effective today, managers and leaders must take a human-first approach to culture, policies and day-to-day engagement with their teams.

There are clear and impactful ways to infuse the workplace with humanity:

Create a culture of openness around mental health

Conversations about mental and physical well-being at work are becoming more of the norm. Nearly two-thirds of employees discussed their mental wellness with a colleague, according to a study highlighted by Harvard Business Review. And while more people are having conversations about mental health at work, there is a lot of work to be done. According to a study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people are far less likely to speak up if they believe that doing so would risk their job or make them a burden to their teams. The same study also found that approximately 64% of employees believe that asking for help jeopardizes their job security.

This presents a significant and often missed opportunity for leaders – when employees are mentally healthy, they are more innovative, make better decisions and build stronger relationships. According to a PwC global workforce study, only 29% of more than 52-thousand workers surveyed say their companies are supporting workers with their physical and mental well-being.

So how do we overcome the stigma around mental health? First, we need to ensure that employee wellness remains paramount by training managers in the skills they need to encourage people to speak up. I believe this comes from empowering managers with the ability and authority to offer their teams the flexibility they need.

This kind of cultural shift matters. At Edwards Lifesciences we witness this through the focus on mindfulness and mental health we created over the past several years. We encourage employees to pay attention to their mental wellbeing, as well as their colleagues’. For example, it’s not unusual for employees to check in with each other and ask, “is everything okay” and start those important conversations. We also create time for our employees to step away from work, and to participate in activities that inspire them and fuel their mental wellbeing.

Create a bridge between employees and the organizational purpose

Purpose is paramount. According to a McKinsey report, as many as 70% of employees derive their sense of purpose from their work.

Employees today are calling companies to a higher standard of purpose. It is not enough to have a mission; companies must find ways to create opportunities for employees to personally connect to their mission.

We have seen firsthand the power of connecting employees with our singular focus to improve patients’ lives. Our programs to enable employees to meet with patients and learn firsthand from their experiences have a deep impact on our business. Programs like these foster innovation as well as job satisfaction. According to our most recent employee survey, nearly all (93%) of our employees say they consider what’s important to patients when making decisions.

This focus on employees and organizational purpose does not just apply to those in healthcare. It is imperative, and frankly good business, for HR leaders across industries to consider ways to connect teams with customers, end users or even local communities.

Train managers that empathy is not one-size-fits-all

When it comes to maximizing workplace success for employees, there is often a tendency to implement a prescriptive, one-size-fits-all approach on the most effective way to manage employees. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to empathy.

It is critical to understand that individual approaches are key to building a more empathetic workplace and team. Some people are more open and willing to talk about their personal challenges at work, whereas others are more comfortable keeping a line of separation. Some embrace the culture of openness; some are content to keep their private lives just that. Therefore, programs training managers on empathy should center on the broad range of employee needs, experiences and emotions that occur within the workplace.

In summary, we must create space for humanity in the workplace. As HR leaders we have an opportunity to connect with employees through thoughtful efforts that support mental health, purpose and empathy. To get there we must stop managing teams and start managing individual needs.  

Reprinted with permission from the 1/25/2023 issue of BenefitsPro.