Being Human at Work

Relaxed Businessman

When our oldest child entered middle school we found it necessary to meet with his principal. At that time of course, school was his full-time job — and there were developing signs that it was the wrong job. As parents, we felt the need to discuss a strategy to address the job-person fit. To be frank, the over-riding goal was not to boost his grades, but to protect him as a developing individual.

As things stood, his role was clearly a frustrating exercise. Sadly, he was showing signs of complete exhaustion. One very astute teacher put it this way: “He actually has 7 bosses and they all want something a little different. That’s not an easy task.” I couldn’t have put it better. He was drowning in the midst of the demands he faced. None of this emphasized his strengths — only his clear weaknesses in the executive functioning realm.

Our son brought himself to his role as student. But more importantly, he was a human being that was faced with the learning environment as it was presented. We held no judgements as to what was “right” or “wrong” about that environment — only that his experience with that environment was both unique and challenging.

What we asked of his principal was quite simple: 1.) That he had an opportunity to explore/discover something that brought him feelings of competence and 2.) that he still loved (or at the very least, respected) the process of learning when he left her care. She was the needed glue to help him to sift through the noise and find the signals.

Being human at work poses a related challenge.

When you ponder your work life, what immediately comes to mind? Do you feel supported? Respected? Are you challenged? Are you developing in a manner that is meaningful? Are the unique qualities that define the positive foundation of you, a part of that work life? Or like our son, are you faced with poor job-person fit?

These may sound like unusual questions. But, they shouldn’t be.

When I discuss negative work experiences with clients, expressions of feeling “drained, “lost” or “frustrated” are mentioned. When we are fighting for the elements that uniquely define who we are, we suffer. Our employers may miss out on our strengths. Our customers do not benefit from our talents.

We wage a talent war that no one can win.

This realization drove me to take a step back.

What might help explain why this dynamic — that when ignored can become utterly devastating. I recalled humanistic psychology. A reaction to behaviorism and the tenets of psychoanalytic thought (made known by Freud), humanistic theory offers an interesting framework as we approach the job-person fit. Humanism explains that we posses a drive toward becoming self-actualized. In other words, a drive to maximize our creative potential. (This line of thought came to the forefront through the work of psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.)

Its direction and tenor could easily apply to work life:

  • When considering people — the whole is greater than than the sum of the parts.
  • There is a drive to achieve congruence between our “real self” and the “ideal self”.
  • Some measure of unconditional positive regard is necessary to fully develop as an individual.
  • An individual is greatly influenced by his/her environment. Social interaction is key to development.
  • We are fully aware and have the ability to make a conscious choice. Our past experienced help drive future behavior.
  • Human beings are uniquely capable of intentional thought and goal directed behaviors.

I wonder how we can build this respect for individuals into every organization. How might current trends in HR support this effort?

I know there are many of us fighting for this. Is one of them you?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She is a charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program. Her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Talent Zoo, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

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One thought on “Being Human at Work

  1. Interestingly, I have found through most of my working career that I am focused on one of the lower rungs of Maslow’s pyramid. In the beginning I just wanted to make enough money to have a place to stay and food on the table. My early jobs provided that but little more. Eventually I reached a breaking point as I yearned for more so I returned to school and completed a degree. This helped me move into a position where I was surrounded by like-minded individuals who were focused on engineering like I was. That was rewarding for a while but I wanted to grow more so returned to school and earned two more degrees. Unfortunately the economic crash of 2008-2009 coincided with my graduation and instead of moving up I was moving out. I have slowly clawed my way back to where I was before the recession but have not been able to leverage those degrees to move on into something more fulfilling. In most people’s eyes I have it all: good job, new cars, nice house, yearly vacations – but it all lacks MEANING. I now long for my life’s work to not only sustain my family but to have PURPOSE and that seems to be as elusive as a dropped paper on a windy day. I have lots of work but it is no longer satisfying. I feel no growth or sense of accomplishment churning out the same outputs over and over. None of what I do will amount to a hill of beans in ten years and will be forgotten after that. Finding no meaningful outlets for my creativity brings me the most frustration in my life. If only I could be creative and learning all the time I would be the happiest man alive.

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