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Business Success & People Success - Leanne Holdsworth

Leanne Holdsworth is the co-author of the book launched last week, Human Work: Five Leadership Mindsets for Humanising Workplaces (for more read here - and is a presenter, together with Cultivating Leadership colleagues Naryan Wong, Jim Wicks and Diana Manks at the free SBNZ webinar 10 May. To register, head here:

In my 25 year career working with teams and leaders I consistently see that humans have a built-in desire to experience love, connection and purpose in our daily lives.  And although this is a natural human need, the place we spend most of our days is often a place where love, connection and purpose are hard to come by: work.

The global pandemic has taught us many things, and amongst them, a number of us have been reconsidering what is most important to us. In the process, we are experiencing variations in the workplace on the global theme of the Great Resignation[1] and Great Reshuffle.

Quiet quitting or, doing the minimum requirements of one's job and putting in no more time, effort, or enthusiasm than absolutely necessary, appears to be having a similar effect; many of us are turning our back on stress and lives that don’t provide sufficient balance and meaning as we look toward what we care more about.

But what if work was more human; more fulfilling, more caring and more empowering? If it was, then is it possible that our fundamental need for love, connection and purpose be more likely to be met? And if so, what might that mean for our organisations, families and team mates?

When work is more human, might we as individuals care more about the organisation and it’s purpose, and give more than the bare minimum. Might we as teams function more effectively because we have increased levels of psychological safety, and less need for ego driven behaviours?

When work is more human, might our families get a better version of ourselves, perhaps with more emotional availability for our kids and partners showing up at home at the end of the workday?

Although there are no common measures for how much love, connection, purpose and acceptance shows up in the workplace, we have some indicators that don’t paint a pretty picture about our current experience of work.

Only 20% of us globally are engaged in our work[2], a third of us report high stress levels, workplace stress costs US corporations $300 billion per annum[3], and 120,000 deaths[4] per year are caused by how US companies manage their workforces.

If you're are interested in more of the social pollution costs of non-human organisations, read more in Jeffrey Pfeffer's book, Dying for a paycheck: He suggests “Instead of adding wellness programs or yoga classes, companies need to focus more on the management practices that lead to substantial health issues, such as layoffs, job insecurity, toxic cultures and long hours -- not only for their own bottom lines but so they don't offload those costs to broader society”.

So why are we still so shy in our organisations to explicitly seek out and create humanized cultures? Our actions show that often we try. We pay attention to employee experience, we implement diversity and inclusion policies, we provide flexibility as to where people work, we provide healthy snacks and we design cool work spaces.

But at the same time, many of us as leaders are yet to embrace what it means to “humanize workplaces” into our organisations’ DNA.

One might say that this doesn’t matter. It’s not the role of business to be concerned about whether their people’s need for love, connection and purpose is met at work. And yet even from a purely business perspective, the person that shows up at work the next day is impacted by what happened in the time between going home and showing up at work again. And what happens at home is impacted by work. We are the same person. The question is, do we want to insist that we are two atomised beings or can we accept we are one whole human being? And here, we are not suggesting that this means at work our inner worlds get in the way of working. In fact, we are learning that the more of ourselves we can bring to work, the more we have to offer.

Imagine two scenarios; Joel leaves his home office on Monday at the end of the day feeling out of his depth at work. He’s overheard two of his teammates talking about what they thought was a below par job Joel had done on his presentation this week. He is struggling in his role right now but doesn’t feel safe to talk to either his manager or his team about the part of the role he is finding hard. Although one of the values of his organisation is collaboration, it seems that it’s not an idea that is “practiced”. He has learnt the hard way (and watched as others have learnt the hard way), that it’s best to show up with ‘the answer’ and he balances both getting his work done and at the same time making sure that his colleagues “see” that he knows what he is doing.

At the tech firm across the park, Teresa is leaving her home office at the end of the day on Monday feeling stretched and supported. She has been having conversations with her Manager recently about a challenge she is experiencing in her work and has been feeling out of her depth in. Since having these conversations, and sharing how this challenge is feeling for her at the Team Development chats (this is a fortnightly conversation where each team member gets to share and “be heard” about places they each are wanting to grow in) things have changed. She has been feeling the discomfort that comes with learning a new mindset to help with her challenge. She also feels supported by her team to work with it and good about herself as she sees herself gaining more capacity to deal with the part of her job she finds most challenging.

Joel and Teresa’s Monday evenings play out as they do. Imagining these two both heading into the same family situation at the end of the day, and all other things being equal between Joel and Teresa, what might we imagine to be the difference between their family’s experience of them? And what is the ripple effect on the family; day after day, week after week, year after year?

The reinforcing nature of their experiences at home and in their social worlds then of course has consequences on how they show up at work.

What is the key difference between the different cultures Joel and Teresa are experiencing?

For Joel, his experience of the culture is like this: “I feel like I need to show up knowing how to handle everything. There is no room for experimenting or failing here. My identity and therefore my position in the company is determined by being certain and knowing. I have a buddy who is a Manager in another division that I trust who I feel like I can let my guard down to sometimes but in the main there is no room for me to be vulnerable and ‘not know’. I’d be eaten alive. I’ve seen others be “labelled” as incompetent when they have tried new things and they have found their way out the door. On a day to day level, with all this corridor conversation about other people that I hear (even from my Manager), I’ve noticed I’ve started to spend more of my attention in judgment of others than I have in the past and I don’t feel good about this. ”

For Teresa, she experiences the culture at her firm as “It requires me to be curious, and keep learning. I sometimes feel challenged by the responsibility of the delegated decision making I have, but expectations about my role from my Manager are clear. I learn a lot from seeing others more senior than me showing up with vulnerability and I think that is what makes me feel safe enough to really experiment. I might get it wrong but I get to be supported by my team during the process, and so I feel safe enough to try new things without necessarily being an expert or knowing how they are going to turn out.”

Interestingly, Joel and Teresa’s organisations’ values are very similar and both sound very human. But how the values get expressed are very different. Teresa’s firm has a process of continual engagement in the values and how they may be deepened into the firm’s DNA. Joel’s organisation’s values are displayed in the firm’s collateral, induction processes and website, but it’s hard to know what they mean in practice because they don’t seem to be visible.

These stories are playing out in our organisations every day. The fundamental difference between these two cultures is one embraces a humanized workplace; where our fundamental need for love, connection, purpose, growth and acceptance are baked in, and the other operates from a legacy based model based more on competition and a narrow definition of success.

And if you are a leader in an organisation reading this, and want to learn more about how to make your organisation more human, or want to read the book, please get in touch at


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