Humanising the Modern Workplace

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Home > Articles > Humanising the Modern Workplace

 Humanising the Modern Workplace

William Wan | Today's Manager
March 1, 2019
When people are valued before profits, they become much more productive, and profits come naturally.

The disruptive culture brought on by technological innovations escalates the level of business competition: the more technologically-integrated a business is, the greater its focus on the bottom-line. It is more challenging today to cultivate a genuine human c​onnection at work.

Singapore employees are the least engaged among major Asian markets with employee engagement levels remaining flat at 59 per cent, while Asia Pacific rises by three points to 65 per cent. 1

Studies show that in order to thrive in the modern workplace, organisations need to build a healthy, human environment where its people can grow. Part of creating a more human workplace is getting to know employees as complete people with goals, families, and interests. Human workplaces give priority to ideals like high-quality relationships, trust-building, and personal and professional growth.

When leaders take the time to translate these ideals into practice, a deeper bond and transformation is forged in the workplace.

Is Technology Killing Human Connectivity?
Technology has undeniably made us more connected than ever and revolutionised the way we work. However, all that hyper-connectivity has ironically made us less communicative: just think of office exchanges, self-checkout counters, and online purchases. Interpersonal interactions have been replaced with screens. We sit at our desks typing E-mails trying to resolve problems through technology, when we could easily (and more effectively) walk over to a colleague for a face-to-face discussion.

While technology is harnessed to enable people to be more productive; efficient; and innovative, it must not undermine people’s need to feel safe and cared for and remain internally and externally connected. Technology should instead facilitate the comfortable and expeditious flow of people, emotions, and ideas. Ultimately, it is still just a tool. On its own, technology does not have the power to make us feel less or more human. That is up to us.

Create a Safe Space for Employees to Bond
One way to build a more human workplace is to provide opportunities for bonding within and across teams. Research suggests that playing and eating together are good ways to foster cooperation. Companies like Google and Facebook organise shared games, sports, exercise, and meals while LinkedIn has encouraged employees to take their personal lives to work by hosting “Bring in Your Parents Day”.

Intentionally getting to know co-workers as friends can give us a sense of belonging and help pull us through the day-to-day challenges of work and life.

Professor Jane E. Dutton from the University of Michigan finds that a high-quality connection does not require “a deep or intimate relationship”. A single interaction marked by respect, trust, and mutual engagement is enough to generate energy for both parties. However small they appear, those moments of connection can transform a transaction into a relationship.

People before Profits
It goes without saying that profits are important to businesses. But it is people who generate profits. Therefore, people must come before profits, and profits follow productive people.

When an organisation invests in its people, and shows kindness to them, employees will reciprocate with a sense of loyalty that is authentic. It is therefore important to cultivate individual strengths and treat each individual as a valued member of the organisation. Giving constructive feedback, mentoring, and coaching team members are indications that people are genuinely cared for. Leaders should take the time to reach out to their people when good things happen, not just when something goes wrong.

A simple “thank you”, “good job”, or even making time to stop by an employee’s desk to speak to them face-to-face can help close the communication gap and empower employees to perform better in their roles. It allows them to feel that their hard work and sacrifices are valued.

Indeed, kindness goes beyond the pursuit of wealth and economic value. When we become less transactional and more relational, setting one another up for success, we discover that kindness humanises the technologically-wired workplace. It transforms a cold, ordinary workplace into a warm, human workplace.

In that kind of space, people will be more willing to invest in their work, innovate new ideas, and go the extra mile for the organisation. Where people are valued before profits, they become much more productive, and profits come naturally.

1 Media OutReach, 28 March 2018, 2018 Employee engagement trends: Singapore employees least engaged among major Asian markets, Business Insider Singapore,


Dr William Wan is a Justice of the Peace and General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM). He was a senior partner of a regional law firm and a managing director of a psychometric company headquartered in the USA.

Copyright © 2019 Singapore Institute of Management

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Today's Manager Issue 1, 2019

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