The problems many organisations face, are due to the dehumanisation of work.
In many organisations, people feel they are ‘just a number’ or a cog in the machine. Poor or toxic cultures have been allowed to develop where people don’t feel valued or cared for. Leadership and management have not secured the trust and buy in from people. Often this is because leadership and management has not done the hard work of building and enhancing trust with their teams. Jobs are tightly defined with narrow job descriptions. Organisations may say they want creativity and innovation, but what they really want is for people to conform. Rules based compliance remains the main priority.
Workplace cultures like this can strip us of our humanity. Expressing empathy, compassion and understanding is too often seen as ‘soft’ within a capitalist system focused on profit and hard financial metrics above all else. In many organisations it doesn’t really matter how people are treated provided the numbers are being achieved. The way to get ahead, to be promoted and rewarded, is determined by delivery of strong financial results, irrespective of the impact on people or how they are achieved. We can easily overlook many things when our bottom-line financial performance is strong. People are expendable resources.
Is it any wonder that stress levels in society are reaching endemic levels? Too many people go to work every day for organisations that don’t really care about them. Too many people work in jobs devoid of real meaning and purpose. Too many people are still micromanaged within an inch of their lives. Workload pressures and an ‘always on’ digital culture has exacerbated burn out. Huge numbers of people continue to work in organisations where the main emotions experienced every day are fear and stress.
Shockingly, the numbers of heart attacks across the world are proven to go up on a Monday morning. Tragically, the prospect of getting through another working week for some people just tips the whole situation over the edge.
Yet these same organisations often say they value people as their most important asset. They may say this, but internal behaviour is rarely aligned with the stated values. How many organisations for example would be brave enough to sacrifice their numbers short term to protect their people? Contrast this with how many times people get sacrificed to protect the numbers in a business? Think layoffs and redundancies as an immediate response when things become challenging.
There needs to be a more mature and balanced approach here, one where people and profit can work more harmoniously. A more conscious approach to business and capitalism. Unless the whole organisational ecosystem exists to support human beings and our planet, we will not create long lasting success. We know that dehumanising workplace cultures are detrimental to people’s health and wellbeing yet so many organisations seem incapable or unwilling to change things.
Whilst the situation can appear bleak, and the evidence globally is concerning, I retain hope and optimism for a better future. There are growing numbers of organisations around the world who realise that dehumanising workplaces are simply not sustainable. They are not good for people, and therefore they are not good for business. These organisations are taking bold and brave steps to lead the way by rethinking traditional assumptions about what work means in the modern world. They recognise that they cannot continue to focus on profit and the numbers to the detriment of the very people who help to create the value and wealth. They understand that in a more transparent world and age of participation, organisations are being held to account for their environmental impact as
much as their financial performance. These issues are no longer binary choices, they need to be part of the collective whole.
Success could be reframed from ‘maximisation of shareholder returns’ to a broader definition which strives for ‘generation of healthy profits in a way which enhances the individual wellbeing of stakeholders and minimises environmental impact’.
The big challenges facing business will not be solved by eroding our humanity at work, they will be solved by enhancing and embracing our humanity. One of the biggest corporate priorities facing leaders should be the eradication of dehumanising work practices.