If We’re Not Human at Work, What Are We?

For most of us, it’s not that we’re being inhuman at work, but I understand the point.

Bringing more humanity to the workplace is trending. Trends come and go, but this will never change – the core of how things get done at work is through human beings.

The great news is that we’re remembering that those people who happen to be employees are human, and there’s power in making the most of what it means to be human at work. In that light the email subject line How to Be Human at Work is perfect. How do we be (more) human at work?

What it doesn’t mean.

Some think being human at work involves oversharing. Or awkward team-building activities. Nah. Let’s not go there.

What if it’s about normalizing real human experiences in work-appropriate ways?

How about addressing the real human needs to be seen and to belong? Or the need to make a meaningful contribution? What then could we accomplish?

Humanity at work. This means you.

Let’s revisit that email subject line, “How to Be Human at Work.” That’s about us. Being human at work is not just about treating others like human beings, but also about behaving like a human being. What does this mean? People ask me to formulate an organizational development intervention to make their work cultures more human. Fair request. I like to start with what we know we can influence – ourselves.

How to be human at work.

Are you ready to take the challenge of connecting with your own humanity?Let this be about you behaving like a human being in the context of work. It might look like this:

  • Acknowledging behavior that bugs you. (When I was still in my corporate job I asked a co-worker if he was okay that his colleagues teased him publicly about his appearance. He pooh-poohed it. “No big deal,” he said. A year later he showed up in my office ready to address it.)
  • Fostering better interactions with a key co-worker when you notice your dislike for them creates more work for everyone.
  • Making the time to encourage another when you know they’re struggling. It doesn’t have to take long.
  • Asking others you trust what they like about working with you.
  • Investigating your assumptions when you find yourself making up stories about someone’s behavior. (Again during my corporate stint, two women shared some significant negative feedback with me. Despite a rough start, I appreciated they had come straight to me. By the end of the discussion we had grown our working relationships.)

Some of these suggestions produce concerns around vulnerability or conflict. It can feel awkward to admit we feel something personally about another’s actions. I find it easier to deal with conflict or discomfort when I’m coming from what’s real for me. Why not come from your humanity and see how that goes?

We already know “how to be human.”

We are already being human at work. It’s a choice to be conscious of it. Practice being human at work and sow the seeds of a more human work environment.

Truth, direct communication, and genuine curiosity and encouragement set a positive foundation. Your demonstration is a model for others. Start your own trend.

A version of this post originally ran on Lead Change Group site July 10, 2017.


Mary Schaefer
Mary Schaefer
Mary is a fierce advocate for developing workplaces where the human beings who happen to be employees, thrive. Her speaking, coaching, training, and writing all focus on making the most of what human beings can contribute to an organization through their distinctive energy and creativity, while at the same time meeting their own specific needs for meaningful work. As the principal of her own business, Mary is a guide to increase empowerment and cultivate productive manager/employee interactions. Drawing from her experience as an HR manager, her work centers on talent development, performance management, and a positive employee experience. She is a co-author of the book, "The Character Based Leader." Mary has presented at the Inspiring Women in STEM Conference and is also a TEDx speaker. Her clients include small businesses, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and Fortune 500 companies. Mary has a master's degree in human resources management and is a certified HR professional. This Midwest farmer's daughter is a big fan of homegrown cantaloupes, gapingvoid art, and LinkedIn.

SOLD OUT! JOIN OUR WAITING LIST! It's not a virtual event. It's not a conference. It's not a seminar, a meeting, or a symposium. It's not about attracting a big crowd. It's not about making a profit, but rather about making a real difference. LEARN MORE HERE



  1. Corporations are still task driven – tasks need to be done – and doing those tasks are not what people are generally best at.

    We are human beings – not human doings – but sadly we live in a world where most people in the work place are there to DO things that they are told and expected to DO – to the better service of the company. Cogs in there machine if you will.

    Bit by bit, the human cogs are being replaced by bots AI / outsourced / off shored machines or other people at lower cost – and so those people can increasingly ‘be’ and not ‘do’ … now the next question is how do you earn money to live if you are being and not doing?

    That’s where People First Thinking comes in.