From Human Resources to Human@Work

Having listened to an incredible episode of Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s podcast, “How to Win at Life Without Losing Yourself With Dr Pippa Grange” where they explain how fear holds us back in our lives, we couldn’t help but think about how fear holds us back in the workplace. 

Why is this a business relevant topic? Because fear dispels creativity and curiosity and leads to self-doubt and uncertainty – hindering our ability to perform in a productive, successful, and happy manner. And there are tons of research to back this. 

Dr. Pippa Grange, Doctor of Applied Psychology, and author of the book Fear Less: How to Win at Life Without Losing Yourselfexplains that fear is a natural emotion, but one that we need an awareness around to make sure that we are keeping it at the right size. We cannot allow it to take up too much space as it ultimately alters our course of action, our ability to have mental freedom, and be creative in our thinking. And at work, we need to be functioning optimally and feel empowered to act without the inhibitions of fear and its gang of possies – judgement, jealousy, fear of rejection, superiority, perfectionism, and thoughts that our contributions and ideas are not good enough. 

A research study on team performance undertaken by Google discovered that a defining factor in certain teams outperforming others rested solely in an authentic workplace with psychological safety. Psychological safety is a group culture that the Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson defines as a ‘‘shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. A sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up,’’ Edmondson explains. ‘‘It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’ If this is a topic that you are intrigued by, you can listen to Amy’s TEDx Talk on Building a Psychologically Safe Workplace. 

To share ideas, feedback, offer solutions, brainstorm new approaches and put your hand up to speak out requires vulnerability. However, vulnerability has often been perceived as the last thing to be at work – a weakness – to hide at all costs – but perhaps it is this very thing that has been holding companies back to really achieving their full potential. One cannot foster a shaming and blaming environment where criticism and judgement are feared and expect high performance and wellbeing in return. A company is defined by its people. They are the life, the spirit, the heartbeat of what make your organization, and if we don’t empower them to bring their whole selves to work it will generally have a long-term negative effect on their performance, health and happiness. 

As HR, you need to be fiercely determined to cultivate an environment that allows your employees to be all they are whilst feeling safe and supported. Especially in today’s rapidly changing and unpredictable environment, where HR professionals continue to face the demand of altering approaches and expanding mindsets to match the constantly changing demand on skills. People expect fear is increasing where the constant lure of job loss/being made redundant is a biggy. Would you show yourself if you feel you might be next? 

The nice thing is when you are in this dynamic environment you are in a position where you can shape that environment and move the needle, step by step.  

So, how can you cultivate an environment within your organization that fosters behavior that in the past, we have been taught to suppress (or believed we should suppress)?  

  • This often starts with permission! People need to feel they have permission to bring their whole selves to work. To genuinely share what they think, feel, and need to be well. We subconsciously seek permission in our lives. Once permission is granted, particularly through not only words, but modelled by the leaders around us, it sets us free and in motion to do the same. When the door to real, honest connection has been opened, people follow. 
  • Don’t forget the human side of your business transformation, especially when it comes to all your essential digitalization efforts. People worry digitalization will make them lose their jobs. Would you support such a change and bring your ideas and thoughts to the table? For successful transformation, take the social approach to workplace innovation – engage and involve your people! “Social Innovation addresses social needs by social means. ‘Social’ in the context of workplace innovation refers to non-technical innovations and emphasizes good quality jobs and employee participation”[1]. Include your employees so that there is a sense of meaning, impact, and empowerment. When innovation is led by mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy team members, well-being opportunities cannot afford to be overlooked or disregarded as a “nice to have.”  
  • Welcome imperfection and mistakes as just human! As human beings, your employees are already naturally drawn to the negative. We need 3 positive events to balance on negative. The criticisms, their mistakes, their perceived failures, where they could have done better, or should have known better. They tend to pick up the proverbial stick and give themselves a good beating! So better treat failure and human mistakes as a gift to learn from and improve upon so things get better. Mistakes, they are human after all and wouldn’t live be boring if all would run perfect all the time. When honest engagement happens, it opens the door to real process improvement and idea exchange and humanness, which will that is what drives satisfaction and overall business success – two bi-products well worth it! 
  • Nurture and recruit your Leaders so they demonstrate authenticity, bravery, and show their humanness. Vulnerable, hey? Mental Health issues, I live through them and know how you feel. Scary, yes! But powerful beyond measure and needed? 100%! The possibilities that extend from this game changing approach are endless. Brene Brown has done great work in this space invites leadership to “dare to be brave leaders by leading with wholehearted leadership and by embracing vulnerability and courage cultures into their work culture”. 

As HR, you are the heart of finding the potential in people and processes and help drive organizational performance through human beings. Let’s not lose another second ofinauthentic nonhuman interaction at work.  



[1] Pot, Frank/ Dhondt, Steven/ Oeij, Peter (2012): Social innovation of work and employment. In: Franz, Hans-Werner/ Hochgerner, Josef/ Howaldt, Jürgen (Eds.), Challenge Social Innovation. Potential for business, social entrepreneurship, welfare and civil society. Springer: Berlin, pp. 261 – 274.

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