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The Humane Workplace

October 14, 2019


After attending a conservative undergraduate school that seemed to find reason to judge everyone, I found myself disillusioned.  I moved to Japan and had great reservations about religion and probably humanity in general. 


While living in Japan for five years, I attended a Buddhist temple where I became a student of mindfulness.  The teachings that I learned from the temple priest and other visiting teachers was incredibly formative.  One of those teachers left an impression that I still carry with me today.  His was a message that has become a sort of mantra for me.


This older priest who was a seminary professor in Kyoto came up to give a guest lecture at our temple in Tokyo.  His words are still marked in my heart.  If you have been following me for any time, you have heard me repeat these words, not only because they are important to me, but because I think they are critical for us as human beings.  You'll see why.


"A tadpole will naturally become a frog," he said.  "But a human baby will not naturally become a humane human being.  Without first learning love, kindness, respect, and compassion, one cannot consider oneself a humane human being.  However, when people can learn those things and begin to consider the effect of their words and actions on those around them before they say or do anything, then this is what it means to be enlightened.  This is what it means to be a Buddha."




So many thoughts went through my mind and heart at that moment.  I knew I had just heard something that would change my life, and indeed it did.  It took years of evolving and germinating within me to become what it has today.  It is now a way of life for me.  A way of mindfulness, a way of being, and I think, something worth sharing to make the world a better place.


So how does this apply to the workplace?


We often overlook the most simple truths.  One of these is that companies are comprised of human beings.  I know, I know.  This is revolutionary stuff.  Seriously though.  While we are focused on numbers and analytics, we are quick to forget that organizations are comprised of living breathing organisms -  people - and that the organizations are therefore living, breathing organisms themselves.  


If the organization is toxic and not conducive to the thriving of people and instead burns them out, then there will be no generativity, no productivity, and no trust.  There will be a revolving door, a reputation will exist that will make it hard to hire people, people will not be motivated, and folks will be just plain burned out.  This will not only have the obvious negative effects for employees, but leadership will harm themselves by allowing a toxic culture to thrive.


Let me hit the pause button and point something out here: we often use words like "that company has an unhealthy culture" or "that organization just doesn't treat its employees right."  This kind of language takes the onus off of the leaders.  Companies are led by leaders - PEOPLE - who have and make choices.  So, if you are a leader, hold yourself accountable to make healthy choices in regards to your employees who also happen to be PEOPLE.


Ok, rant over.  Moving on.


Unfortunately, leaders often allow themselves to get in the mindset that performance/numbers and a healthy work culture are antithetical.  I can recall a client company I was working with - a hospice organization - whose director commented that it wasn't his problem that the nurses had children that they needed to take care of in addition to maintaining their work schedules.  I don't need to point out that, yes, indeed, it was his problem.  This was an example of not caring which led to obvious consequences with burned out nurses and me being brought in to coach them to a new culture.  


As leaders, being a humane human being goes a long way.  It's not just a "good" thing to do, it's the right thing to do. 


By exhibiting love, respect, compassion, and kindness to employees, we show them that they matter.  Employees who are treated like human beings trust their leaders and contribute to perpetuating a healthy and humane workplace.  When there is a humane workplace, people stay.  When people stay, there is less turnover, less cost of vacancy, less cost of hiring and training.


If people feel like they are more than just a means to an end and actually a part of something bigger, they will act like it.  People in humane workplaces are more creative, more loyal, and more dedicated to making sure the organization thrives because they see themselves as a part of it.  


Be humane.  Be healthy.  Reap the benefits.  It's possible to do both and perfectly right to do so.


Brandyn Simmons





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