The weekend before we went into our last lockdown, I hit a rough patch. My little girl was sick, again (daycares are living petri dishes - sigh). Work was piling up. My husband was traveling so couldn’t take leave. I had a full schedule of client meetings that had already been rescheduled due to illnesses, so didn’t want to have to push them out again. But SOMEONE had to look after her. I was in a bind. In a moment of panic and frustration, I messaged my boss. She’s often a voice of reason when I’m too close to the detail to see the bigger picture, and this particular Sunday was no different. We came up with a game plan. The work would be taken care of. I wasn’t letting anyone down. Her parting comment that afternoon was “just sent you something on LinkedIn – be free to look after your little girl. We’ve got you”.
The LinkedIn post was about a mother dropping a full day of meetings to take care of her sick boy. It showed the internal struggle of someone who’s motivated and career driven, who doesn’t want to let her clients down, who wants to succeed. Someone who then paused, and realised - being at home with her kid at a time when he needed her, was the most important thing she’d do that day. She wrapped up the post with “This is the human side of business… We are no longer commodities or resources. We are human beings navigating full lives”.
It hit me like a tonne of bricks. The ‘need’ to portray ourselves a certain way in a professional setting, keeping the messiness of our home lives under wraps, has become so ingrained that we don’t even question why we’re doing it anymore. How inauthentic and unrealistic is that? Not to mention how impractical?!
Two days later, New Zealand went into lockdown, and suddenly we were all working from home while attempting to look after our families. Let’s rephrase that – we were parenting and home schooling, while attempting to work from home. I’ve always been a fan of flexibility and work-life integration, but this has been too extreme even for me. I’m sure that others have found themselves in the same waka. Now, more than ever, it’s time to be kind to ourselves and each other, and remember that we are humans, not resources. Within the structures of our lives, built around our families, friends, work colleagues, neighbours and pets, comes the messy reality that it’s actually not always possible to show up for our paid work, in the traditional, ‘expected’ format. Sometimes life happens and we need to hit the pause button at work so that we can focus on loved ones. It doesn’t mean we’re don’t value the work, or it won’t get done. It doesn’t mean we don’t have strong ambitions. It just means we are humans first.
I really appreciate the authenticity of that LinkedIn post. It’s valuable and important to see people we respect showing up, and being honest about their reality and their struggles. As someone who works in (and deeply loves) the HR space, I feel like perhaps I should know this better than most. But it’s easy to get lost in the technicalities of strategic workforce planning or HR analytics or setting up processes, and forget what drew you to HR in the first place – the people. I am fortunate to spend a lot of my time working with Kiwi SMEs and one of the nice things about a company that’s in growth mode, but is not yet large in size, is that it’s easier for them to keep things human-focused, and to build their future business around this principle. However, I believe that the current climate is a teaching opportunity for all of us. No matter the size, your business can adopt a human-centred approach. It’s not just the right thing to do; it also makes good economic sense.
Practically speaking, taking a human-centred approach can have many different facets; it’s not one single action. Here are some questions to consider:
- Do you know the people you have working for you – truly KNOW them? Do you understand their wants, and needs? (And on that note – what about your customers?)
- Do you consider your people’s best interests when designing HR polices and processes?
- Are you as invested in seeing your people grow and succeed (in every area of their lives) as you are in the work they deliver for you?
- Does your business model support sustainability and environmental endeavours, as much as it does profit seeking? Will the planet be a better place for future generations because your business existed?
- Is your organisation purpose driven? Do your leaders and your employees know what this purpose is?
I feel very lucky to be able to say that at TPP we are most definitely not ‘resources’. We care deeply about our clients, our work and our careers, but we also recognise that this isn’t the most important thing in life. We are humans, navigating busy lives, and work is but one element. I’ve found that people tend to bring their BEST selves to work when they feel safe to bring their WHOLE selves to work, and that all starts when organisations genuinely want to support their people to grow and succeed.
If you would like to learn more about how you can build your people function in a way that is actually centred on people, I or one of the team would love to have a chat with you.
Comments or question? We'd love to hear from you.
Photo by Alexander Dummer on Unsplash