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Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Human Side of Business

Profits and People: Two sides of the same coin. But it is not a toss up – they must go hand in hand to reap the rewards and achieve the greatest bottom-line results. In the late 1990’s, CEOs often reported that not only were people their most important asset, but retention of key people was their biggest concern. In today’s economy, driving productivity and profits has become the number cause of angst for American business leaders. The most successful executives know that there must a balance between profits and people, and the correlation between them is what “humanizing the workplace” is all about.

In the new millennium, we have seen businesses close, downsizing as well as mergers and acquisitions. All of which have impacted moral and employee productivity and employability. Companies will cut costs by rightsizing and then stretch productivity across the remaining workforce. With an emphasis on humanizing the workplace, companies can achieve the same or better results. In addition, today’s current economy and national security issues have increased anxiety and stress among our nation’s workers. When morale is negatively impacted, productivity slows down, workers become less effective and profits suffer.

The solutions are many and quite diversified. Research has demonstrated that even the physical environment at a place of employment can have a positive effect on worker morale and productivity. Studies have shown that sprucing up the office with green plants (making the environment more “homelike”) can decrease stress while enhancing productivity.

A tour of new corporate offices, like the Ryan Companies headquarters in downtown Minneapolis, is another example of how a more ‘homey’ environment leads to a positive culture and enhanced employee morale. The Ryan offices are not only welcoming but also warm and engaging for employees and visitors. Ryan is a leader in the construction industry but it is also known as a wonderful place to work. For example, each desk displays a yellow hard-hat nameplate for each employee, clearly demonstrating the total unity of everyone to the firm’s core business: construction.

There is family warmth to the main gathering room that hosts large company meetings and informal get-togethers. Even small intimate conference rooms were designed with the comfort of the inhabitants in mind! When asked what they enjoyed most about working at Ryan, several employees commented, “It’s like a family here. They owners make you feel like part of a family.”

In the wake of 9/11, Americans saw the devastation among co-workers, with the loss of their fellow employees. We witnessed family-like cohesiveness, on nationally broadcast news programs, between surviving employees. That scenario is becoming more prevalent in all types of businesses. Senior executives acknowledging their own humanity, talking with employees about adversity in their personal lives, and recognizing that “a whole person” shows up each day to be an employee of the company, is what humanizing the workplace is about. When people are acknowledged for who they are and for what they achieve, morale improves, productivity increases and loyalty prevails.

Bob Nelson, Ph.D., author of "1001 Ways to Reward Employees", emphasizes that money doesn’t matter most. He offers many ways that companies can make employees feel appreciated and recognized. He proposes that simple gestures do wonders for building morale and personal praise (treats and small tokens of appreciation), along with increased autonomy, decision-making involvement, and recognition of the need for flexibility are all ways to humanize the workplace and honor the individuality of the workforce.

In Fortune Magazine’s survey on the “100 Best Companies in America to Work For”, respondents cited childcare, telecommuting, work/life balance and flexible schedules as the best benefits they receive. All of these benefits directly relate to the lifestyle of the contemporary workforce. The survey validates the position that money doesn’t matter most and that embracing the human side of employee life is extremely important.

An organization’s success depends increasingly on its ability to embrace the human side of life which not only unleashes potential, but it ultimately increases productivity and retention. Embracing the “human side of business” means valuing employees by committing to their success, development and well-being.

The bottom-line on people is value. Valuing the people adds value to the company. Humanizing the workplace comes in many forms and it’s the creativity of corporate leaders as they accentuate people that makes the difference and produces results.

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