Human Workplaces Are More Productive - Here’s Why

All human businesses have one thing in common: they integrate workers’ unique needs into day-to-day business.

by Lauren Mobertz, January 5, 2018
Human Workplaces Productive

I once freelanced at a company–let’s call it Company X– that used the least flexible and compassionate policies. No matter what kind of work was on the agenda, my coworkers were expected to drag themselves into the office before 9 A.M. and stay at least as late as the boss. There was a long list of things my colleagues were reprimanded for, including laughing, sick days, visiting family, celebrating holidays–even opinions. On slow days, my colleagues often killed time by watching YouTube videos and swiping through Tinder. And when they went out for a beer after work, my coworkers fumed about their frustrations with Company X. Morale plummeted to rock bottom, and the product and customer satisfaction suffered for it.

In your own jobs, you might have experienced your own version of Company X. This might even be why you’re visiting tbd*’s site! Thankfully, work doesn’t have to feel like a scene out of Office Space.

Since ending my work with Company X, I’ve started exploring better ways of doing business. Along the way, I’ve met quite a few inspiring workplaces. Though there is no one-size-fits all solution for creating “human” workplaces, all the human businesses I found have one thing in common: they integrate workers’ unique needs, characters, and skills into day-to-day business–and they drive fantastic results for workers and their business alike while they’re at it. Here are some ways they do this.

  1. Pay fairly
  2. Engage through your mission
  3. Be diverse and inclusive
  4. Value workers’ billable and nonbillable hours

Pay fairly

Fair pay is one of the most obvious steps toward human workplaces, but, surprisingly, it’s also one of the most ignored. There’s no doubt about it: when people earn living wages, they produce better work, and when they understand why they are paid what they are paid, they are more likely to be satisfied.

Social media management company Buffer takes fair pay to heart. In 2013, the startup turned heads by publishing a spreadsheet containing every single employee’s salary–including those of its two male founders. It followed up by sharing its salary formula, allowing current and prospective employees to understand the reasoning behind their pay. This caused a storm of interest in the software company, applications to work at Buffer doubled, and employee engagement went up.

When speaking to me about the policy, team member Hailley Griffis pointed out that Buffer’s transparency helped employees feel more confidence toward the company. “That creates sort of a domino effect,” Hailley said. “When people feel they’re being paid fairly, they’re more likely to be happy, and if they’re happy, we hope they’re more likely to stay at Buffer.”

Engage through your mission

Employee engagement is another essential ingredient for business success. A recent Gallup assessment of employee engagement found that companies with the most engaged employees experience 10% better customer satisfaction, 22% more productivity, and 21% more profitability than companies with the least engaged workers. So what exactly is engagement?

Engagement is made of many parts, but one great way to engage employees is to tangibly connect their work with the mission of the business, something Oakland-based New Resource Bank does especially well. New Resource Bank has a triple bottom line of people, planet, and profit, and aims to use its business to finance environmentally-driven organizations. To help connect its employees with this mission, the Bank runs a sustainability engagement program. Through the program, employees can earn points throughout the year by attending fun, educational events on sustainability, and working toward their own personal sustainability goals. New Resource employees can even propose topics and programming themselves. 10% of employees’ performance reviews are then tied to their participation in the program, giving employees the opportunity to deeply understand why the company values sustainability and how this value connects to their day-to-day work.

By giving employees the opportunity to shape the company and engage with its core values, New Resource Bank helps employees finding meaning and engagement in their work. So it’s no surprise that New Resource experiences a low turnover rate.

Be diverse and inclusive

Diverse teams, whether in terms of gender, race, educational background, or life experiences, are proven to be more innovative and generate greater profits. But beneficial as they are, diverse teams often put people out of their comfort zones, making them feel unproductive. To drive the best results, businesses must conscientiously plan for diversity and inclusion at all levels.

Collaboration software company Slack Technologies views its D&I efforts holistically, taking care to both recruit a diverse pool of workers and to give them reasons to stay on after. For example, the company recently removed a prerequisite of 10 years experience from their job descriptions, since it deterred women from applying. The company has also implemented the Rooney Rule into its hiring practices, meaning that it must interview minority candidates for every open position. To create a more inclusive workplace, Slack has also removed male-skewed phrases like “rock star” and “ninja” from its lexicon.

Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter is also building up its D&I efforts. It offers employees ally skills workshops and sensitivity training. In the words of Kickstarter employee Carol Benovic, this allows employees bring their “whole selves” to work.

Value workers’ billable and nonbillable hours

We can fill our offices with smart devices, but no matter how many helping tools we have at our fingertips, one fact remains: workers are still human. We have to eat, exercise, see friends and loved ones, pursue hobbies, and, yes, I’ll admit it, sleep. Some of us have children. Some of us spend our weekends at the climbing gym. Some of us are writing the next great novel. And we are better workers when we don’t have to hide these needs and hobbies from our workplace.

Workplaces that account for this spectrum of differences value their employees’ nonbillable hours as much as their billable ones, and they align their benefits and cultures accordingly. Think parental leave over ping pong tables, vacation time over lavish company retreats.

Young consultancy Luminary Labs is a great example. Though it started off by bootstrapping funds, Luminary Labs strove from Day 1 to instill a human culture. From the start, when shiny benefits like 100% health care coverage were still unaffordable, Luminary Labs offered unlimited sick days and set work hours. This means that when employees are sick, they are gently told to take time to rest. Employees leave work at work, a policy founder Sara Holoubek role models by not sending emails on nights and weekends. Through careful planning, Luminary Labs now offers a slew of human benefits like family leave, summer Fridays, and 401(k) matching. “It’s money–it’s just a choice of how you will spend it, but it’s a choice that will affect who wants to work for you as a leader, who wants to work for your company, and who wants to work in your industry,” Sara said.

Mission-based recruiting firm ReWork is another young company that has found affordable ways make its workplace more human. Its founders noticed that many of its recruits were quite the globetrotters before joining the company. It didn’t want to stand in the way of that, so ReWork started offering employees four weeks of remote work and four weeks vacation time each year. Because of this policy, employees have traveled to places as remote as Iceland and Indonesia, simultaneously satisfying their wanderlust and desire to work.

These are just a few examples of ways businesses are working to be more human. After all, employees are every organization’s #1 resource. When businesses create benefits and cultures that work toward their employees’ unique needs and goals, human workplaces emerge. And with human workplaces comes more engaged and productive workers and fatter bottom lines–a win-win.

About the Author

lauren mobertz

Lauren Mobertz is a researcher and writer who focuses on human workplaces. For more on this topic, visit her website

Originally published October 26, 2016