Humanity at Work


Humanity is ambiguous. Really, what does it mean? After some poking around and reading plenty of vague definitions, I’ve cobbled this together: humanity represents that best parts of being alive as a human being.

Alright, so that’s not very clear either. Perhaps its better said with a picture. Below is what Wordflex says humanity is. It provides the perspective I need for you to understand this post’s message.


Building on the characteristics branch of the Wordflex picture, we begin to see what humanity at work looks like. It’s marked by relating to employees at all levels with what we individually hope to receive.

Now I’m walking uncomfortably close to sounding like a group-hug moment coming on. That, however, is not the message here.

When I talk about humanity at work, it’s with a specific message: over time we have removed from management and the tools to run a business the humanity essential to build a thriving, successful business that generates profit through purpose and fueled by employee passions.

Consider these words in the above picture in the context of work:

With greater humanness at work we seek to relate to one another as people, not a means to a profitable end – employee/role.

With generosity at work we support and help one another accomplish great things – small to big – with a focus on customers and customer service. As managers, we support and help employees deepen their skills to grow in the professional careers.

With understanding at work we stop and listen to other perspectives that could mean the difference between status quo and breakthrough success.

With consideration at work we are attentive to the factors that make a healthy team and organization. We do so to support employees so they can apply their strengths to accomplish great work.


To recognize and exploit humanity at work is to recognize basic human needs


Humanity at work when broken down is the epitome of creating workplace optimism and joy. It is the recognition and exploitation of the great characteristics of being human and leveraging them to achieve business success.

To recognize and exploit humanity at work is to recognize basic human needs: need to belong, need to believe in something bigger than our own self, need for control of our destiny, need for autonomy.

The time is right for organizations who wish to evolve in the 21st century away from the mechanistic views of people and employment. To do anything else simply reinforces a limiting view and way of running a business and leading employees to do great things.


Too many of us have settled to allow mediocre work pass as good or good enough


To recognize humanity at work is an act of leadership and collaboration in a way that can reveal greatness untapped within the organization. Too many of us have settled to allow mediocre work pass as good or good enough.


humanity at work presents unfathomable opportunities that benefit individuals, teams, organizations and ultimately customers


We owe it to ourselves and to our employees to recognize that work is part of our humanity. Work is an expression of who we are. Such insight can lead teams and organizations to a flavor of success unique and untapped. It can reveal a competitive advantage found only in the unique combination of people, talents, and organizational purpose.

Certainly humanity is vague. But mined for meaning, humanity at work presents unfathomable opportunities that benefit individuals, teams, organizations and ultimately customers.


Art by Mike 

Change Leader | Speaker | Writer Co-founder and CEO of Switch and Shift. Passionately explores the space where business & humanity intersect. Promoter of workplace optimism. Believes work can be a source of joy. Top ranked leadership blogger by Huffington Post. The Optimistic Workplace (AMACOM) out 2015

  • Excellent Shawn. Thank you. I would add another word, especially for the “smart people” sectors at work: Sanity. The most common conversation I have with many Directors, Senior Managers, and program managers is how insane it feels, how insane their leadership seems, and how difficult it is to find sanity among the madness.

  • Thanks for the brilliant post, Shawn. I would add to this: pay attention to language. When managers refer to their staff “resources”, it’s not just project management thinking; it reflects their underlying assumptions. Those assumptions run contrary to everything you say in this post. And when someone dehumanizes another (usually with no ill will!) by referring to them as a “resource”, they miss out on so much potential, both of the individual and of the relationship.

    Thank you,
    Author, “The Human Side of Agile”

  • Dick Burns

    I like the Wordflex message but it falls short as to what really needs to happen for humanity to be truly happy and purposeful at the workplace. Worker Self Directed Enterprises is the key and once subordination is eliminated, equality will take root. To find out more, check out Mondragon Corp. or the POV of economist Richard Wolff. Until then, it’s all left to chance.

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