The Future of the Workplace...human connection!
is all around us, taking over the world and the workplace …and let’s face it- its fabulous!
We have 3D printers able to make prosthetic limbs that are affordable for a growing child. We can buy and sell online - to any country, on any day! I can use an app to order anything from my coffee, to a car ride home to my next holiday - in someone else’s house!
We are more connected than ever before…
So…why are we so sad?
We are more connected and informed than ever before in history…yet when directly asked how lonely they felt, over 50% of Australians reported they felt lonely for at least a day in the previous week.
According to the study by Swinburne University and the Australian Psychological Society - More than one-fifth of Australians rarely or never feel they have someone to talk to or turn to for help. The word 'epidemic' is used to describe a global increase in loneliness.
Why are we so lonely?
Simple, we are so good at embracing technology – we are losing the ability to connect on the human level – we’ve become superficial and ‘like’ things we don’t care about and share things that don’t reflect how we actually feel!
Whilst these statistics horrify me…I believe it!
And I believe it because I know I’ve been one of those lonely people at different times in my life.
It was about when ten years ago my first marriage ended..we had drifted apart and its actually very lonely to be disconnected in a couple, so I felt liberated when I was finally single again – oh, I was also was a failure, a divorce statistic, a woman in her mid 30’s who was going to struggle to meet a decent bloke blah, blah, blah... it was going to be a roller coaster of emotions but you expect that right?
My work was my saviour.
I was a teacher at that time and I had such a passion, I loved seeing the students develop their critical thinking, change their opinion about 'whether they were good at maths and discover new things about the world that would shape them as adults, they were achieving incredible results!
I worked with some awesome colleagues, in the classroom and beyond.
They would grab a coffee with me at recess, and we’d sit around a big table and do the quiz from the newspaper at lunchtime, and someone always wanted to check out a food festival or new show in the city at the weekend. I was nurtured through my new found ‘singledom’ by these wonderful friends.
This went on for about three years or so,...it couldn’t last…
The change came in the form of a new principal at the school and life would never be the same again…
Now my new boss had a clear philosophy of leadership and getting the best out of a team...it was along the lines of ‘divide and rule’!
Her analysis of someone’s teaching ability in could be based entirely on a 2-minute assembly presentation or a display on a classroom wall.
Whilst it was hard to listen to your colleagues - that you knew were doing a great job - belittled and criticised …it also made you wonder what was said about you when you left the room!
There were comments, comparisons and 'crackdowns' and a call to return to neater handwriting and chanting times tables!
Needless to say…we stopped meeting in the staff room to do the quiz at lunchtime, we hid in our classrooms and cut ourselves off from being in the firing line.
Teaching as I'm sure you may know can be a stressful job at the best of times. In 2015 teachers ranked 2nd highest for making compensation claims due to mental health issues in the workplace... with 1% less claims than the emergency services!!! That’s just 1% less than the people who deal with road trauma, domestic violence, murder, sex trafficking, child abuse, bush fires…
We were all told to our faces we are doing a poor job - “2 out of 10” she rated us, “Behaviour issues are the fault of the class teacher.”.. In my mind it became clear...I was at fault, ... after years of teaching, I was just not good enough for the job and worst of all... WORST OF ALL…I was clearly failing the students.
I lost all confidence in my abilities.
As I retreated into myself, I began to dread going to school, I would feel tears roll down my cheeks as I drove into the car park, because I no longer felt that I could make a difference. What was the point of going in? I began to doubt myself constantly. All the other staff were in survival mode too.
The human connection we had had, that saw us through the tough grades and the times of particularly high workloads, my divorce… was lost.
Then I was On yard duty, one day…a student aged about 7 that I didn’t even know, was chattering away to me and skipping along holding my hand.
He suddenly stopped and yanked my arm stared up into my face and simply said "You seem really sad,” he whispered.
This kid I didn’t even know could see what no one else had noticed.
Admittedly, I was constantly trying to hide it. At the photocopier, when making a cup of tea to take back to my class, in team meetings - always avoiding eye contact.
But he busted me.
He saw behind my fake smile, he saw how tired I was smiling to keep up the pretense in front of the other staff, the parents and my students .
For me, the lack of human concern, the negative interactions - the toxic work environment - had alienated me from a job I had loved. I hid behind emails instead of talking to colleagues, I avoided individual conversations and tried to stay in bigger groups of people - easier to be overlooked, not talk, get lost....
Easier to Be lonely!
Today...I choose to make a difference to the workplace so no one ever feels the way I did.
I work with companies and leaders who are striving to change things....businesses that want to put their employees at the heart of their organisation...and they are reaping the benefits: increased productivity, increased profit and mostly...increased human connectedness!
The future of the workplace embraces technology as it enhances much of what we do at work. It does it easily, does it better and quicker.
It doesn't do a great job at connecting us, deeply, on that human level!
The greatest gift we can give someone these days is our attention... everyone is scrambling to get us to look this way, buy this , follow me....
Give the people you work with your attention.
Actually looking into the face of your colleague and ask “Are you ok?” or something that actually shows you care about the person beyond the job!
Leaders in the workplace need to take action - up the small talk! Ask more...share more...and build the human connection.
We need to create workplace cultures that are about the humans in them.
We need workplaces that invite conversations to flow, where the workers get input into why things are needed and how they are done. Like the Microsoft employees recently when they challenged the use of their work to make weapons!
Having an authentic voice in our workplace, doing work in line with our values, is what humans want and need more of in this technical age.
Let's commit to 'putting human relationships back into the heart of the workplace', commit to no one crying alone in a classroom, or car park!
The workplaces of the future...the ones that will thrive...are embracing technology AND putting people upfront and centre!
The future of the workplace… is human connection!
Jo O’Donovan is currently running workshops on ‘Mental Health In the Workplace - Why This Concerns Us All’ and has a program for leaders within organisations on talking about mental health and how it can affect our workforce. For more information visit:
or check out the online program here: