Several years ago, one of my mentors sat me down and set me straight.  “Business isn’t personal Leigh.  Sometimes you have to make hard decisions that affect people’s lives, but in order for the business to thrive, you may have to make unpopular decisions.  You may also have to make changes that impact people you care about.  But that’s just how business works.  Don’t take it personally.”  Looking back, I can see that he was preparing me for some upcoming layoffs.  And at the time, I agreed with him.  That’s just how business works in America, right?  I mean, as business leaders, we have to make really tough decisions to grow, change or dissolve parts of our business all the time, and this has impacts on people that can be uncomfortable.  You have to be tough-minded and thick-skinned to make hard choices needed to keep businesses viable and sustainable.  As harsh as it sounds, sometimes we just have to treat people like any other asset in our business, and that is what helps us manage the bottom line.

But for the last couple of years, I’ve been carefully studying companies that have put a laser focus on the health and well-being of their people, and I’m starting to think a little differently.

For so long we’ve treated human capital as just another line on the balance sheet.  You provide people a nice salary and benefits and in return, they provide a service to the company.  When the company doesn’t have a need for their services anymore, you try and find another role for them or let them go and hire someone younger and cheaper to keep costs down and share price up.  There are severance and training costs that make this model inefficient, but for the most part, it’s how American businesses sustain themselves.  It’s not personal, all of this hiring and firing, it’s just a product of our business model. One of the best examples of this is an American bank that recently fired 500 people using a robocall (employees were fired over voicemail with a recorded message – if you want to learn more about the problems of this then you could look at a website like https://www.nehoralaw.com/practice-areas/tcpa-violations-consumer-telephone-protection-protecting-against-robocalls-telemarketing/).

The thing is, as annoying as it may be sometimes, business is personal.  Because the people running businesses are human beings.  We are not robots, we are living breathing animals with physical, mental and emotional needs.  We like to have a sense of purpose and a reason to get up in the morning.  We want to feel valued and we need our brain to be stimulated every now and again to keep going.  Unlike robots or machines or pieces of equipment, we can’t just be turned on and off.  We are this crazy mass of molecules and neurons and systems that are all connected in a very unique way.

And our human-ness can be an incredible competitive advantage for business if we play our cards right.  Interestingly, there is a growing list of companies buying into this concept.  They are paying close attention to what makes their people tick and designing programs and organizational models that leverage the people that work for them.   They are hiring psychologists, physiologists, neurologists, nutritionists and wellness directors to help their employees manage energy levels during the day, improve their nutrition, increase their exercise, handle stress and these companies are not doing it for charity – they are seeing incredible results to their bottom line.  As a result of their efforts, they now spend less time recruiting and more time taking full advantage of the employees they already have.  They worry less about saving health care costs (though they do see savings), and are instead focused on getting the most value out of their people’s performance, and increasing employee engagement and satisfaction along the way.

I recently sat down in a focus group with employees from a company with this human performance mindset.  One employee summed up our discussion well.  “We are our people.  It’s hard to imagine a better way to invest in the company.  We realistically work anywhere from 8 to 11 hours a day.  Make it convenient for employees to prioritize taking care of themselves and they will be able to give back more.”

The way these “human centered” business leaders describe their approach to the health of their employees is not touchy-feely.  If anything, it’s more science-minded and fact-based than ever before.  It’s drawing from the medical practices of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, from Dr. Jim Loehr and Dr. Jack Groppel’s research at the Human Performance Institute and from psychologists like Robert Cialdini and his study of  influence.  That said, their business strategy incorporates the holistic needs of their people, which by it’s very nature is, well, personal.  It’s an exciting and fascinating time for business, and I hope, a mindset that is here to stay.  Of course I’m a little biased.  I’m human.