Let’s face it: Work has become inhumane. Stress levels are at an all-time high – not just for some but for all of us. Digitization has accelerated business to an almost incomprehensible speed. And despite our attempts to be “on” 24/7, it is not humanly possible to keep up with the pace, pressures and deadlines. Meanwhile, outside the corporate walls, life has taken on a violent and chaotic nature that is perhaps even more stress-inducing than work itself.
Something must be done. We are challenged to find ways cope with it all, individually and collectively. Perhaps it falls to those of us who consult to and train the leaders of organizations to help regain some sanity in our lives by rehumanizing the workplace.
The process of rehumanization starts with teaching a new type of emotional intelligence (EI). EI programs of yore have not been successful in even scratching the surface, and I believe part of the problem lies with the trainer’s foundation of compassion. We need to find a deeper level of compassion, one that originates within ourselves and expands to include all others. It is not logical for us to assume that we can teach something like compassion without having first done the work on ourselves. Because EI training is built around self-awareness and other-awareness, we must understand the backdrop of suffering that surrounds our participants. We must ask what increases our own emotional sensitivity and how we can become a more compassionate trainer of this vital and rehumanizing skill.
The first step is to re-sensitize ourselves to the pain and stress around us. We have become so accustomed to living with a high level of stress that we don’t even see it. For example, notice how desensitized we have become to violence ; the half-life of grief after a mass shooting shortens with each successive event. Likewise, our tolerance of stress at work has increased. To regain that normalcy of sensitivity, we have to look at reality. We cannot ignore the toll it is taking on employees. We must is seek it out, let it in and understand how much it hurts.
It is not an easy process, nor is it one we can fake. Without that personally felt pain, we may be tempted to turn to our peers and co-workers and blithely say, “You can work through this – it will pass. Just take my training!” However, once we let in the impact of living and working under continual stress and find that we must deal with our own suffering, we are better able to offer that compassion to others.
The second challenge for EI training is to become more fluent in emotional varieties and differences. Stress and pain do not manifest the same way in any two people. Our reactions are individual and unique. As training professionals intent on recognizing the full human condition, we need to develop a better emotional vocabulary to identify what others are experiencing. To illustrate this concept, I once created a Mendeleev-style periodic table of emotions in an effort to teach how each emotion was different but related to its neighbors on the chart. While it was a tongue-in-cheek presentation, designed to gain the attention of a group of scientists, it helped to make the point. Just as stress takes different forms, our reactions to it (pain, frustration, anger, etc.) can look completely across the population in a classroom.
Today, we see a lot of press given to the need to bring back emotional intelligence training. Corporate leaders implicitly know that it must be part of the remedy – but the old way just isn’t working. With a more solid foundation in our own sensitivity to our collective plight, and armed with a more specific vocabulary (however it is sourced), we may stand a chance of providing something that is a little closer to a humane work environment. We may not get out of the woods with that alone, but it beats the heck out of failing to try.
Want to learn more? Come to the Training Industry Conference and Expo in June to hear Kris’ keynote on rehumanizing the workplace.