Machines Don’t Have Empathy: Connection in Our Workplace

6 human workplace needs

In my last post, we explored the notion that people leave relationships (in their personal lives or with an employer) when their human needs are not being met. I think this is reflected in some of the most recent research about how the workplace is shifting. 

77% of employees are not engaged. 

70% of employees do not feel considered. 

By the time an employee is 38 years old, she will have had 8-10 different jobs. At fewer than two years per job, an organization doesn’t even recover the cost of hiring, onboarding and developing a person. 

If we want to retain our top talent and create a healthy and aligned culture, we need to put humanity back into our workplace and recognize that people have very deep- rooted human needs. When employers and leaders are able to create an environment where most of those needs are met, people will demonstrate remarkable levels of commitment. 

However,  when employers and leaders fail to create workplaces where people can meet their most basic human needs, their people will find a way to get those needs met with another employer or in a way that isn’t productive for the culture.

The 6 Human Workplace Needs

As a quick reminder, here are the 6 human workplace needs that I covered at a high level in my last post. 

The 4 Core Needs — needs that all people seek 

  • Connection with people
  • Contributions are valued
  • Certainty to ensure safety
  • Clarity on the what and how

The 2 Fulfillment Needs — needs that result in fulfilling and purpose-driven work 

  • Challenge and growth 
  • Community impact 

In this post, we’ll explore the first core need — connection — in more depth so that you have a better understanding of what drives people, ways to build connection, and how to create an environment where people feel such a strong sense of belonging that they won’t want to leave. 

What is Connection? 

Connection is the first core need and so central to our humanity. 

Everyone has this need. And we all seek it in either healthy or unhealthy ways. 

Connection is about the need to feel loved and to belong. Now that may sound soft in most corporate workplaces. But it’s not. Because when people feel loved and feel like they belong, they trust others, will take more risks in conversations, they’ll engage in productive conflict, and move faster with less drama and politics. 

With increasing complexity in today’s work environment, connection becomes the foundation for agility and speed.

Our society today promotes the idea of connectedness through social media via variety of machines. 

But just because people are connected by these devices, doesn’t mean that they feel connection. 

Tweets, posts, likes, and images of our seemingly perfect lives often leave people feeling inadequate and unfulfilled. 

True connection in the workplace goes much deeper, where people find meaningful relationships with their manager and colleagues. 

The Fear Behind Connection

There are several fears related to connection that drive human behavior in the workplace. They show up differently for different people, depending on life experiences and personality. 

Some of the most common fears we hear related to connection are: 

Am I being taken advantage of?” (insecurity)

Does he or she like me?” (disapproval)

Am I good enough?” (worthiness)

Regardless of how these fears show up, they usually boil down to one core fear: “Am I loved?” 

When team members operate out of fear, ineffectiveness in conflict is the norm; defensiveness and blame are commonplace; and turf wars and turnover are inevitable. 

But when we build connection in the workplace, people live less from fear and more from a place of expansiveness. 

Team members give each other the benefit of the doubt. They become more vulnerable in their interactions. They’ll be more likely to speak up when speaking up really matters. 

How Leaders Can Build Connection

There are several actions leaders can take to build connection in the workplace. We’ve compartmentalized them below into three key areas: mindset, skillset and daily habits. 

  1. Mindset 

The first thing leaders have to do to build connection in the workplace is to change their thinking and to realize that people seek love and belonging in life — in both personal and professional settings. 

Leaders also have to see that to fully optimize their potential and the potential of their people, both results AND relationships are important. 

  1. Skillset

Leaders who build connection in the workplace have the people skills to build trust in their teams. They create an environment of open communication in meetings, 1-1s and other settings. They know how to build vulnerability-based trust, where people can ask for help, offer help and admit mistakes without fear of being disconnected from others. 

  1. Daily Habits

A leader’s mindset and skillset are demonstrated through what they do on a day-to-day basis. Some examples of daily habits that build connection include: 

  • Creating space for people to consistently spend time together 
  • Making time for regular 1-1s, goal reviews and coaching
  • Demonstrating genuine interest and care in people
  • Rewarding team members when they model interest and care for others
  • Developing team and conflict norms that bring out the best in people
  • Setting behavioral expectations that are aligned with clearly defined norms and values 
  • Organizing events outside of work where people can just be human
  • Admitting their mistakes
  • Telling others about their development areas
  • Giving team members a voice
  • Inviting team members to their home 

Eric Roza, the former CEO of Datalogix who led the organization to a $1 billion plus sale to Oracle, discussed how he created a healthy environment of connection in a recent interview on my Future of Leadership podcast. Eric and his leadership team were able to create a workplace where people didn’t want to leave by finding touch points in their work environment that built connection — from on-site fitness classes and eating lunch together to walking meetings. 

Build Connection Yourself

You don’t have to rely on others to build connection. You are empowered to take steps to get this need met in your own life. 

First of all, tap into your narratives and notice the stories you might be telling yourself. How are your fears related to love and belonging impacting your behavior? Do you spend time ruminating about what others think of you? Are you overly concerned about damaging relationships and as a result avoid important conversations? 

Recognize that your fear of vulnerability might actually be getting in the way of having deeper and more meaningful relationships with people at work and home. 

Secondly, take some small, but meaningful, steps to build connection with others

  • Find more random opportunities to bump into people in the hallways or the proverbial water cooler. 
  • Conduct meetings while talking a walk outside. 
  • Go to lunch with team members once a week. 
  • Ensure the team has regular (and productive) meetings. 
  • Give yourself and others permission to disagree. 
  • Build team norms.  
  • Express gratitude. 

Machines Don’t Have Empathy 

I started with connection first because it is core to who we are as human beings. As our world evolves and becomes more driven by technologies like artificial intelligence, keep in mind that machines do NOT have empathy. While they may make us more productive, efficient and effective, they don’t meet our first and most basic human need — the need to feel loved and connected.

If you are looking to build more connection in your work environment, so that people can build relationships that results in more agility – check out our leadership development and team acceleration services. We can help your organization get there faster.

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