Six things you need for a human-centered work environment. (Hint: it’s not ping pong tables.)

One of the best pieces of advice we received in our Deep Dive with Victoria and Tiffany of Plum Organics was their recommendation to create human-centered work environments so that the whole person can show up to work and be their true self. The whole self. Not just the professional self. This is not usually the advice we get, right? More often the conversation revolves around separating the personal self from the professional self. In fact, when I googled “separating work life from personal life”, there was no less than a million pages on the topic. Most of the blog and articles included titles like “Five simple tips to separate your personal life from work” and “Keep Focus: Separating your Personal and Professional Life”. However, more and more research is proving that the separation is not only impossible — it’s counterproductive.

We recently had the opportunity to tour and meet with the leadership team at Herman Miller. Herman Miller has been on the journey to create human centered workplaces since they were founded by D.J. DePree in 1923. In fact, they have a whole team devoted to the research of the human relationship to the workplace. While Dr. Tracy Brower was at Herman Miller leading the Human Dynamics + Work team, she and her team compiled decades of research in psychology, sociology and anthropology to identify conditions that need to be met by workplaces in order for people to have purposeful and functional experiences at work. This research and the foresight of founder DePree influenced — and continues to influence — their Living Office concept. It also drives their internal culture.

The six fundamental human needs that Brower and her team identified are:

  • Security — health, safety, familiarity, and competence.
  • Status — recognition for contributions.
  • Achievement — excellence and pride in accomplishments.
  • Autonomy — freedom in actions and decisions.
  • Purpose — opportunities to make a meaningful difference.
  • Belonging — meaningful connections to others.

(If you want to learn more about the work that Dr. Brower does, check out her book Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.)

One of the things I love about working at Thrive (and Victoria and Tiffany love about Plum) is that the company cultures embrace the whole self. In their talk, Victoria and Tiffany mention the casual dress code and kid-friendly office. Now before you get caught up trying to create the “cool office culture”, let’s be clear: the kid-friendly office isn’t a perk. It’s about meeting the human need for belonging — being your whole self (parent and all) so you can make meaningful connections with your co-workers. The undefined dress code isn’t a perk either. It’s about giving employees autonomy over their comfort at work.

To create the culture that people love — a culture that breeds exceptional company growth — you need to meet those six essential human needs. Perhaps you can do it with foosball tables and coffee bars but those alone won’t create a thriving culture. It is about more.

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