27 September 2023

Post COVID: Do organisations see people as people?

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Maricella Herrera Avila* says the pandemic hasn’t changes as much as in the world of work as some of us would like to think.

For a while now I’ve been saying companies actually learned something during the past three years.

They finally realized the big secret — that people are people and that they need to treat them as such.

If they would, a lot of these drastic attitudes about work would not be a generalized trend.

Last week I had dinner with a group of friends – all very successful women with great jobs at companies you likely know (so I won’t disclose them).

I used the opportunity to ask them what they thought about companies treating people like people.

I got one very strong opinion right off the bat:

“I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but what companies do you know that treat people like people?

“I’m going through strategic planning, and…people are numbers.

“They just are.”

Someone else chimed in:

“People aren’t people for companies.

“Companies aren’t people in our lives.

“We don’t need to care about them; they have no feelings and don’t care about us.”

I walked out of that dinner feeling like a helpless, idealistic fool.

But that’s when I had my epiphany.

The epiphany.

A little context on these friends, before we go too much further: One was coming off a twelve-hour workday.

Another was putting her life on hold to comply with the crazy travel schedule her job demanded.

They were clearly frustrated with the pressure and demands their companies put on them, and I can’t blame them.

If we’re to believe the current slew of articles on attitudes about work, then we’ve collectively decided to put ourselves first.

No more going above and beyond.

No more focusing on climbing the proverbial ladder or ruthlessly putting our careers above all else.

But, while practically everyone in the restaurant could sense my friends’ frustrations with their jobs, there was no question that their ambitious natures were intact.

These changes in attitude toward work don’t have anything to do with ambition, priorities, or purpose.

Instead, I realized that we, as a society, are suffering from a crisis of trust.

Wait, what?

We don’t trust corporations.

They’ve proven to care about one thing and one thing only: how much money they can make and how much they can exploit those who work for them.

We don’t trust the government.

We saw this during COVID, when they were unprepared to manage a large-scale crisis successfully.

And then, to top it off, they take away our right to bodily autonomy by overturning Roe v. Wade.

How are we to trust the people in power when they have their own agenda — one that doesn’t align with the wellbeing of everyone else?

For the past three years, we’ve had to navigate an incredible amount of uncertainty.

Between the pandemic, the social reckoning sparked by the murder of George Floyd, inflationary pressures, and the fear of a recession, we’ve been stumbling forward without knowing if our next step will be a safe one.

No wonder we’re jaded and suspicious.

So what now?

Trust is a complex thing.

It’s earned by modelling consistent behaviours that help others believe in you over time.

You can’t control if others trust you, but you can control how trustworthy you are.

That’s what we need to focus on.

All of us need to work on our trustworthiness and bring that back to our organizations.

We need to stand up for our values, to be vulnerable and transparent.

That goes as much for saying what we want and where our boundaries are (no more quietly quitting, more like verbalizing it openly) as it goes for leaders transparently communicating their expectations.

If we can’t get to a point in which we are working together instead of against each other, seeing businesses and institutions as our partners and not a threat, then we won’t create the world we want to live in.

It starts with us.

And yes, I’m also tired of it always starting with me…but someone’s gotta do it, right? Let’s start telling those in power how to follow our lead.

*Maricella Herrera Avila, CEO, Ellevate Network.

This article first appeared at ellevatenetwork.com.

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