Earlier this morning, while making my coffee, I was scrolling through Tik Tok mindlessly, awaiting the smell of freshly brewed beans to awaken my brain. One of the videos was of an owner of a law firm describing the struggles of one of her managing partners. This partner was the mother of twin 4-year-old girls in full-day preschool. Often this partner would receive calls from the school asking her to pick them up due to various illnesses, at which point she would need to leave work and care for them at home until they were well enough to return. This happened frequently enough that this partner’s deadlines were being missed, and productivity was low.
What would you do as the owner? Historically, and for too many employees, this typically leads to some form of admonishment in the personnel file. It ultimately might lead to being fired, further burdening the working mother and requiring the firm to spend more time and money on recruiting and bringing a new employee up to speed.
What did this owner do? She got creative. She realized she valued this partner as an outstanding employee and a fellow human being. She proposed the idea of hiring a former childcare worker who had dreams of pursuing a career in the legal field. The job was full-time and was two-fold. She would train to be a legal assistant under the tutelage of this partner. However, when inevitably the school called with sick kiddos on the other line, the role would stop, her job duties would be temporarily suspended with no consequences, and she would become an in-home caretaker of the twins.
What a triple win! First, the opportunity for the new legal assistant to be trained on the job and work her way up to a better paycheck! Second, for the firm, no more loss of productivity and retaining a stellar employee. And finally, for the partner, removing the stress of balancing work and home life and the ability to continue to perform at her highest levels and grow in her career. This is what a Humans First core value looks like in action.
We are humans, first.
Many companies say they value their employees, but few walk their talk. I am happily the first in line to tell you that I feel incredibly valued here at High Rock Accounting, where Humans First is at the core of what we strive to do. We are never penalized when we must put our families before our jobs. We learn and practice giving generous assumptions (assuming intent was positive and for the greater good) to our teammates and leaders. We are nearly forced to “unplug” from work regularly to ensure our mental well-being stays strong to come back to work with creative and innovative ways to tackle challenges. We are a remote workforce, but we stay cohesive with regular “fun” meetings full of games, chatting, meme sharing, and friendly competition.
All these small things add up to why we are as effective and productive as we are. We do not fear the consequences of normal life events because there are none. We are all human, and they will happen to us in some way, shape, or form. We have each other’s backs, pitch in to help those who feel overwhelmed, and approach each conversation with curiosity instead of a pre-conceived assumption of intent.
Implementing a Humans First Approach.
Wondering how to instill this value in your organization? Start at the top. Our CEO and founder, Liz Mason, and co-founder and CFO, Melissa Diaz, model this value to our team daily. Through their leadership, other leaders are shown how to best approach all the human bits of life that may cause friction and strife. This mentality has trickled down to everyone. No one fears being vulnerable at work because this value is firmly held at the top.
Next, consider a strong mentorship or coaching program. This is not just a run-of-the-mill “first-day buddy” but an actual monthly program to pair up coaches with coachees. Appoint someone as the champion for this program and task them with creating a personal or professional development topic each month that mentors can share with them. This could be as simple as a few good TED talks, a quick write-up, or an exercise to help your team continue to grow as humans. The champion could rotate around periodically if needed.
Learn your employees’ love languages. By this, I mean learning how each person likes to be motivated, their communication style, and their personality. Take an interest in them as a person! Many apps are out on the market now that help facilitate these conversations organically. For example, we use a “Coffee Chat” app that plugs directly into our Teams interface. Each week, the app pairs us up randomly for a 30-minute coffee chat to talk about anything except work. This has been a fantastic way for us to get to know others we may not work with regularly and learn about each other in non-work-related ways. Once you start to uncover things, take those tidbits of knowledge, and leverage them. Do they like being recognized for excellent work? Shout them out in your internal communication system! Do they like a certain kind of coffee? Purchase that coffee and gift it to them just because. Check in with someone you have not talked to and see how life is going.
Encourage and all-out demand time away from the desk. Burnout is a real and debilitating issue that we have all experienced at one point or another. If you notice a colleague seems overwhelmed and is getting negative, suggest they put in for some PTO or bring it up in confidentiality to one of your leaders. Add a vacation stipend to your benefits package to reimburse up to a certain dollar amount for a vacation that is a) away from home and b) completely unplugged (except for pictures of the beach, of course). Burnt-out employees are not as productive as rested, excited ones. Look at your workload and capacity and share the love. Get in the trenches with your team, roll up your sleeves and help unload the burden.
Companies that will go the furthest in this next century will be the ones who put their humans first.