Workhuman 2019: 3 Takeaways from This Year’s Conference

Three co-workers sitting on a couch having a meeting

The following post comes from Bright Horizons Marketing Manager, Sean McCarthy. 

Humanity. Community. Creativity. Gratitude.

Those were some of the themes at this year’s Workhuman conference. 

It was, in a word, refreshing. 

In an age when robots and automation get so much ink, it was nice to be reminded that the machines haven’t risen. Yet. 

So what did we learn about how to succeed in our 21-st century workplaces? 

Get Creative

Creativity isn’t just the source of innovation – it’s the fuel for it. “You have to be achingly eager to do whatever can be done,” speaker and business strategist Gary Hamel has written, “within the limits of physics and economics, to raise the quantum of human happiness in the world.” 

That requires freedom to pivot. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t in a position to do that – not even in the area of our own careers. Met Life’s research may have shown that job satisfaction is related to support for personal goals. Yet an astonishing 70% of jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, have practically zero of that creative license and control. 

The fix? We need to upend current management structures, said Gary, and follow the lead of those giving employees more of a say at all levels. That theme was echoed by Focus Brands’ Kat Cole, who advised leaders to tune in to the employees in the trenches – great advice given how many ideas come from there, versus just the corner offices. “Change,” as Gary said, “rolls up, not down.”  

Know Your Workforce

So what exactly qualifies as control? That’s in the eye of the employee. And there’s only one way to figure that out, said Met Life’s Chief Marketing Officer Hugh Dineen: ask. 

The CMO said companies aren’t doing a good enough job applying marketing principles (such as market research) to their HR practices. Just as in external product development, employers need to better understand how well they know people, and then use that information to tailor products (in HR’s case, benefits and culture) accordingly. “While the challenges and opportunities posed by each of these insights cannot be addressed overnight,” reads MetLife’s overview of their benefits study findings, “there’s one theme that runs throughout: Employers need to think about employees’ lives and needs holistically.” 

It’s All About Relationships

All of the above play into a key conference theme of humanity -- specifically how to bring it back to our workplaces. Kat Cole talked about how relationships were the key to the challenge of steering Cinnabon during the height of the Atkins craze; while Microsoft’s Joe Whittinghall reminded us that tapping into our knowledge base (in other words, asking and learning from each other instead of just talking and announcing) is so much more important than acting like we know it all. The fringe benefits of all those exchanges? People who feel safe enough to voice opinions – not coincidentally, another of Met Life’s drivers of job satisfaction. It’s also, as we know from research at Bright Horizons, a key ingredient for innovation

While human issues dominated the conversation, there was also much talk about the future of automation, and how to play well with machines. Other inspiration also came from Brene Brown who reminded us that real leadership survives setbacks through resilience; and from George Clooney, who reminded everyone that (some) humans could never really be replaced. 

Why concern yourself with all of the above? A little thing we call the service-profit chain. Healthy, satisfied employees create healthy bottom lines. 

And that makes everybody happy.

Written by: Bright Horizons Blog Editor

March 28, 2019

About the Author

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The Bright Horizons Blog Editor frequently posts on the real solutions that meaningfully support employees, advance careers, and drive the world’s leading brands. The Editor curates the latest news, trends, and challenges facing HR pros because your time is scarce. Follow the Bright Horizons Blog to receive this insight in your inbox.