Working with Humans


“We clamor for more and bigger data while simultaneously avoiding some of the most valuable, and readily accessible information there is; the emotions of our employees.” – Joe Gerstandt

After finishing a bit of work with a financial services organization this past year, I had a 1:1 meeting with the CEO to review our progress. In that meeting I said “if we keep this up, people are going to love coming to work here.” He replied “I agree in principle, though I think that the word “love” makes the whole thing unnecessarily emotional.”

It is just one of those exchanges that has stuck with me…

We hope for an emotional relationship between our customers and our products or services, specifically we want them to love it. We want customers and prospective customers to have a positive and emotional relationship with what we have to offer. Marketing, branding, and design people understand the power of emotion; Disney understands the power of emotion. At the same time, there seems to be something of an unspoken ban on emotion in today’s workplace.

Inside of most organizations, employees can be punished for not being physically present…and also punished (implicitly or explicitly) for being too emotionally present.


This seems to me one more example of the incongruence typical of how we approach people and work. We have gotten downright masterful at talking about how important human beings are to us and to what we hope to accomplish, but we so often have no interest in treating them like actual human beings (all of which come with, and are influenced by, actual emotions).

We clamor for more and bigger data while simultaneously avoiding some of the most valuable, and readily accessible information there is; the emotions of our employees. Facebook and Google (and probably the NSA) would love to know what your emotions are, but your manager wants nothing to do with them.

Joe Gerstandt, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

Joe Gerstandt, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Contributor.

Emotions fuel motivation and behavior. We talk all day long about people’s motivations and behaviors, yet act like emotions have no place at work. Caring for a tree becomes pretty difficult if you have to pretend that the roots do not exist.

It seems to me that we simply do not have a full and well informed understanding of human beings, even within the human resources field.

I do not know what the future of H.R. is, the field seems to be fragmenting in several ways. I believe that the body of work some of these fragments will be pointed at in the future is that of employee experience design. I have spent a lot of time in the past 12 months thinking and reading and talking about experience design, and one of my favorite thinkers is Stephen P. Anderson. When thinking about experience design I often come back to something that he says:

“The really great experiences are deeply rooted with insights into motivations, desires, emotions, cultural & social patterns, beliefs and other deeper considerations.”

If we are going to fully appreciate and realize the potential of humans at work, someone in the workplace needs to have real and deep expertise on the human being, of which emotion is a substantial component. Maybe HR could do that.

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