Don’t Be a Robot: Allowing Your Humanity into Your Work

A lone red poppy flower peeks out from a field of green grass.

You’ve hopefully noticed that we talk about well-being a lot at Valerian. 😌 When the brand was born, we wanted to build a business with humanity at its center. Both Ben and I had experience with burnout, and we wanted to create a brand that did its best to allow everyone—Valerian team members and clients alike—the space to take care of their own wellness.

The ingredients of humanity

When I talk about humanity, I’m thinking about the things that connect one person to all the other people on the planet. Humanity is the stuff that makes each of us unique, and it’s often the stuff we’re asked to check at the door when we enter our workplace. 😞

Personality

Luckily, most jobs appreciate a little personality. Think about the best flight attendants, nurses, teachers, or cashiers you’ve met in your life. Chances are, you remember them and think they were good at their jobs because of their own traits and orientations toward their duties. They brought a little ✨pizzaz✨ to your experience, and that’s why you remember them.

But I think it’s a pretty common experience for folks to feel like their jobs only like the parts of their personalities that fit well with the job description. 😅 Sure, come to work and be funny and charming, but maybe check that raucous laugh at the door. We love that you care deeply about things, but that sense of justice is a little inconvenient at times.

Preferences 💁

There’s a wide range of beliefs, preferences, and values that exist among us. Any two people, no matter how similar in personality or background, will have preferences that vary wildly from each other. Take Valerian owner Ben and me, for example. Fun fact: Ben and I are long-time friends and we went to grade school and high school together. Yet I’m now living an hour and a half away from where we grew up while Ben is all the way across the country in California! 🌴

Siblings, best friends, family members: all these people will share things in common, and they’ll have a lot of differences. And those differences range from being things we treat very lightly to things we take super seriously. Yet work often only really tolerates the ones that don’t take up much space.

Emotions

Relationship experts talk a lot about “vulnerability.” It’s the idea that true connection with another person requires emotional openness, but that openness also creates the possibility that you’ll be hurt. Telling someone how you feel when you’re not sure how they’ll respond in turn is risky business! But you can’t really feel close to someone if you hide what you’re feeling from them.

If you’ve ever choked back tears in the bathroom at work or hidden feelings of anger when someone threw you under the bus, then you know that vulnerability isn’t exactly easy at work

The benefits of being human

No one is saying that you should treat your work colleagues like your significant other and start opening your heart and soul to them, but there is some wiggle room in between. You make an interesting tradeoff when you check your humanity at the door: you may become more efficient, but you lack a certain something that can leave everyone involved feeling a bit cold. You’re not a robot, so why do we feel like we have to act like one at work? 🤖

Mental health

The conversation around mental health and work is complex and nuanced, but I think we can all agree that the more of yourself that you have to leave behind to fulfill your job requirements, the worse off your mental health will be. Spending a work day pretending to be someone you’re not, masking the feelings you have, and keeping all your own needs at bay is an exhausting exercise. 🫠 If you’re doing it day after day after day—whether because someone expects you to or because you just feel like you should—you’re going to eventually suffer for it.

A lot of people spend a really significant amount of their lives at work. Actively trying not to be yourself for that many hours isn’t good for anyone. If you’re able to be a bit less guarded and spend a little less energy trying to pretend to be the idealized work version of yourself, you’ll feel better overall.

Support

It’s a common bit of life advice: you don’t know what anyone is going through, so be kind to the people you interact with. And there really is something to that. If you’ve ever had to go into work after a breakup, a loss, or some other tragedy, you know how hard it is to keep it together, and even if you succeed, you may not be left feeling good about it. 

If bringing your humanity means letting people know when you’re having a hard time, even if it’s not detailing the whole situation for them, then the chances of other people being able to support you increase exponentially. 👥 Maybe a coworker takes something off your plate, a boss lets you go home early, or someone just gives you a kind encouragement or cuts you a little slack. 

Real connection

Story is another thing at the center of our work at Valerian. If you’ve built a website with us, you know that we spend time figuring out what story your brand is telling and how to translate that story into a website. This is because we believe that story is the way that human beings connect with each other. If you’ve ever had that “oh my gosh, me too!” moment with someone, then you know what I’m talking about.

The people you work with and for don’t have to be your best friends (and hearing “we’re a family” at work is almost universally acknowledged to be a major red flag 🚩), but if you’re going to spend all those hours sharing space and conversation with the same people day after day, you probably want to actually connect with them. Or at least know them on some level beyond Total Stranger.

How to let humanity into your work

Personal detail breadcrumbs

When I wrote the bios for our website, we decided that we should center the humanity of each person, instead of spending the whole time talking about their job. Sure, it’s good to know that I’m the Valerian copywriter and I’m good with words and grammar rules, but that’s kind of a given. 🤷 It’s more interesting to know that I have strong feelings about one particular video game franchise, Ben gets hyper-competitive with board games, Manny loves anime, and Crystal collects sheep. Besides, there’s only so much waxing poetic you can do about the day-to-day of your job.

Like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to follow, you can sprinkle your humanity throughout the things you do at work, allowing folks to gather up little glimpses into the person who might be working with them.

Set the precedent

First impressions matter, and so do the things we set up as “normal” in a given relationship at its beginning. Most folks want to come across as professional in their first meetings with a new client, but we also aim to demonstrate that we are empathic, warm, and, hopefully, likable. 

Finding ways to allow folks to be themselves by leading the way can set the precedent that this business exchange is going to be a little different. Maybe it’s what you allow into frame on your Zoom call or the way you introduce yourself at the beginning of a meeting: it doesn’t have to be a huge step away from what’s considered normal in business.

Asking the question from another angle

There are times when, in our initial information gathering, a client struggles to answer a question that we ask. One of my favorite things is figuring out how to get that same nugget of information from a different angle. So, for example, if they weren’t sure how to define their ideal client, I might ask them to tell me about their favorite client or the kind of client they’d like to work with more. (Maybe I even ask them what clients they absolutely hate working with. 😶)

Even the questions that you ask at the beginning of a working relationship can be reframed to make space for a more thorough answer. Open-ended questions can take meetings off track, but the right questions can also make a connection that will sustain the relationship more than just getting right to business.

Radical honesty

No, I’m not suggesting that you start saying anything and everything that comes to mind at work. 🫢 That’s just asking for a trip to HR (or worse). But the idea of radical honesty makes space for you to “go off script” in places where it might bring a little more light to your workday.

In all areas of my life, I try to answer the question “how are you?” honestly. I don’t use it as an opening to complain, but if a cashier asks how I am and I’m having a crummy day, I’ll just say that. Most of the time, I end up having an interaction that feels more “real” because of it. It opens the door for them to tell me that their day has been crummy too, or just for them to choose a kindness that allows me to feel more seen. ⛅

Maybe beginning to answer that question or others like it more honestly will create space for others in your work environment to also answer honestly. You never know what that may do for either or both of you.

🌿

At the end of the day, work is just a small segment of our big, complex lives. Allowing yourself to be a little more human at work might make your work day brighter, and it might improve things for others as well.

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