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A Work Culture of Personal Values and Experiences

Work culture is about how people experience their work, and ideally, how people can flourish in their work. First and foremost, work must provide the means to food, shelter, clothing, health, and the fulfilling of responsibilities. But once these essential requirements are met, work has the potential to serve other human needs. We promote work culture so that people have the opportunity to express and explore who they are by combining their work with their personal values and experiences. Simply, we promote culture because it helps people.

However, in many places the current workplace and its culture have a problem. We have strived to create a work environment using objective, rational techniques. This approach has had success and worked well in establishing important programs, policies, practices, and regulations. But this same process has gradually pushed the human element out of the workplace. And now we are facing the results. The workplace is moving toward less relationship and less communication, resulting in less dignity, satisfaction, efficiency, and safety. This is what workers describe when they talk about their experience of work, how they feel about work, and their need for personal relationships. They want their work experience to include their human experiences of relationship, passion, dedication, and being part of something greater than themselves. The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio defined this dynamic well, “We are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines that think.”

So, what do we do? As Albert Einstein has noted, “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” The formal thinking and language used to build large institutions is a language of procedures, policies, and productivity. It is the rational language of the intellect. But because work culture is about personal experience, it requires a different language, a language of personal values and experiences, of emotional and psychological safety.

If we want to promote or change the work culture, we have to change the language we use. Marshall McLuhan wrote, “The medium is the message.” Each of us becomes the medium and the message when we talk and write to each other in personal, everyday language, expressing our human experience at work. We become the message itself as we express our core values and support a truly human work culture.

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