Summary of Back to Human by Dan Schawbel

BookSummaryClub Blog Summary of Back to Human by Dan Schawbel

We live in a world that is rapidly changing as technology develops. As much as technology makes our lives easier, it is not always to our benefit. Think about it. We are able to connect to people all around the world through social media, but never have the numbers of depression and isolation been higher. We are now able to work remotely but it often makes it harder to build work relationships and collaborate with others. 

In a way, the world has become a little less human and people in the business world need to figure out how to balance the advantages of technology and retaining a human approach to things. 

In this book summary, readers will discover:

  • The downside of technology
  • How leaders can improve the workplace
  • Speed versus productivity
  • The importance of diversity
  • Recognition is an important motivator
  • Building empathy as a strength

Key lesson one: The downside of technology

Technology has advanced quite quickly in the last two decades. It is hard to imagine a world without smartphones or social media especially considering how entwined with our lives it is now. When was the last time you left your phone at home? It almost seems as if we would be lost without it. It enables us to keep in contact with our friends and family no matter where in the world we are therefore allowing a connection. 

However, despite its advantages, technology has also been impacting people negatively especially the younger generation. They exhibit a lack of connectedness with other people and are unable to interact face to face. People crave human interaction but are more comfortable with using a device than having a conversation. This makes them feel as if they have achieved social interaction when they have not. Studies have even shown that people who spend two hours or more on social media daily were twice as likely to suffer from social isolation. Those who spend loads of time on Facebook were also more likely to suffer from depression. This is no doubt the result of constantly comparing themselves to people’s picture-perfect life on display. 

Isolation and depression are harmful to social relationships that are needed to achieve satisfaction in our lives. This is true for both our personal and professional lives. A study conducted in 2017 by Wharton Business School showed that poor performance by employees correlated with employee loneliness. So, is technology weakening our ability to achieve satisfaction in work and life? Maybe it’s time to step back and find a way to enable human fulfilment in the office.

Key lesson two: How leaders can improve the workplace

As early as 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow showed that after our basic needs what is psychologically important to humans is a sense of belonging and love. This is also true when considering our working environment. In fact, it has also been proven by a Gallup poll which showed that if a person had a best friend at work, they were seven times more likely to be engaged in their work. They also feel more productive and feel like they can innovate more than those without a best friend at work. 

If you think about it, having friends at work always makes it more enjoyable and thus easier. If team members have strong relationships, they’ll be more likely to work well together and stick around longer. Managers also tend to feel better about themselves when they see their teams working well together. 

As a leader, you should aim to have a work environment that has these types of relationships. How? Well, firstly, you should ensure that technology does not get in the way of face-to-face interactions. You should practice this yourself as well. Instead of sending an email, opt to visit the individual in person instead. The second thing you can do is make an effort to get to know people. The more you know about the people who work with you, the better you can understand how they work and what they need to achieve their goals. 

Key lesson three: Speed versus productivity

As much as technology enables us to get things done much faster, has it really increased our productivity? The answer is not definitive. Technology may get things done quickly but it is also distracting as well. Back in the day, distractions were caused by people, phone calls or maybe the daily newspaper. Today, however, distractions come hard and fast from everywhere. Alerts, notifications, text messages, emails – they all distract people from their work. In fact, studies have shown that the average office worker receives more than a hundred emails a day. Even if they don’t reply to them, they still have to mentally process them. 

This means that it is virtually impossible to remain focused on the task you are working on. One study which was conducted by Professor Gloria Mark tracked the impact of notifications on office workers. She found that between 2004 and 2014, employees switched their focus more than three times more. So, if it is impossible to spend more than a minute on a task before being disturbed, how do you expect to finish your work?

Firstly, you can turn off your notifications while you work. If there is an emergency, someone will call you if they cannot get hold of you by any other method. And honestly, if it is urgent, it warrants a phone call and not an email or text message in the first place. Secondly, organization is key to getting your work done. Prioritize your work instead of attempting to multitask. This gives you clarity on what you need to get done and makes it less likely for you to be distracted.

Key lesson four: The importance of diversity

As much as the business world seems to understand the importance of diversity in an organization, very few actually practice it. For example, in Silicon Valley, Hispanics and African Americans together account for just 5 per cent of the total workforce. Even more surprising is only 24 per cent of senior positions worldwide are held by women. 

This lack of diversity leads to a lack of diverse points of view and ideas. Just consider how limited your approaches will be if all your team members are white males from wealthy backgrounds? It would be extremely limiting making the organization lose out on the market. So, what can you do to ensure that you embrace and manage diversity effectively?

Firstly, during the recruitment process, try to avoid unconscious bias. Sometimes, recruiters tend to hire people who think and sound like them. So you need to ensure that the interview shows you the true potential of the recruit. Introduce the recruit to a challenge you are facing and give them the opportunity to come with ideas to solve it. This will demonstrate how they think and what insights they will bring to the company. 

The second thing you can do to ensure diverse ideas from your team is to provide your team with a safe environment to brainstorm. They need to feel as if they can voice all their ideas without feeling judged or rejected. A great way to begin this process is to hold anonymous brainstorming sessions. People can anonymously write down their ideas and they can be discussed openly. This will allow people to be more comfortable in generating ideas and that will lead to more perspectives. 

Key lesson five: Recognition is an important motivator

Social media has provided an easy way for people to recognize and show that they like something. It could be a picture, a tweet or even an announcement. A simple click does the trick. Similarly, leaders should also recognize great work because it will make employees feel appreciated and increase their happiness. 

Studies have shown that if employees are recognized consistently at work they are 11 times more likely to stay with the company throughout their career. So, how do you ensure that this happens meaningfully? Pay raises and bonuses as a form of recognition for success does not work. This was proven by an experiment conducted by Professor Dan Ariely where employees at an Intel semiconductor factory were offered a choice of rewards for completing their tasks for the week. One was promised a voucher for pizza, the second a cash prize and the third was offered a compliment from their boss. By the end of the week, the last group delivered the best results showing that personal, human recognition is much more valuable.

Therefore, leaders should become more open to the idea of personal ways of showing gratitude. Try visiting employees in person instead of sending an email to thank them for their hard work. It will not only make the employee happy but it will also show other employees that hard work is recognized. This will make them also feel more motivated to achieve their work goals. You can even try leaving thank you notes on an employee’s desk for smaller achievements letting them know that it has not gone unnoticed. 

Key lesson six: Building empathy as a strength

Empathy in the business world can sometimes be perceived as a weakness. For those in leadership positions especially, it is seen as a distraction from achieving success and profits for the company. However, what is more important than the well-being of your employees? 

Surely, if leaders demonstrate compassion, understanding and a willingness to help, employees will feel more motivated to work. They will know that the company does not only care about profits but about their employees as well. In fact, research has shown that empathy from leaders positively correlated with job performance. 

A good way to show empathy is to ensure that you regularly communicate with your employees face-to-face. During this time, you can not only discuss their work but how they have been feeling. This will give you valuable insight into your employee’s lives and ensure that you are aware of their challenges and accomplishments. This approach makes employees more open to communication knowing they are supported and valued.

The key takeaway from Back to Human is:

Technology has made our lives easier but has also hindered us from making real human connections. In the workplace especially, it has taken over and holds up back from meaningful collaboration with our peers and building relationships. Thus, it is important for leadership to start looking at ways to find the balance between technology and human interaction in the workplace. You will find that if successful with achieving this balance, employees will be much happier and satisfied with their work lives. This will indeed be beneficial for all.

How can I implement the lessons learned in Back to Human: 

Get rid of distractions when you are working. Put away your phone, or mute your notifications. By doing this, you will be able to keep your focus and finish your work without being distracted. As a leader, you should also put your phone away whilst in a meeting with an employee. This will demonstrate that they have your complete attention during that time. If you lead by example, these practices will be easier to adopt. 

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