Where Can We Go To Belong? #WorkHuman

Something intriguing resurfaced when we entered the 21st Century. Fueled by movements like social entrepreneurship, conscious business, mindfulness at work and positive psychology, we began to re-examine the tug of war between commerce and cause, purpose and profit, bottom line and life line, machine and man. These opposing forces can be difficult to reconcile, but something inside us now has an ever-growing yearning to try. And the annual WorkHuman conference, now in its third year, offers us a place to build those bridges toward more humanity at work.

What began in 2015 as a gathering largely for Human Resources (HR) professionals, WorkHuman has since expanded to include any leader on a quest for values-based profit and any organization that provides inspiration, technology and services to support that quest.

Like a dazzling Moroccan mosaic or an Appalachian coat of many colors, companies are realizing that people and the work they do are no longer content to be jammed into a limiting set of industry-standard best practices, or one set way of being, doing, innovating and growing. Being human is inherently, and gorgeously, messy. If we want to be more human at work, then we have to appreciate the glorious mess that breeds breakthrough and market-shifting ideas.

The swirl of humanity-honoring conversations and experiments now include cognitive computing, mindfulness and compassion, data-driven rewards and recognition, quietly powerful leadership, research on happiness and stories of originality.

It’s a heady mix. And next week’s WorkHuman 2017 (May 30th to Jun 1st) promises to explore them all.

The language of commerce, and the poetry of work.

In setting the goal of our society at the realization of human dignity, we reach for the highest of stars and seek the outer limits of human capability. In this, now as always the new world for the spirit, the labor of free men is both the reward and the way.

John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States, 1961 Labor Day speech

On the cusp of what would have been his 100th birthday, I write President Kennedy’s words with more faith in their wisdom.

Sometimes we get too mired in the long-handed prose of commerce – predictive models, data analytics, strategic planning, outthinking the competition, profit maximization etc. Each year, our business vocabulary becomes more nuanced, more technical, often more abstract. Each quarter, the pressure to meet financial performance benchmarks in an age of disruption continues to mount.

And yet, this countervailing drumbeat for humanity, purpose and compassion at work is now unrelenting. Which is why we now also need to embrace the poetry of that work, to explore the more amorphous aspects of what makes us get out of bed each day, ready, willing and inspired to do our work.

As I wrote in 2015, the inaugural WorkHuman conference celebrated the poetry of work with thoughtfully-placed moments of down time to network or recharge. WorkHuman 2016 invoked poetry with its 3 tracks of ever-increasing impact – WorkHuman for You, for Your Company and for The World. This year, WorkHuman 2017 is shaping up to include as many voices and humanity-at-work threads as possible.

The enduring power and magic of ideas.

The thing about dreams is – they cost absolutely nothing, and yet they remain the world’s most powerful fuel for inspiration, achievement and change.

Rob Lowe, Keynote speech at WorkHuman 2015

If the WorkHuman conference were Aladdin’s Lamp, then the WorkHuman team have been the caretakers of that lamp, filling it up each year with speakers and ideas that spark achievement and change for its attendees. And if the record number of WorkHuman 2017 speakers is any gauge, it’s clear there’s tremendous game-changing fuel for attendees who show up with a wish in their heart or a fire in their soul.

As an attendee, as someone who has covered the event since its inception, and as a human sponge for knowledge, I admit to feeling some heavy-duty FOMO (fear of missing out) this year. We’ll all get to share the moment in keynote sessions, but the 5 parallel conference tracks (up from 3 last year) are giving me pause. Where to go? What to do? Who to learn from?

Then I turn to my experiences from 2015 and 2016. Both events were memorable, and each was a reflection of what I needed to learn at the time. So I take comfort in knowing that I will ingest what I need to, when I need to, and with the people I’m meant to.

The truth that we belong. That we all belong.

It’s been a dizzying and topsy-turvy 12 months for the Western world. Leaders take strong positions one day, then abandon them the next in order to stay popular, stay in power, or both. It’s getting harder to know where any leader stands, and that ambivalence is showing up in voting booths. The anger of unheard and unrepresented voices is undeniable, and the frustration of not being able to even put in an honest day’s work is real.

In the USA, for instance, doing the right thing as a leader now makes you remarkable, a beautiful unicorn in a field of ugly divisions.

Much has been said and written about the divide between urban and rural populations, between the elite establishment and “the people” who aren’t enjoying the spoils of globalization-fueled wealth. I traverse both worlds – East and West, urban and rural, analog and digital. There are important stories to be told and vital problems to be solved all around, and it’s something I cover in this Lead for the World magazine.

If I could wave a magic wand and invite all the angry people to a conference for and by said elites, I would likely choose WorkHuman. In a sea of fear-based (eat or be eaten), profit-at-all-cost business conferences, I would point them to how WorkHuman seeks to walk its talk with a quiet strength, how it endeavors to uphold the common good with speakers who champion our common quest to be appreciated for an honest day’s work.

And as a brand-building enterprise, I’ve seen WorkHuman be both clever and compassionate, rule-breaking and relevant. Nowhere was this more striking than in one of its ads for WorkHuman 2017.

WorkHuman has grown significantly since 2015, and so have I. That year, we both took bold and hopeful steps into the complex and vital intersection between profit and peace. I’ve gone from being a passive attendee to an active advocate and mentor for peaceful leadership. I’ve now embraced my own poetry of work. It’s a calling that gets me out of bed each day -ready, willing and inspired.

And I know I have the WorkHuman experience to look forward to each year. It’s a time for the fire in my soul to be refueled from their Aladdin’s Lamp of ideas.

Through their speakers and conference content, WorkHuman seeks to build a unifying oasis in a desert of division. They’re challenging the stereotype that elites only want to exploit and plunder. And they’re building a movement to stir the human soul into honoring and appreciating the work we all do.

When all’s said and done, this is how we begin to build those thoughtful bridges between commerce and cause, purpose and profit, bottom line and life line, machine and man. The promise of the ad above is a promise we yearn for and know, but often dare not speak.

We hope to belong to something deeper and bigger than our minds can hold.
We hope to belong to the work we’re here to do.
We hope to belong to our causes, our communities and our countries.

And yes, we hope to belong to each other.

[Disclosure: Globoforce, host and sponsor of the WorkHuman conference, grants me a free pass to attend and cover the event as an influencer. Unless otherwise sourced or quoted, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are my own.]


I’ll be sharing highlights from each day of WorkHuman 2017 on HuffPost, and longer reflections about the conference here on LeadfortheWorld.com. I hope you’ll join me on this journey as it unfolds.
Want to lend your voice to something you care about, but don’t know how best to harness that desire? Join my free 5-day writing experience “Write with Inner Power” and learn how to craft your impact and express your truth.

About the author

Maya Mathias

Maya Mathias is a global leadership veteran, with a life and career spanning 3 continents and 5 inspired self-reinventions. She is a peaceful leadership advocate and mentor, bringing her unique blend of East & West to her leadership development and innovation management practice. Maya’s life began with a lower-middle class upbringing in Asia, surrounded by poultry & vegetable farms and the ‘simple life’. She doesn’t forget her humble roots, and her body of work seeks to bring more equality, justice and personal purpose in troubling times. Learn more about Maya here.

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