14 Ways to Add More Humanity to Your Workplace

May 15, 2024

Today’s workforce takes work-life balance very seriously. So much so that a recent survey by Owl Labs found that 25% of workers would be willing to sacrifice 15% of their annual salary for flexible working hours.

Employees today are also more open about their out-of-office lives – a change that was accelerated by the pandemic. We block off our calendars for school pick up. We take half-days to bring our loved ones to doctors’ appointments. We are up front about our need for support at work, whether that looks like an ergonomic chair or a quiet place, free of distractions.

As we grow more open about our lives at work, there’s a growing demand for employers to be more accepting of the overlap between the personal and the professional. In many workplaces, this demand is satisfied. According to AbsenceSoft’s 2023 Accommodations in the Workplace Report, 71% of respondents felt comfortable or very comfortable requesting an accommodation at their organization. And according to another survey, 85% feel comfortable requesting and taking a leave of absence.

The talent market was historically tight in 2021 and 2022. As older generations retire, it will likely remain so in the next few years. As you plan to recruit and retain top talent, it’s essential you support workers’ demand for humanity in the workplace.

From making leave easy and accelerating the accommodations process to advocating for employee mental health and celebrating workers’ achievements, the possibilities are truly endless. Here are 14 ways to get started.

1. Prioritize employees’ work-life balance

More than 40% of the workforce reports feeling the effects of burnout, according to a survey by the Future Forum. Employees who were unhappy with their access to flexibility at work were 43% more likely to say they felt burned out, compared to those who said they were satisfied with their access to flexibility.

The bottom line? Employers need to prioritize flexibility and work-life balance to prevent stress and burnout. By providing leave, accommodations, and time off, organizations can support workers who are already feeling the effects.

2. Don’t be afraid to make accommodations

Work can be uncomfortable. It can be stressful. It can be exhausting. Accommodations can change that. 

Accommodations can vastly improve someone’s experience at work. A cashier with a back injury may find relief in a stool. A customer service representative with ADHD may benefit from a quiet space. A software engineer with anxiety may feel reassured by his emotional support dog. 

Accommodations are often cheap and easier to implement than many realize. According to the Job Accommodation Network, 59% of employers said accommodations cost them absolutely nothing. Even so, accommodations are often priceless to the workers using them, as they make the workplace more comfortable and less draining. 

3. Invest in self-service technology

When employees face a health problem, a difficult family situation or a financial issue, they want privacy. But they also want solutions.

Self-service technology provides both. Leave and accommodations platforms with employee self-service tools allow employees to request what they need, when they need it, on whatever device they want, at any time of day.

Consider an employee who’s in the early stages of pregnancy. She may not want to disclose her news to her manager yet. But she may also need an accommodation to help her manage her morning sickness. Self-service technology would allow her to request an accommodation with discretion.

4. Improve your paid leave benefits and your leave processes

One of the best ways to bolster humanity in the workplace is to add benefits that support employees in whatever challenges they’re facing. Paid leave programs can aid employees who are entering parenthood, grieving a loved one, healing from surgery, fighting an illness, or embarking on a grand adventure. 

Many companies have been offering new and innovative leave programs. Restaurant management software Toast, for instance, rolled out a paid sabbatical program. And SevenRooms, a guest experience platform, offers new employees their first two weeks on the job as paid time off. 

Companies position leave programs like these as benefits, and it’s not hard to see why. When leave is generous and implemented smoothly, it’s more than a perk. It’s a path to business success that shores up employee engagement, bolsters company culture, and boosts retention. 

In a recent AbsenceSoft report, one survey respondent emphasized how returning from leave refreshed their sense of belonging. “When I got back to work from my leave, my teammates and manager welcomed me back right away. This made me feel really good, to be back as part of a team.” 

Of course, a bad leave experience can have the opposite effect. In the same survey, another respondent revealed his frustration after his leave was interrupted. “It felt unfair that the pressure was on me to continue to return before my leave was officially over. I should not have been contacted as often as I was (or at all), while I was out.” 

5. Advocate for employee mental health 

Employees need help with their mental health. Mental health was the No. 1 reason cited for both leaves and accommodations in 2024, according to an AbsenceSoft survey.

Employers can assist employees with depression and anxiety — which are almost always considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act — by allowing for intermittent leave. That way, when employees need a mental health day to rest and recover, they’ll feel free to take it.

On top of these provisions, employers should make sure leave teams and employee assistance teams meet regularly to provide the best options for their employees.

6. Proactively include all gender identities

It doesn’t take much effort to include all gender identities in the workplace. But it will mean a lot to your employees. These small moments of inclusion may resonate with younger workers especially, as Gen Z individuals are 20 times more likely to identify as transgender than boomers.

Employers can add pronoun options and name pronunciation functions in their communication platforms. Slack, for instance, offers users the chance to share this information on their profiles. 

Beyond that, employers can train leaders and higher levels to be more mindful and inclusive with their language. When a group of people are addressed as “team members” instead of “ladies and gentleman,” for instance, everyone feels included.

7. Improve your return-to-work processes

Many companies are providing leave not just as a means of compliance but as a talent attraction and retention tool to boost business success. It’s a smart strategy, as employees strongly value their access to leave. As companies implement such programs, however, they need to remember that leave isn’t just about time off. How employees are treated before, during, and after their leave counts. 

That’s why employers should improve their return-to-work processes, especially as they seek to boost humanity in the workplace overall. A clunky return after leave may feature delays in getting buildings and systems access, an underprepared manager, and discontinued or limited benefits and pay. When the process is free of these missteps and smooth overall, people see that their teams and leaders were ready for their return and feel valued. 

8. Create intentional cross-functional experiences

Feelings of isolation can perpetuate employees’ symptoms of burnout and stress. Employers can prevent and reduce isolation by creating cross-functional experiences that unite employees across the organization. 

A remote buddy program is particularly effective at dispersed or hybrid organizations. When a new employee arrives, her remote buddy can help her feel at ease from day one. Coffee date programs work better at in-person organizations, where team members are incentivized to invite colleagues they don’t know well out for a latte. 

Similarly, mentorship programs lay the groundwork for internal mobility. When less experienced workers are paired with their more seasoned counterparts, the former may learn how to sharpen their skills or decide to try for a promotion.

9. Take good care of your pregnant employees

For many years, U.S. law didn’t require employers to accommodate pregnant employees outright. But that changed with the passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). Employers now must accommodate expecting workers during their pregnancies — and in their postpartum period, as well.

While this law is relatively new, it’s always been a good idea to treat pregnant workers, and any workers facing physical or mental challenges, with respect by readily accommodating their needs. Employees stay in their positions when employers provide support of this nature.

In addition to the PWFA, employers should note familiarize themselves with The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, or the PUMP Act, for short. As an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act, this legislation expanded mandated pumping breaks to exempt employees (those who are not entitled to minimum wage and overtime protections and are typically paid on a salary basis). 

10. Cultivate a sense of community through volunteering

Many employers partner with nonprofits or charity organizations to facilitate volunteering in their workforce. Teams may leave their desks for a day to work a food kitchen. Or a group of employees may organize a toy drive during the holidays. 

Some employers are opting to enable employees to volunteer on a more personal basis with volunteer leave. This type of leave allows employees to take a day off — often with pay — to volunteer for a cause that’s personal to them. Whether they’re planting trees or tutoring kids in math, it’s time well spent. 

11. Make your meetings more inclusive and human-centered

No one enjoys a meeting that should have been an email. Make meetings more useful, informative, and fun by implementing practices that create inclusive and human-centered gatherings. Set clear objectives. Appoint a facilitator. Provide multiple ways to contribute. Make way for psychological safety. And stay true to the scheduled end time.

The future of work is hybrid for most organizations, which means technology is an important consideration. Use platforms that facilitate remote participation and foster accessibility through captions and other features. To improve the meeting’s dynamic, encourage participants to keep their cameras on. 

12. Offer benefits that actually matter to employees

Benefits matter. According to a recent Forbes Advisor survey, 40% of employers say they believe workers leave their current jobs for better benefits. But what are the benefits that catch workers’ attention?

According to Forbes, the top benefits are: employer-covered healthcare, life insurance, retirement plans, mandatory paid time off, and mental health assistance. AbsenceSoft data confirms these findings. In a recent survey, we found that 42% of job-seekers wouldn’t apply for a job that doesn’t offer paid leave.

Paid leave, of course, is more of an umbrella than a single benefit. The top three requested paid leave benefits, according to a recent AbsenceSoft report, are flexible time off, mental health days, and parental leave.

13. Hold better one-on-ones

One-on-one meetings shouldn’t feel like a box to check off. Each should celebrate an employee’s recent accomplishments, evaluate her current progress, and tee her up for future success. But that’s a tall order for busy managers. 

Managers can make meetings more manageable — and more successful — with a few simple practices, wrote one leadership scholar in Harvard Business Review. First, they should focus on setting up their meeting cadence with their team members. By standardizing how frequently and how long they meet, managers don’t leave anyone feeling singled out.  

Next, they should tailor the meeting locations, style, and tone to the needs and preferences of each team member. In general, though, these meetings should feature more listening than talking, on the managers’ part.

Managers should also know how to handle any leave or accommodation requests they might hear during their one-on-one meetings. In our recent surveys, we found that 50% of employees went directly to their managers to request both leave and workplace accommodations. It’s important that managers fully understand the company’s policies and processes, so they don’t dismiss requests or fail to provide the right information.

14. Recognize and celebrate employee achievements

Employee recognition plays a huge part in workplace culture. Some organizations create recognition programs that offer employees tangible rewards, from gift cards to extra time off. But recognition doesn’t have to be costly or complicated to be meaningful. Employers can use simple measures to make their team members feel valued, like a shout-out channel on Slack or Teams where managers can highlight accomplishments big and small. Organizations should be sure to include employees without highly visible roles in their praise to make those workers feel valued, too. 

Want to learn more about adding humanity to the workplace? Read more about workplace culture on our blog. And schedule a demo to see how AbsenceSoft can help you bring more humanity to your leave and accommodations experience.