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People will be studying the global pandemic’s effects on the workplace for decades to come. The trends it accelerated. The inequality it exposed. The countless challenges and opportunities it created. However, there is one thing that is already perfectly clear, and business leaders in every industry across the country should be acting on it today.

We are still in the very beginnings of the most significant shift in the American workforce since the invention of the 40-hour workweek, and nobody knows for sure how it’s going to play out. Let’s just be sure we’re asking the right questions. How does humanity show up in my workplace? What can I do to foster its success?

They’re humans, not resources. At the start of the pandemic, the first big shift was companies were forced to come to a simple realization of “oh my goodness, we’ve got people that work here.” Job descriptions, titles, and time cards were replaced by actual human beings, complete with their actual human struggles in the workplace and the world at large. As leaders, we realized this was an opportunity to empathize and start doing better by the very people right in front of us. So we got flexible with where, when, and how people worked. And we discovered that when given that freedom, people didn’t flounder. They flourished. We created a better environment for actual people to thrive and saw an increase in performance and satisfaction. You can devise your own social responsibility strategies. But start by deeply engaging with the people closest to you, and you’ll see an immediate, positive impact on the surrounding communities.

Those balance sheets are biased. How often have you heard the phrase, “Our people are our greatest asset.” Maybe it’s the accountant in me, but I always laugh and wonder why our balance sheets rarely look at it that way. It’s common practice in corporate America to see employees as expenditures, making them literally expendable. They are seen as expenses and liabilities. Sure, we’re using very specific accounting terminology, but it truly affects how we treat people. Assets have value. Assets are worth investing in. Assets are unique. Imagine the power of treating every person at the company as an asset. The pandemic has given us the opportunity to put our money where our mouth is. Ditch the onesize-fits-all solution and create customized employee growth plans. Show your people you understand their individual value and that you’re willing to invest in helping them grow. Then, watch your increased satisfaction and retention numbers more than cover the cost.

There is no “like” without “love.” The most important shift accelerated by the pandemic is transforming the very definition of the word “work” itself. Think about it. The word connotes a degree of difficulty, struggle, and hardness. “It was a lot of WORK.” Nobody wants that. As humans, it is in our nature to seek joy. This is a conflict that society has been dealing with for decades. The future relies on our ability to let joy lead the way. We now have the responsibility to create space for those moments of joy to exist within the workplace. We have proven that work is about more than compensation. It’s about contribution, connection, and community. These are the things people genuinely love about their jobs. It’s essential that we help them uncover that joy and include it in the value equation. As the poet Kahlil Gibran puts it, “Work is love made visible.”

We are on the verge of a future that isn’t going to look anything like the past. We don’t even know what’s possible yet because we haven’t seen anything like it before. But when we do–watch out world! There’s no going back. Until then, let this be our guiding principle moving forward: doing good is creating a better human experience from wherever you are.

Dorri McWhorter is a highly-experienced accountant, socially-conscious business leader, and an accomplished optimist. She is President and CEO of YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago where she brings her innovative brand of thinking to reimagine how the 164-year-old brand can build on its legacy of impact. “Value creation and social impact are not mutually exclusive” is the mantra driving her to reinvent how the YMCA advances society through its unique position of creating value and accelerating social impact for the 22nd century.

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