On humanity at work

Adam Schorr
Rule No. 1
Published in
7 min readApr 19, 2022


At Rule No. 1, we talk quite a bit about humanity at work. But frankly, we haven’t explained ourselves well enough. Too often, when we say “humanity” it’s taken to mean that people should extend basic kindness and respect to each other at work.

But we’re making a larger point. Humanity at work isn’t just about being nice to each other. Obviously we should all be nice to each other. We all learned that one in preschool — though it does seem that a few people were absent that day. No, we’re making a simpler, more obvious, and more consequential point. It’s about recognizing that we’re all human at work; that we bring all of our humanity with us to work — from the most basic human needs to the most complex human emotions.

That may sound obvious to you, but if you look closely at how work is designed, you’ll quickly see that it’s just not designed for humans. In fact, it’s almost designed to dehumanize.

When the Industrial Revolution created the modern business world, it also transformed humans into “businesspeople” — stripping them of their humanity for the sake of efficiency and profit. And we’re still living in this world — where people are “resources”, “headcount”, “assets” or “FTEs”; Where our days, weeks, and years are structured with a rigidity that is incompatible with the humans who live them; Where the way we speak to each other belies our shared humanity.

Let’s look at a few examples.

The way we communicate

  • There’s a whole lexicon of work jargon that no one would ever think of using in their personal lives. Imagine telling your spouse that you’ll “circle back” with him or her tomorrow. Or that you need to “get our ducks in a row” before breaking some bit of news to the kids. Or that you’d love to have dinner together tomorrow night, but you’ll be “out of pocket”. That’s not how we talk in our lives so why do we talk that way at work? By the way, if you do talk that way at home, the rest of us are laughing at you. Please stop.
  • The constant (and toxic) positivity that everyone feels the need to exude. “How’s it going?” in a corporate environment must be met with an automatic “great!” It’s an unwritten rule — don’t bring negativity or discomfort into the workplace. But we’re not always great. Why don’t we feel comfortable actually expressing ourselves?

The way we acknowledge the human body

  • Fully grown middle-aged men and women routinely say “I have to go to the little girl’s / boy’s room” to excuse themselves from a meeting when they need to urinate or defecate. As if everybody else doesn’t pee and shit just like them. There’s such a strange taboo around our physical needs to the point where we use humor and deflection to avoid mentioning things that every single human being experiences in the same way! This is absurd. It’s absurd for a Senior Vice President to refer to herself as a “little girl” just so she doesn’t have to reveal the top-secret information that she pees from time to time! And if someone were to reveal that, you know, they have, um, bodily functions, that revelation is often met with the protestation of “TMI!” What exactly is “TMI” protecting us from?! Do adult professionals really need their virgin ears to be protected from the revelation that their colleagues have functioning human bodies?
  • Most offices have a set workday. Whether the schedule is 9–5, 8–6, or anything else, it means that people are expected to work for 8 or more hours straight (with obvious minor breaks for bathroom and lunch). But how many people are actually able to perform consistently across 8+ hours? That’s not how our bodies work! We get tired, we get hungry, we get headaches, we burn out after too much screen time, we get distracted. And we get energized, we get inspired, we get motivated. Our energy does not run at a steady state throughout the day. So why is work designed under the assumption that 10–11am is exactly the same as 3–4pm?
  • Plenty of people frequently have back-to-back meetings all day. And it sounds funny, but when on Earth are they supposed to go to the bathroom? Of course, anyone can step out of a meeting. But that’s hardly the point. Why is work designed around the assumption that people don’t require bathroom breaks? If it’s ok for everyone to miss 5 minutes of a meeting because they have to pee, then clearly that meeting could have been made shorter. So why aren’t they?
  • How many times have you personally been in a meeting that was somewhere between 12:00 and 2:00pm? And how many times have you sat there with your stomach rumbling because you felt too uncomfortable to take out your lunch and start eating? Why do work cultures make people feel awkward or embarrassed simply for eating? Why do we so dread the possibility of having spinach stuck in our teeth during a Zoom call? It’s natural. It’s normal. What are we so hung up about? Why are we so uncomfortable acknowledging our physiological needs?
  • Women in particular struggle with their bodies in the workplace. From pregnancy through menopause there are major physical discomforts that women contend with. And they’re expected to operate just like everybody else. Let’s just take menopause as an example. Pretty much every woman will experience this. And it sucks. Women will suddenly feel like their body is on fire, they’ll turn red, start sweating profusely, and ripping off layers of clothing in a meeting. Very few women feel comfortable saying “I’m having a hot flash, not a heart attack.” Why not? By letting people know what’s going on, women can feel less isolated and ashamed. And why doesn’t every conference room have a few fans? It’s not like menopause is a surprise. [Note: This paragraph was written by two women — Ayelet Zolty and my wife, Josette. One of them is experiencing menopause.]

Acknowledging human emotion

  • Let’s talk about organizational change efforts. Most of them fail. You probably knew that already. But if you think about how these programs are designed, it seems completely obvious that they’re guaranteed to fail. Here’s how they generally happen. One or more senior executives have an idea. They think about it and discuss it over months. The idea evolves. Then 6 months or so in, they hire a consultant to help them bring it to life. Maybe a year or more after the initial idea spark, they are ready to launch it to the workforce. Cue the Town Hall video, the posters around the office, and the desk drop of a refrigerator magnet. Three months later, the leadership team is wondering why nothing changed. And here’s the one-word reason why those efforts fail: humans. They didn’t design the program for humans, they designed it for “resources”, “employees” or some such other label that was invented to dehumanize people at work. They assumed that because the change made sense to leaders that it would make sense to everyone. They forgot that the leaders had a year to think about it and come to terms with it while everyone else got 5 minutes. They didn’t consider how people would feel about the change and how long it would take them to come to grips with it. They didn’t consider how humans learn, what makes us act, how habits are formed… They more or less assumed that all they had to do was tell people what to do (but with pretty posters) and it would be done. Any parent of a 2 year or older child knows how silly this assumption is. So why at work do we ignore what we’ve learned outside of work about dealing with humans?
  • Crying. Crying is something we all do from time to time. When we’re sad, frustrated, angry, overtired, stressed — emotions which are a part of life, and a part of work. But there’s no crying at work. It’s not “professional”. Why not? Why would we want “professional” to mean that we have to mask many of our natural emotions? By the way, this particular point should not be construed in any way as a license to cry if you work in the baseball industry. Hopefully we all know that is unacceptable.
  • Everybody has moments in their lives that are important to them outside of work. For many people, that’s their family. And often, work gets in the way of important family moments. What if people were encouraged to celebrate important personal moments — maybe anniversaries and birthdays should be days off, or half-days off. Yes, people can use vacation time. But that’s beside the point. Why do we treat people’s personal joys as secondary to the work they could certainly push off for a day? Why don’t we design the work calendar around the assumption that people have these milestones and that part of being human is to celebrate them?

Hopefully, this gives you a much clearer sense of what we mean when we advocate for more human workplaces and cultures. Yes, of course we want kindness, compassion, and respect everywhere. But it goes way beyond that. We’re fighting for workplaces that recognize and embrace the fullest sense of our humanity because when we stifle parts of our humanity it comes at a cost — to each of us and to all of us.

Note: This article was co-written by Ayelet Zolty.



Adam Schorr
Rule No. 1

Passionately in search of people who are themselves