Hiring the Whole Human: Why Leaving Personal Lives at the Door Is Unrealistic

The old business saying goes, “You should leave your personal life at the door.” In any company that values its people, however, that suggestion is ridiculous. Business is personal. After all, what is more personal than the work you commit yourself to every day? 

As a business leader, you should want your employees to take a personal stake in your company—but in return, you also need to be prepared to embrace the whole person who comes to your office. 

Let’s break down what it means to hire “the whole human” and examine why taking a humanistic approach to business can strengthen your company’s culture and performance. 

Respect the Whole Human. Consider how your company acknowledges—or ignores—that a whole human shows up to the office. Do you treat your employees like complex, emotional individuals, or like automatons?

Realistically, no business can hire only a tiny part of an individual capable of executing commands in isolation. It’s not possible for people to truly leave their personal lives at the door. Therefore, great culture welcomes the whole human.

For example, it doesn’t pretend that a man grieving his father’s death can show up at the office days later and deliver his best work. Of course he can’t. Part of him is lost in suffering.

As leaders, it’s our responsibility to make employees feel safe enough to acknowledge every part of themselves in the workplace. This is particularly difficult for some people, especially high-achieving professionals who are taught to be tough. Nobody wants to say to their supervisor, “I can’t concentrate right now. I’m struggling.”

People tend to be afraid to admit they don’t know something they should’ve learned long ago. People are afraid to raise their hand and ask for help. They don’t want to look stupid or weak or incapable. They worry they’ll get canned if their boss thinks they can’t do their job. To respect the whole human, you need to assuage your employees’ fears and make them feel safe. 

A Humanistic Culture Benefits Your Business. Not only do your employees thrive when you respect the whole human working for you, but your business performs better as well. When half the brain is battling concerns about needing to skip work or worrying about a loved one, the whole brain cannot focus on the real work of serving clients. 

In a strong and safe culture, however, a person is not afraid to say, “I’m having a really hard time at home.” They trust their supervisor will invite them in and offer support. Then, their struggle is not hidden in shame and secrecy, compounding their suffering, but addressed openly so solutions can be found and progress made.

Your employees may need to occasionally take extra time off, but they will reward your business with more loyalty. They’ll rally around each other and pick up the slack when one of their colleagues is struggling. As a whole, your business’s needs will be better covered when every employee is willing to put in extra effort when necessary and isn’t worrying about being hung out to dry. 

Rally Around Your Employees. Supporting the whole human means more than sending employees home when they’re struggling. Instead, you need to rally around them. For example, when an employee of mine went through a divorce, I suggested she stay in the office. Most businesses would begrudgingly tell her to take a few days off, but that’s the worst thing you can do. 

People in distress don’t need to be isolated; they need to be surrounded by those who support and care for them. Instead of sending them home, offer to handle their meetings and tell them to plow through the mindless work. Let them find distraction in the mundane aspects that every job has. Take them for lunch. Shoulder some of their workload. Just don’t let them be alone.

You may think you shouldn’t have to get together with your employees and help them work through divorces, grief, or heartache. And sure, in an ideal world, people would be able to deliver their best every day, regardless of their life circumstances.

We know that’s not realistic, though. 

Provide a Safe Environment for Your Team. Nobody can cordon off the emotional parts of themselves and function on pure logic—that’s why we have robots. The reality of business is that if you hire people, you have to hire the whole person, feelings and all. 

Every one of us experiences breakups, family drama, frantic schedules, arguments, excitement, life, loss, and love, and it is actually a strength for your business to acknowledge that, not a weakness. If you want loyalty and the best performance from your employees, support them for who they are and make them feel safe to show up whole.

Eric Farber is the author of the bestselling book, The Case for Culture, How to Stop Being a Slave to Your Law Firm, Grow Your Practice and Be Happy. Eric is on a mission to change how law firms operate by showing lawyers the value of putting culture first. During his twenty-five years as a lawyer, Eric has lived the transformation from scarcity to abundance that becomes possible when you shift your perspective and prioritize people. As the CEO and chief legal officer of Pacific Workers’ Compensation Law Center, Eric’s focus on culture helped him build a seven-figure firm that’s gone from four people to fifty in just over five years, been an Inc. 5000 company twice, was named to the Bay Area 100 list of fastest-growing companies, and spent two consecutive years in the top fifty of Law Firm 500.

The Case for Culture was named by Forbes Magazine as a Top 8 Book to “Reconsider How You Manage Relationships“.

You can find your copy of the Case for Culture at Amazon, in hardback, paperback or Kindle.

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