Here’s one thing all of us agree on about the future of work: It would be great if it didn’t involve mean people. But, sadly, mean people aren’t going away, so what can we do about them to make both our work lives and our personal lives better?

It’s a question all of us have grappled with, and finally there’s an answer. This week on #WorkTrends we speak with Michael Brenner, author of “Mean People Suck: How Empathy Leads to Bigger Profits and a Better Life.” He joined us to explain how empathy is the tool we can use to create the environments we can thrive in.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

The Importance of Empathy

Brenner says he decided to write “Mean People Suck” after realizing he hadn’t been happy in most of his jobs, and that happiness seems to be in short supply for many people these days. “There is a crisis of empathy and engagement in the world,” he says. “We see it in our politics and our media.”

Brenner’s answer? Empathy. “When I highlighted people in the book that were successful, they had a purpose that was bigger than what they wanted. They were in service of others, and they had true empathy,” he says. Often these successful business leaders were inspired by poor experiences with bad bosses and had asked themselves, “If I were serving customers in a better way, what would it be?”

What Organizations Can Do to Make Work Better

Brenner singles out the org chart as the key to improvement for organizations. But that’s not as simple as waving a magic wand. So what can organizations do to make things better?

In his book, Brenner offers up what he describes as “a new model, at least from a mindset perspective.” It’s called “the bullseye,” and it addresses what Brenner sees as the fundamental issue surrounding the org charts: “They never reflect the most important person in the organization. And who’s that? The customer,” he says.

Brenner proposes that organizations put the customer at the center of everything they do. Every time an organization takes an action, its employees need to be thinking about how it will help the customer.

What We Can Do to Improve Work

We can’t just depend on our employers to make work better for us; we also have to take action as individuals to make the workplace better, Brenner says.

Key to this is accountability. He notes that in the world of marketing, 60%-70% of the content created by organizations goes unused. “The reason that happens is because we have too many of us that are saying yes,” Brenner says. “Your job is not to say yes to your boss. Your job is to challenge the things that you’re asked to do.”

To demand greater accountability, Brenner provides three questions every employee should be asking of their boss to help drive productivity and — more importantly — make work better:

  • Why does this request really matter?
  • What’s the ultimate goal?
  • How is it going to be measured?

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

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