By Justin Kerr


What does it mean to treat your employees and co-workers as human beings? Does it change how you treat them? Does it change how you motivate them? MR CORPO dives into the world of being human in the workplace. Mauri Skinfill joins the podcast (again) to challenge MR CORPO's assumptions and argues that it may be detrimental for women to share too much personal information in the workplace.



Humans versus Employees


FEMALE: In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream. By night we ride through mansions of glory on suicide machines.


(Intro music)


JUSTIN: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Mr. Corpo podcast. For those of you that are interested, that was Mauri Skinfill leading us into today's episode with Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run. Today's episode is a very special episode. The title of today's episode is "Humans versus Employees".


And as is one of my shortcomings in life, I'm going to start the conversation by talking about myself. I realized this morning that we have been doing this podcast for almost six months, more than 26 episodes, we've had together. And I still haven't properly introduced myself. My name is Justin Kerr. I graduated from Princeton University. My first job out of college was working at Gap, Inc. I joined this fantastic training program where you got to spend three months in different jobs and rotate around and figure out what you actually liked. Eventually, I ended up spending 11 years at Gap and Old Navy. It was a great place to grow up. I ended my career there as a vice president of the kids division, running a billion-dollar business before the age of 30.


But, you know, I'd been 11 years at one place, so I took a jump. I wanted to go somewhere international. I went over and worked at Levi's, where I was in charge of every single pair of womens jeans sold anywhere in the world. It was something like 10,000 points of distribution around the world. It was an incredible experience, a great way to see the world. I spent time in India, in China, in Paris, all over, getting to know people and understand: what does fashion mean across different cultures? It was really interesting.


But at that point in my life, you know, as everyone in San Francisco does when you're young and semi-smart, you think you're supposed to start your own startup company, and do a tech company, and make billions of dollars. And that's the only way to go. So I jumped outside of Levi's, I started a company called Black Sheep Postal Service. I'm sure none of you have ever heard of it. Um, I was there, and I learned that everything that had made me successful in corporate America for 13 years counted for nothing when you stepped outside that box, and you started your own company. And you've heard me talk about this before on the podcast. Laying on the couch, crying, wondering, "What have I done with my life? What am I doing with my life? I'm so lonely!"


And so as it happens, I very quickly ran back into the warm embrace of corporate America. In this case, going to work for a company called Uniqlo, which moved me to London, which moved me to San Francisco, which moved me ultimately to New York City. And I've had a great adventure with them.


And that brings you up to today. And me sitting here on today's podcast, talking to you about me. You know everything there is to know, right? I've told you about my career, you know everything. Although, there is one small thing I'd like to point out. I actually haven't told you a single thing about myself. I've read you my resume. But you actually don't know anything about me. And this is the problem. All too often, -- actually, always -- bosses, co-workers, companies, are satisfied to trade in this superficial exchange of niceties without actually trying to get to know me beyond my resume.


In fact, the question you should ask, the things I want you to know about me, are as follows: I love living in big cities. I love collecting art. I've written 14 books. I've started a record label. I was in a rock band called The Blacks. At the age of 29, I was a vice president of a $1 billion company and somehow I figured out how to get 30 days off work so I could tour around the country with the rock band. I've ridden my bike across the country. I keep 50,000 bees on my roof. I wrote a book about beekeeping that was sold in Williams Sonoma at a loss. I mean, what a bad business person! Oh, and did I mention I'm somewhat scared of the dark? And secretly, deep down, deep, deep down, I think I'm an artist. But I'm just afraid to admit it. I'm afraid to admit it to myself, my friends, my family. So I've been hiding out in corporate America for the last 17 years, doing something that I happen to be good at, but I actually don't really care about.


Ah. That's better. Now, do you feel like you know something about me? And if you were my co-worker, or if you were my boss, wouldn't knowing all that stuff about me -- wouldn't that stuff beyond my resume, the real stuff, 05:07 wouldn't that change every single interaction we have? Wouldn't that help you figure out how to motivate me? How to keep me interested? Wouldn't that help you know how to give me feedback in a way that will resonate with me? The answer is, obviously yes. It changes everything. Knowing the other workers around you on a human level changes everything.


So if the benefits are so obvious, why don't we all make the effort to do it, to get to know the people we spend 8-10 hours a day with, five days a week? You see, a strange thing happens on the way to work every day. We stop being human. We walk through the front door of the office and we're magically transformed from awesome, fun-loving, sports-loving husband, father, friend, into an employee, a vice president, a boss, a director, a visual merchandiser, a janitor, a manager. We stop being human. We treat it -- we treat each other as cogs in the wheel. We trade corpo white noise, greetings in the hallway. "Hey, how's it going?" Never actually stopping to listen to the answer. It's transactional, it's mechanical. It's inhuman. My point is simple: we are human beings. We are all in this together. So take the time to get to know the people around you.


There's a lot more I want to say on this topic. And in fact, the very idea of being human is at the base of my new book, How To Be A Boss. You'll be hearing more about this in the weeks and the months to come. But I wanted to leave you with a thought from my first book, How To Write An Email. In the afterward of that book, after I've talked about how to be successful at your job, talking about how to get promoted, how to send emails, how to give presentations, what I point out is: nobody's going to write the results of last quarter on your tombstone. Nobody remembers what business results you drove. What you do remember is the people you worked with.


In fact, I was just at a wedding, and there were people that I worked with 15 years ago at that wedding. And we were still friends. And half the people in the room I could look at and say, "Wow, it was really fun spending time together with you then, and it is now." And half the people in the room I could look at and say, "Wow, I really never got to know you." And here we are, 10 years later, 15 years later, and there's still a space between us, even though there shouldn't be.


And sure, there were one or two people at that wedding, guess what? I really didn't like them, they really didn't like me, and we just went on our merry way. But I wish, if I had paid more attention early on, I could have moved the percentage of that room into 80 or 90 percent, I've got a relationship with you, I understand you, we actually hug when we see each other. But instead it was only 50 percent, and that was somewhat disappointing for me. But it was a good reflection upon maybe some mistakes I made earlier in my career, and things I would do differently now.


So I leave you with that. Let's treat each other as human beings. Let's get to know each other. And it's gonna help everyone in the work they do.


But wait. There is something more. Bonus section! Bonus section! Bonus section! Bonus section! Come on, Mauri! Bonus section!


Hello, Mauri. Welcome back to the Mr. Corpo podcast.


MAURI: We're back together.


JUSTIN: Now, I don't want to fill your head, but I'm gonna tell you, of all the podcasts we've done -- we've done 26, 27 podcasts -- you are everyone's favorite guest.


MAURI: You know, I've heard the same thing.


JUSTIN: Oh really?


MAURI: Independently from people. So...


JUSTIN: Well dang, that makes me feel a little bit lonely.


MAURI: Yeah, it's not just spin. It's corraborated.


JUSTIN: People don't really love the podcast, but they love when you're on the podcast. So...


MAURI: Fantastic. Well, here I am!


JUSTIN: Well, here you are. So, you heard us, we were talking about humans versus employees, and this idea of getting to know the other people you work with, on a human level, so that you can better relate to them, work with them better, all of those things. I guess my first question is: do you agree?


MAURI: Um, yes and no. I mean, I -- I think that -- so, a couple things. I think, one, the piece that's sort of missing for me is, why is it valuable to -- I mean, obviously there's a reason why you should always treat people as humans, right? But what's the specific value in the workplace? You didn't -- you didn't cover that. So I'd like to hear more about that.


JUSTIN: Well, I think -- I mean, you've just said two things. One, I don't think it's obvious to everyone that there's benefits to treating each other as human beings. That's why we treat each other as employee and boss, and that's my point.


MAURI: Right.


JUSTIN: Employee versus vice president. Vice president treats a janitor a certain way because of the titles and the hierarchy versus just -- this is another human being who happens to work in the same place I'm working at, who has the same mission or the same goals, and happens to just have a different job or a different skill set. 10:10 And so I don't think we -- we start the conversation of work through that filter, of human being to human being. So I'm actually just trying to highlight that fact --


MAURI: Yeah.


JUSTIN: -- and I think the benefits are self-evident. So I didn't want to go into them all. In terms of, you know, I guess I mentioned some of them. The idea of, if you're the boss of me, don't you want to know what's gonna motivate me? Don't you want to know what I respond well to, what I'm sensitive about, what are the -- what are the sore spots for me? What would make me run through a wall for you? And you can't find that out just by hearing where I've worked in the past. Or, what results I drove last quarter. You really have to get to know me as a person. So I guess, does that answer your question?


MAURI: Yeah. It -- and -- absolutely. I mean, I think there's a couple pieces to this, right? So one is just the human decency element of it, which is: be, uh, you know, be decent to the people that you engage with every day. Whatever their function is. Whether they're making you coffee at the coffee shop in the morning or whether they're actually peers. You know, they're colleagues, or they report to you, you report to them. That seems like a good policy, generally. Um, I could see how also in terms of organizational behavior, there'd be a lot of benefits to treating people as humans, as opposed to just treating them as functions.


Me personally, I can also see not a downside exactly, but I don't think it's necessarily the case across the board that it's good to bring your personal life into work.


JUSTIN: Okay, interesting. So you're kinda challenging this idea of: get to know other people on the human level, or let other people get to know about what's important to you. You don't think that's always a good idea in the workplace?


MAURI: Um, I don't.


JUSTIN: Okay, why not?


MAURI: Because, well, so let me also say that I think that it's quite specifically a gendered thing.




MAURI: So I think that there are -- you're assuming that if people see the human side of you that there will somehow naturally be respect for that. And I don't think that's always the case. I think it's the nature of -- especially in big organizations, to jockey for position and -- and then I think when you add certain kinds of gender bias into that, I think there's power for women in being more opaque at work. I don't think you need to be seen as, you know, a mother or a wife or a partner or a whatever. I don't know that that always works to your advantage. I think it's useful as a boss to be sensitive to the fact that people have personal lives, but from where I sit it's also none of your business.


JUSTIN: Interesting. So, I mean, you're actually kinda catching me off guard here. I guess it's far off my radar. But why is that a gender issue and not just a general issue, to say you're kind of arguing for people not sharing about their personal lives? What makes it a gender issue? Or, can you give me an example to make that more real for me?


MAURI: Well, I mean, I think it's well-documented that -- that there's a -- there's gender bias in the workplace and that there are certain assumptions about, you know, what the purview of men is versus the purview of women. This isn't the case everywhere, but you know, we've been looking in like the Uber fiasco, recently, for example, the way women engineers are treated in that culture. So that's an example of, the less somebody knows about you personally and the more they see you simply as an engineer, the better.


JUSTIN: But is it better? Because that was leading to an interaction where they were just treating you not as a human being, but just as someone there for -- in their own service, versus if they knew you as, hey, you care about this, and I care about that, so now we have a human connection. Maybe I'll treat you in a different way than I do if it just says across your forehead, "Employee." Or, "engineer" or just other things. So you get in this kind of behavior of, you're not even interacting as two human beings.


MAURI: Yeah, I suppose so. I mean, if I'm an engineer, I want to be treated as an engineer. You know? I don't want to be treated as whatever that other thing is. I don't want to be treated as a woman engineer -- I want to be treated as a man engineer.


JUSTIN: But let me point out something else. When you're going through your list of why women shouldn't articulate who they are outside the workplace, you only listed things that were very gender-specific. Mother, wife, partner. Why can't women in the workplace talk about being a beekeeper? Or why can't they talk about being in a rock band? Like, you're in a rock band. Do you bring that into the workplace? Isn't that something that makes you --


MAURI: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.


JUSTIN: Why? That makes you cooler. That you have a -- you're in a rock band.


MAURI: But it doesn't make you cooler if you're already having to fight for a certain representation of you as capable and authoritative, right? So I think you're assuming a lot about how people see -- you're already assuming parity of roles, across gender. And if that were the case, sure! 15:00 Then let's all be human together and like, get into like, the personal bits. But um, where that isn't the case, I think it could be -- it can work against you. So, I don't want people seeing me as a beekeeper. I want people seeing me as a, you know, being a killer in the function that I'm -- that I work in.


JUSTIN: Right. And so you would say --


MAURI: First and foremost.


JUSTIN: So that's gotta be first.


MAURI: No question. Like, I'm a subject matter expert. I'm whatever I am. And -- and that's my purview. And all that other stuff, it's like, oh yeah great, I'm a beekeeper, I play -- you know, I'm a musician. I'm all these things. That can detract from that perception if you're not careful. So by the way, I'm not saying women shouldn't bring that to work. I'm saying there's a risk for everybody. And I think the risk is higher for women when they do that.


JUSTIN: Interesting. Wow. I mean, a lot of what you're saying is off my radar. I don't know if it's because I work in an industry that's, let's say, 90 percent female. Or it's because I'm a white guy going through work and I only know it through my perspective. So I'm really blind to this.


MAURI: Well, I think probably both. But also, like, you know this. We saw -- I think we talked about this, right? So, our sister-in-law who just got like regional salesman of the year, salesperson of the year award, right?


JUSTIN: Yeah. Yeah.


MAURI: She was presented with that award. We saw that. And she worked, by the way, in a super masculine industry, right?


JUSTIN: Right.


MAURI: And she gets presented this award, the background music is "Girls, Girls, Girls".


JUSTIN: Right, right.


MAURI: The first thing they talk about as she's getting the award, like, is about how she's a mother and a wife. That woman is an assassin in sales. Right? That's not what they're talking about. They're talking about her personal life, and they're framing her in a certain kind of way. I saw that and I was like, "Go fuck yourselves." You know? I mean, come on! So this is -- that's why I'm saying, I don't think it's all to the good. The personal -- importing the personal into the professional.


JUSTIN: Right. Well no, it's interesting. I watched that same video of her receiving the award, and what struck me was the -- the inherent kind of sexism of it, of playing Girls, Girls, Girls". I think they even commented on how attractive she is. And that was the whole center of the argument. So I picked up on that. But I didn't pick up on the fact that they mentioned mother or you know, all these other aspects that for you, felt like, maybe that's undercutting what is the thing we're celebrating here, which is how awesome she is at her job.


MAURI: Professionally, yeah. And by the way, it's not that she -- it's that motherhood or being somebody's wife is not totally meaningful to her in her life. Like, obviously it is, right?


JUSTIN: Right.


MAURI: But that's not what made her an incredible salesperson.


JUSTIN: Right. No, I see your point. And I'm also thinking this week, you know, what's her name -- Amal Clooney, or -- George Clooney's --


MAURI: Amal Clooney. Yeah. Absolutely.


JUSTIN: -- wife give an important speech on human rights at --


MAURI: Yeah, unreal.


JUSTIN: -- the United Nations, and the headline in time magazine was, "Amal Clooney Shows Her Baby Bump." "Steps Out With Her Baby Bump." And there was no talk of the important subject matter she -- she discussed. And it was a great, powerful presentation. I mean, that was like, a good example of that. So -- but it's interesting. Cause of course I think we can all agree on that. Sexism in the workplace. But I just did not see this angle that there might be an inherent risk for, you're saying, women in the workplace to reveal too much. Or it might not allow them to be seen on equal footing, I guess, in some way.


Now, would you say it depends on which facts you do share and don't share? Like, can you share cool facts about yourself? Or certain aspects of it? Or are you seriously just want to be stone cold assassin, just there to do work, and that's how you're gonna get the respect?


MAURI: I mean --


JUSTIN: Cause I can't -- I don't think I agree with that completely.


MAURI: Sure. I mean, my approach has been stone cold assassin, and that's worked for me. I don't think you have to do that. All I'm saying is, I think you should be mindful of how it plays.




MAURI: Whatever it is, right?


JUSTIN: Okay. Alright, no. Super interesting. Thank you for coming on the show. Thank you for challenging my assumptions. Is there anything else I didn't ask you that you wanted to say, or -- how are the records selling, by the way?


MAURI: Well, they haven't hit yet, as you know.


JUSTIN: Okay, you have a new record coming out?


MAURI: Oh wait -- okay, cause you made fun of me about this last time.


JUSTIN: Yeah, cause they were falling off the shelf, not flying off the shelf.


MAURI: Yeah, that was not that funny. Um, I -- so as you know, the EP sold very well digitally. And it sold so well, in terms of digital downloads, that the Tricycle Records decided they wanted to do a vinyl pressing. So the vinyl pressing is arriving this week.


JUSTIN: Awesome. So that's the update on Rich Girls. And you can check them out on, or richgirlstheband at Instagram, all of those good things. Is that the best way to catch you?


MAURI: 20:01 Yeah.


JUSTIN: Alright, awesome. Well I think we'll leave it there. Mauri, thank you for coming on the show. And to all the Mr. Corpo listeners, thanks for sticking with us. Hope you enjoyed today's podcast. Rob, thank you for producing another great episode, and we'll see you on the other side. Go get to work.

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