When you left for work this morning, you probably grabbed a computer bag, a coffee, maybe even a lunch sack. Even if you work down the hall, you likely have a routine to start your work day. But whether you're walking in to your home office or one at company headquarters, there's one thing you can't forget. Yourself.

Whether we like or not, employees bring their whole selves to work.

Ask a thousand HR professionals and they'll tell you that also means they bring inappropriate opinions (in the form of sexual harassment),  unbearable scents (perfume so powerful it incites allergic reactions) and even unauthorized supplies (guns aren't allowed in most workplaces people). I've had many of these conversations in my HR career. 

But we also bring our hobbies (my sweet potato casserole won first place in the Ritz-Carlton Thanksgiving cook-off one year), our relationships (ever had a co-worker go through a messy divorce?) and our values. I once had a friend who received a job offer from a company with strong religious ties and she debated heavily whether to take the job. There's a reason we call it human resources.

We are who we are. And while we have to conform to the rules of the workplace, we can't shed our personal selves at the door.

There's value in reminding ourselves of that each and every day.  From the front-line, hourly workers to the C-suite executive, we're all carrying burdens, challenges and struggles. Some are more personal--I've had my own fair share of medical challenges across my adult life including, unexpectedly last week. 

And some impact us all. In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the devastating floods (largely uncovered by the media) have shut down businesses or reprioritized their efforts.  A natural disaster like this may mean some are out of work for months or more. Imagine the impact that has on your colleagues.

Work can't always come first.

I've been thinking nonstop about exaqueo's Whole Self Model this year. Partly because of the social unrest we've seen here in the United States and partly because of the research we do. We're constantly reminding C-Suite leaders: as hard as you try, you can't imagine what it's like to be making $8/hour. Even if you started your career there, you're not there now. 

Let's be honest about something: you can't really walk a mile in someone else's shoes. But you can stop and be human for a moment and think "what they're going through must be hard" or "I can't imagine what that must feel like." You can make a small gesture, change your approach or your language, or simply take on a greater burden for the day, knowing, that it will come back to you at some point.

Every day, you have a chance to be human at work. 

And being human at work makes work better. Whether it's stopping to understand how someone feels or simply stepping in to pick up the load when someone else is struggling. Sure, there are limits and rules and guidelines to work behavior and time off. But a simple "are you okay?" or "how can I help?" reminds your colleagues that you're not just a co-worker. You too, are a human being.

No one's immune to health, personal, or natural disasters. Just like our friends in Baton Rouge. We can't stop working and move to Louisiana to help rebuild. But we can be human just for a moment.  For exaqueo, it was donating to the Red Cross in honor of our friends at Reputation Capital Media, based in Baton Rouge. For my colleagues, it was picking up my slack when I was out last week unplanned.

No one works in a vacuum. If you want your employees to be engaged and more productive, you have to recognize they're human. And so are you.

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To donate to the victims of the Louisiana floods, visit the Red Cross and click the dropdown to select "Louisiana Floods."

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Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps companies build cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn how to better compete for talent by building honest, authentic employer brands and powerful talent attraction and retention programs.

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