Mark Catchlove is Director of the Global Insight Group at Herman Miller, Ltd. where he is passionate about helping people create great places and sharing insights from Herman Miller’s research teams and partners. In June of 2021, Mike Petrusky hosted a webinar called “Creating a Culture of Belonging in the Workplace” where Mark shared his thoughts about the five key aspects to consider when designing spaces that deliver on employee expectations. They discussed security, status, achievement, boundaries and the power of choice. Discover how to create a culture of belonging in your organization!

Ep. 169: Creating a Culture of Belonging in the Workplace

Full Episode Transcript 

Mike Petrusky: This is the Workplace Innovator Podcast, where we talk with corporate real estate and facility management leaders about the industry trends and technologies impacting your organization. This show is powered by iOFFICE, the leading employee experience focused IWMS software that delivers real- time data and mobile tools to help you intelligently manage your digital workplace. 

Mike Petrusky: Hey everyone. And welcome. This is Workplace Innovator live. I am your host, Mike Petrusky. And today I am thrilled to welcome another great guest, someone who I have known for a long time, but this is the first time he is appearing on this broadcast. From across the pond in the UK, please welcome the director of the Global Insight group at Herman Miller, Mark Catchlove. Hi Mark. 

Mark Catchlove: Hi there. Thank you for having me on here. I’m looking forward to this. 

Mike Petrusky: As am I. It’s been a long time coming. You and I have communicated a lot over the years via social media. You’ve been a great supporter of the show. I can’t thank you enough for that. And I look forward to learning about your perspectives on how belonging enhances workplace community. Or an alternative title… Something I saw that we had used when trying to Market this particular conversation was how to build a culture of belonging in the workplace. That’s so important. And I think we have a lot of thoughts about that and I can’t wait to hear what you have to say. So Mark, you’re based in London or near there, right? 

Mark Catchlove: Yeah. I’m right on the edge of London. I’m three houses from the edge of London. That makes me in London. 

Mike Petrusky: Three houses away from the official border. 

Mark Catchlove: Yeah. 

Mike Petrusky: I am a longtime fan of… Just thankful for the team at Herman Miller globally, as I have had many of your colleagues on the show over the years. Most recently, Dr. Melissa Steach joined us for a conversation around human- centric workplaces. Earlier this year, we had the amazing Ryan Anderson talking with our audience as well. And it’s always bringing that research, your philosophy, and the expertise that Herman Miller has in the world of work and the workplace. Tell us a little bit more about what you do specifically and why Herman Miller is such a leader in this area. 

Mark Catchlove: Yeah. And you may not know, but Ryan is my boss now. So Ryan leads the research and insight team, and I kind of likened that the researchers are the songwriters and I’m the singer. So, I have someone based out of Dubai and someone in Europe and our role is to share that research. And I’ve been at Herman Miller for 23 years, but I’ve been in the office furniture industry for 35, 36 years. And it’s been a fascinating time, from a time when we just sold product, to a world where we’re starting to make a difference. I always say that if you’ve got people in your family that are from the caring professions and you kind of think,” What difference do I make? They’re a doctor, they’re a nurse. And our job is to stop them needing doctors and nurses.” So that’s what I kind of think about. If we get it right at work, people are happy at work, then they’ll be happy at home. So that’s my kind of perspective around the world of inaudible. 

Mike Petrusky: I love that, Mark. And it’s truer today than ever before. After living through the COVID- 19 pandemic, many of the principles and ideas and strategies that you and I have been discussing for many, many years have been accelerated. And I thought we’d kick things off Mark with an inspirational quote. It’s something I often do because our mindset is very important. I’m an optimistic guy. I like to keep the inspiration going here, but I have a lot of questions and I have a lot of doubts and there’s some challenging times we’ve been through and there are certainly challenging times ahead. So tell us a little bit about your philosophy. I asked you to share an inspirational quote and you’ve got a good one here from… Is this the founder of Herman Miller? 

Mark Catchlove: It is indeed. So, D. J. De Pree was a young man who was working at a furniture company called the Michigan Star Furniture Company. And it was up for sale, and he couldn’t afford it, but his father- in- law who was called Herman Miller, lent him the money to buy the company. And that’s where Herman Miller started over 100 years ago. 

Mike Petrusky: Wow. 

Mark Catchlove: But very, very devout religious man, very focused. But I love this quote.” But in the long run businesses and business leaders will be judged, not by their profits or their products, but by their impact on humanity.” We don’t ignore the fact we need products and we need profits. But what that is is what impact are we making on humanity? And he saw that from the impact on his employees, to his neighbors. In the 1950s, he created a manifesto if we build a building, it should not impact the community badly. In fact, it should impact the community well. That is what good business is. Social capitalism, I call it. 

Mike Petrusky: Excellent. 

Mark Catchlove: So we got to make a difference and we’ve got to make an impact. 

Mike Petrusky: So as we talk about belonging, Mark, you and I had a great planning call not too long ago. And you can’t talk about belonging without putting it into the context of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. And this is something folks that I’m sure you’ve been aware of. You’ve probably learned it back in school, but in recent months, and as we have been facing this unprecedented challenge, we have been tested to really know more about this. So Mark, give me your thoughts about this hierarchy and where belonging falls in a kind of a summary, high- level. And then we’ll get into some of the details. 

Mark Catchlove: Yeah. And I think what I like from this visual is it’s a spectrum and that whole idea that sometimes we have different levels of needs along here. Some people are not as concerned about the physiological needs as others, which is really kind of strange. And you know that whereas others can be more focused on safety needs or love and belonging. So it is… And I’m going to use a term, which you will know Mike, is it’s like a graphic equalizer that for some people it’s higher in some areas than others. But if you look at the last year, if you haven’t sorted out the bottom of these… Good air, that seems to be the big thing that everyone’s talking about in the world of work. Good air. It doesn’t matter about the rest. We haven’t got good air, we’ve got high likelihood of spreading COVID. So you kind of start to see that some of this is real. We also go through different stages of this as well. And this is not a journey, by the way. I think you go up and down. This is not like,” Okay, I’m now I’m now 62, so I’ve now got to the esteem bit.” It’s not like a life journey. It can be up and down. Go on holiday, and suddenly you start at the bottom again. Yeah. crosstalk You go on a vacation, and you start at the bottom again. You look around the room, first of all, what’s it like? What’s the food like? And then you go up. So, this is not like a… It’s not linear. It’s definitely up and down. But we started to think about this a lot in relation to people and work. What part does work play in this hierarchy? And that’s why we came up with this idea of what are our fundamental human needs. And One of those is… That one of the biggest ones of those is belonging. 

Mike Petrusky: Exactly. And first of all, let me just say any reference you want to make to music along the way is certainly welcome here. You know me well, that graphic equalizer is something that I used to play around with in college. My roommate had this really fancy stereo with all those different keys and he was always tweaking it very slightly. From your perspective, where are we today? What are the challenges ahead? Where do you think we have the best opportunity as workplace leaders to impact the people in our sphere of influence? 

Mark Catchlove: Okay. I’d recommend a book, a book by Neil Usher, who’s a personal friend of mine. And he wrote a book called Elemental Workplace. And what he talks about is the workplace is always in beta mode. In other words, it’s never perfect. And that’s never more apparent than now. And what I often saw was the kind of the lording, the opening of a new workplace, and that’s it. That’s the job done. But the reality is that’s when the work starts. And I think we are on a journey. And if I was to predict, I’d be crazy. But I can see the kind of things that are happening. What’s right for one company is not right for another. And we have a saying at Herman Miller,” The next big thing isn’t for you.” And the reason I say that is I see too many bandwagons that people jump on. And there’s a reason that Team can’t have a Google workplace because Team is not Google. Okay. And that whole idea… And I think that’s one of the things that I’m concerned about is people are listening to people like me and thinking,” Yeah, I’m going to do that.” And I’m going to go,” Hey, hang on, hang on. I’m giving you ideas, but we are now what is right for you now and revisit it as you go along.” So I think this is not about” I’m going to solve all the problems.” Now it’s a continual solution. And where we are in the world of work today is on a journey and we don’t know where it’s going to end. But if we’re not moving forward, then we are going to do what we were doing however many years ago. And we know some messed up workplaces. And Leesman Index… What does Tim Oldman tell us from Leesman index? You had a bad workplace before COVID no one wants to go back. So you got to give them something to go back to. 

Mike Petrusky: Well said, so many thoughts come to mind as you were sharing. I did share, Mark, a couple months ago where I thought we were today. And you touched on a lot of it, the idea that we don’t know what we don’t yet know, and we have to be prepared to make mistakes, fail fast, restart. Don’t be sold out to an idea. What I’m afraid of, the danger of this place we are today and where we’re headed, is that many out there… And it’s amplified in the headlines today. People are nervous. They’re not sure. And as human beings… I’ve learned this from psychologists and sociologists and anthropologists that I’ve been interviewing. We get set in our ways and we have these biases that say,” This is what I believe. This is what’s best for me in my belief system.” I immediately want to find information, surveys, research that confirms, confirmation bias, what I already believe. And if there’s something that is presented to me that is different than what I believe, all of a sudden, I resist it and I try to fight against it. And I’ve seen that happening. And you described it perfectly. We all know that there is no one size that fits all. There’s no one size that fits all for me. I change daily and I need to be adaptable each day. So that’s what I hope this conversation will be about as we get into some of these details. 

Mark Catchlove: Yeah. And I think that whole idea of it… This is why I kind of surveyed. What I think today might be very different to what I think next Tuesday. And that’s often the challenge of how you want to work today might be very different. If I go back to the work by Robert Propst, who wrote a book in 1968 called The Office, a Facility Based on Change, it was to promote the first ever screen- based furniture system. That he talked about this. He talked about changing your mind with grace and the sole idea that you won’t always get it right. And gracefully you have to say,” Okay, that didn’t work.” Or” That’s not working. We do need to change it.” But I think if anything’s happened in the last year, it’s the focus on people rather than place. 

Mike Petrusky: Mm- hmm(affirmative). 

Mark Catchlove: And I’m really excited by that because that will help all of us. Because that’s where we should have been beforehand. The place is just a box to house people. And I think we got to a point where we forgot that. 

Mike Petrusky: Wow, I hope you’re right, Mark, in that… Just reflecting back on what you said about D. J. De Pree, who, by the way, has a great name. If his name is D. J., I’m not sure if he was spinning music on the side, but I love it. No, the idea being that we have an opportunity, and maybe one of the silver linings coming out of this pandemic, as we do see a light at the end of the tunnel, is that people will be a bit softened to some of their hard line positions and open to new ideas. We mentioned that a foundational piece is that safety and security. Talk to me about all the different aspects of this issue. 

Mark Catchlove: Yeah. And the physical security is the obvious ones. I have to say ergonomics, of course, wouldn’t I. But also, light and air. All of those things are around the work. They’re a given. And that might even be related to where your office is located. People have got to feel safe when they leave that office if they’re leaving in at eight o’clock at night. They’ve got to feel safe to get to get home. But I think the psychological… I always call it social security, kind of mental security. That I feel safe in the workplace to be me. Now I’m not overly keen on this term where you bring your whole self to work, because there are bits of me you don’t want at work. 

Mike Petrusky: Right. 

Mark Catchlove: But I do mean that actually, I am not… I’m going to join Petrusky Incorporation and Petrusky is going to ingrain me to be a Petrusky guy. That’s not what I see. If we are to make people feel safe and belong, we have to accept them for who they are. And that is true inclusiveness. That is true inclusivity. That is whether that’s on the neuro divergence, whether that’s ethnicity, sexual preferences, all of those kinds of things. We have to accept people for who they are. And then this whole idea also is we’ve got to listen to people’s views. And that includes introverts, as well as… I have a very loud mouth and I say a lot. But have a guess what, I don’t always have the best things to say. And that whole idea that we’ve got to make it a safe place for people to be able to speak up, be heard, be listened, and be wrong. 

Mike Petrusky: Yeah. 

Mark Catchlove: That’s important. 

Mike Petrusky: And Mark, let me ask you about that. Because the way I’ve heard psychological safety described is the ability to feel comfortable sharing what you believe in a context of a culture that accepts that. And I don’t think we’re there yet. I think in many organizations, the surveys you’re hearing and the research that… What people are saying about what their needs are and how well they’re doing at home productivity wise and otherwise is only part of the picture. I think many of us… And I couldn’t speak for myself. It’s really hard to say,” Hey, I’m struggling.” Whether it’s a mental health issue, an anxiety issue, a return to office re- entry concern. And there’s this thing that I’m struggling with articulating, but I have been trying again and again, and I’ll ask you. Do people even know what’s best for them? Do I even know what’s best for myself? And what’s the role of a leader, if not, to really help people along? I always talk in terms of inspiration and motivation and that culture of psychological safety would allow someone to say,” Hey, I’m struggling in this area. I don’t know how to do this thing. I feel like I can tell you that and not fear losing my job or my position.” Am I onto something there? 

Mark Catchlove: Yeah, you are. And I think that whole idea of inclusivity is that when I get to the workplace, because obviously that’s my allotted time, that’s my focus. I have a playground. In other words, I have choices of places to find out what works for me. And that might be a different. A bit like software. When you get a bit of software, you need a playground, you need somewhere to go into that bit of software, make mistakes, find out what works, what doesn’t work. I mean, as a user. And it’s the same for the workplace. You should allow people to come in, try working on their own, try working with other people, try all the different places, rather than me say,” Mike Petrusky, this is your desk. And this is where you’re going to sit, because we’ve done an analysis we know you’re this kind of character.” Well, that might not work. So, I think this whole idea, if we’re going to be inclusive, we’ve got to give people choice. And by the way, if someone chooses to do the same thing all the time, that’s still choice. So be very careful that in the world of flexible working, we’ve got to give people the ability to choose. But I absolutely think it’s a playground that people go in. You’ve got to think about lots of things like color and light and all those kinds of things. Really, really important. What are distractions? What might be a distraction for you is not for me. Music, for instance. Crumbs, if you want a good… If you want to start an argument in the office, put on a music channel. 

Mike Petrusky: That’s right. That’s right. Wow. So many thoughts come up and I have to keep us moving along because we want to cover so many of these topics. 

Mark Catchlove: Okay. 

Mike Petrusky: But if you can weave in a thought or two around this idea of choice and flexibility… I agree 100%. We need to give people that. That’s what they want. But at the same time, I’m struggling with this balancing, that idea of being a leader. The workplace and the organizational culture has to support the people, yes, but also their mission. And if we just let everybody make their own choice fully wide open, that’s too far of a pendulum swing as well, potentially. But if you could tie that together with this next topic of status and purpose, because really this is an area that I’m very interested in and it relates directly to belonging, right? How we feel about our purpose and our status will dictate how we feel about how well we’re fitting in and how we belong in a workplace. 

Mark Catchlove: And we all get status or status as you call it from different things. And some of it inaudible me, I’ve got my awards for achieving my sales goals and that’s what people like is those awards. Others it’s just pure recognition. And others it’s job title. So we get that through different ways. But also is this whole idea of purpose for me is… What is it? And again here, we judge other people’s purpose by our understanding of purpose. If my purpose is really grand to change the world and another guy’s purpose is to make a good job sweeping the streets that doesn’t make his purpose any less valuable than mine. That whole idea. So the workplace is very much about helping people achieve their purposes. That’s why clear goals, clear definitions, clear guidelines. You cannot get achievement without purpose. And we are moving to more of a world where it’s outcome- based. But I do want to say something Mike. 

Mike Petrusky: Yeah. 

Mark Catchlove: I want to come back to choice and the word autonomy. It begins with the letter A and so does the word anarchy, but they are two very, very different things. Anarchy is freedom with no boundaries. Autonomy is freedom with boundaries. And so when I talk about choice in the workplace, this is not anarchy. This is a freedom within boundaries. Whether that’s a” We want you in from 10 till 3.” Some companies might say,” You’ve got to try this area for at least 5 days.” I don’t know. But there are… That’s for me really important, it’s guidelines. 

Mike Petrusky: Yeah. And you’ve said it so well, I appreciate that. Because that’s what I’m trying to find a better way to articulate. You put it up in terms of boundaries. I’ve heard it in terms of guardrails. I’m not looking for someone to necessarily restrict my choice and flexibility. That sounds terrible. But I do need guardrails to help guide me to what’s best for me. And sometimes I don’t know what that is. So again, I’m coming back to leaders needing to lead and to bring out the best in their employees. Maybe not bring your whole self, but bring your best self to the role and responsibility and your work journey. What are some of the things managers should be doing preparing for this hybrid workplace, the distributed workforce? Not everybody’s driven by the same things and I think that’s one of our challenges is that we weren’t taught how to manage people in this setting, where some are sitting next to us in an office and some are sitting at home, and it’s going to be a real tough situation. Don’t you agree? 

Mark Catchlove: I do agree. And if I gave any advice, it’s this simple. Simple words, difficult to do know your people. There is no other way. If you’re a leader, you’ve got to know. Now, if you’re a leader, you’ve got to rely on your leadership team to know their people. But trying to start to understand what are people’s motivations? What makes them tick? What is it? And talk to them and understand them. I think that is… You just have to know your people. And if anything that this has all brought to us is we got to understand. And that’s why for me, this whole idea, all these fundamental needs are not just the role of the office and the office providers. It’s the role of HR, the people, the way that we manage people and technology. The way technology supports us in that as well. I liken it to a three legged stool. 

Mike Petrusky: Okay. 

Mark Catchlove: Once one of those legs is broken, the stool can go in the bin. Kind of say.. 

Mike Petrusky: Mm-hmm(affirmative). 

Mark Catchlove: So it is… I think if I give any advice, try to understand your people. However, once you know them once, don’t assume that they’re going to be like that all the time. Okay. Because we are… 

Mike Petrusky: It’s true. 

Mark Catchlove: We’re really moody. 

Mike Petrusky: We are. I can only speak for myself, but I am an enigma wrapped in a paradox… What’s that phrase? I don’t know. crosstalk I’m a confused person and a confusing person. And Mark, we talked about music. It’s important to me and… Hey everybody, you know this guy. This is the current view of James Taylor, the original JT. Step aside, Justin Timberlake. James Taylor was around a long, long time ago. In fact, Mark, James has a great song… He has many great songs, but you brought this one ahead and I couldn’t help it share this graphic because it said karaoke on it. But tell me about, You’ve Got a Friend by James Taylor. Why do the lyrics of that song touch you? 

Mark Catchlove: I’ve lived a pretty checkered life. And without my friends, I don’t know where I would have been. I lost a very dear friend only last week I’ve known since a very young days. And this whole idea that this is what makes the world go round and that sounds… I can sound really cheesy. But boy, if it wasn’t for my friends that have been supporting me, whether that’s in work or at home. And in fact, Mike, I do believe you’re going to perform it for me. Is that right? 

Mike Petrusky: (singing). 

Mark Catchlove: (singing). 

Mike Petrusky: This is the best part.(singing). 

Mike Petrusky: Awesome. 

Mike Petrusky: I wasn’t expecting you to sing, but you didn’t disappoint there my friend. That’s awesome. And Mark, this has been fantastic and I really do appreciate you taking time to be on the Workplace Innovator Podcast. 

Mark Catchlove: Thank you very much for your time. And thank you. 

Mike Petrusky: And thank you all for joining us today. I hope in some small way we encouraged and inspired you all to be a workplace innovator. Peace out everybody. 

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