Is online dating affecting human-centricity in the workplace?

As dating continues to move into the digital realm and becomes increasingly commoditized, it brings up many age-old issues for both men and women – trust, betrayal, desire, and deceit. With the onset of online personalities, it’s easier than ever to create personas that are, at best, partial suggestions of who an individual is. It is also easier, and arguably necessary, to make dating decisions based on assumptions and prejudices, rather than curiosity or empathy.

In this same vein, it is possible that such reactive and judgmental behavior is trickling into organizations, as employee turnover occurs at unprecedented rates. “Swipe sites” and the online dating mentality could transform the way we interact and engage with others, not only in our love lives, but also at work. In an effort to be efficient in meeting new people, are we becoming less interested, thoughtful, and curious?

Dating Dehumanized

In the quest to make dating more accessible, sites like Tinder, Bumble, and Happn are offering singles the opportunity to meet a diversity of potential romantic matches in a condensed time period. The relatively quick evolution from platforms like Match.com and eHarmony (which required extensive personal profiles) to apps like Tinder (which require little more than a single photograph) means users can evaluate dozens of potentials in a matter of minutes – and just as quickly dispose of them, based on the lack of instant attraction.

The breadth of options are designed to eliminate the accountability of committing to a particular person, but along with this variety comes tensions for those seeking a lasting partnership. In this virtual world of dating, the ability to create a connection, trust, and deeper emotional bonds is jeopardized.

While there are many success stories from online dating, one of the most significant issues with online profiles is that they become reified versions of the self. Given the lack of substantial data and insight into a person, it’s easy to become fixated on a glorified interpretation of what or who is presented, believing it to be true. Often, these interpretations are dictated by the patterns of our past or expectations for our future, rather the reality of the present. It is easy to construe a story about another person without having a single conversation, let along a face-to-face interaction.

With this online dating mentality, our mental model for making decisions about whom, when, and how to trust someone, be vulnerable, or open up is determined largely by a simplified depiction of another. More importantly, it becomes easier to rely on assumptions or judgmental behavior rather than allowing a genuine interest, a commitment to explore, and a sense of openness. Instead, we see confusion between intuition and judgment, where people say, “he/she just wasn’t right” without further exploration.

Relationships in the Workplace

Unlike current trends in online profile-based dating, various formalized business practices take an empathetic, human-centered approach. Many standard relationship-building practices – marketing, workforce attraction, and client engagements – can be likened to “traditional dating,” where decisions are made based on insightful understandings of a consumer, a candidate, or a client.

For example, in hiring practices, it is no longer enough to just look at what’s presented on a resume or cover letter. HR methods are much more robust, in which someone’s professional profile is only one piece of the puzzle, and culture fit, extracurricular interests, and other life experiences are all valued and accounted for.

Likewise, in marketing, the movement is to go beyond traditional personas and gather thoughtful insights into the consumer and the contexts that impact the way they engage with a company’s products or services. Designing for these deeper and more dynamic representations of a target market requires going beyond assumptions or judgments. And in client relationships, it is crucial to immerse oneself in fully understanding the individual, team, or organizational stakeholder’s needs by assessing their cultural and operational realities.

In many ways, formal business practices prioritize and operationalize deeper forms of relationship building, knowing the importance that empathetic understandings play in affecting outcomes downstream. Such processes are purposefully designed to question assumptions and gather insights about a group or individual. Interestingly, these human-centered approaches exist because of a pre-determined framework of practice.

Informal Relationships and Employee Engagement

One realm where the impact of the “online dating mentality” is becoming more prevalent in business is in informal interpersonal workplace relationships.

Ironically, while businesses focus on practicing human-centric design and empathy, we may be diminishing these skills in our own sphere, especially as employee turnover happens more frequently. How often do we resort to assumptions, prejudices, or quick judgments about current or new colleagues, teammates, or leaders?

Not long ago, employees would stay with a company for 10, 20, 30, or even 40 years. In that context, they grew up with their colleagues, saw the business change, and shared multiple milestones throughout the course of their careers. Today, as individuals are looking for the “perfect match” in an employer – the right mix of culture, role, reputation, compensation, and so forth – employee turnover is at an all time high. It’s common for an employee to stay within a company for five years or less. As a result, teams are in constant flux in a similar way that dating profiles come and go.

As a result of an environment that is always in flux, where new employees can be seen as competition or temporary fixtures within a company, it’s easier to rely on an insubstantial amount of information – their resume, a passing comment, their past experiences, or their current title – to assess them. Both in online dating and in these types of ever-evolving workplaces, you become your “biodata,” a two-dimensional characterization of who you are.

Part of the issue is engagement, which can stem from the quality of connection between employees and their peers and/or leadership. Without solid workplace communities and relationships, employees may choose to go elsewhere. According to Gallup’s 2016 State of the American Workplace study, 70% of employees worldwide report that their work is not engaging. One quarter of that subset is “actively disengaged.” This translates to nearly 900 million people globally not feeling engaged by their work, and 340 million feeling actively disengaged.

Given the “disposable” nature of workplaces, what is the reward in truly understanding those you work with or who work for you? More importantly, how do managers or leaders who see such turnover in their company get to know every new hire in a more substantial way than assessing them like they would a dating profile? How are leaders fostering an environment of curiosity about each other so that employees are not just commodities, and long-term relationships are valued as the key ingredient to company success and performance?

The habits we form from our online dating, swipe-happy mentalities may impact the future of our workplace relationships more than we realize today. The result of not making a concerted effort to understand the full personalities, needs, or skills of employees reflects this connection, and is a risk factor for any leader or company looking to build a cohesive workforce. In any workplace, attention must be paid to moving beyond assumptions and truly getting to know one another. After all, there is so much more to each of us than a profile picture could ever say.

the author

Courtney Lawrence

Courtney Lawrence is insight manager, Whitespace, at lululemon athletica.