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Pronouns in the Workplace – Person-Centered Paradigm

We are interested in looking at ways of fostering a positive, productive workplace environment starting from the people that work there – in this article, discussing pronouns in the workplace using a person-centered paradigm model. We will be applying the person-centered paradigm to various workplace topics over our next few blog posts.

Person-centered paradigm is a people management approach that seeks to create a partnership between employers and employees to foster an optimal workplace environment in terms of interpersonal relationship management and individual/personal and team productivity.

Person-centered paradigm shifts the language we use to engage with people at work from a more historically common, attribute-focused approach, to understanding how somebody functions at work with their individual personhood at the center of the discussion. In these difficult employment times and while often operating at a distance, this conversation is increasingly important, and this perspective shift allows a whole range of beneficial conversations.

History and Context

Person-centered approaches were first developed in the social service sector. Originally, they were conceptualized as a method of providing services that sees care-providers and clients as equal partners in developing, planning and maintaining wellness. This was achieved by closely tailoring care to reflect individual wants and needs. Over time, care providers observed that this method improved functionality and increased client satisfaction. This prompted workplace leaders to implement similarly successful approaches to people management by integrating staff support that is more individually tailored, based on the unique employer and employee needs, and asking questions rather than making assumptions about best working environment. As an example, two years following the implementation of a person-centered approach in their employee relations, PSL reported a huge rise in staff retention rates from 53% to 84% along with other concrete markers of increased success.

Applied to the Language of Workplace Diversity

As the Canadian business landscape grows more diverse, it is more important than ever to have language to discuss difference in a respectful and courteous way. Integrating the person-centered paradigm shifts business language and normalizes difference between people in both visible and invisible, major and minor ways. We can use a person-centered paradigm as guidance to navigate potentially delicate conversations. There are established benefits to having these conversations in the workplace: improved managerial relations, employee retention and employee satisfaction, among others.

Pronouns in the Workplace

Recently, Marberg has been using a person-centered paradigm to better integrate conversations around pronouns in our business. Examples of common pronouns used in Canada include she/her/hers, he/him/his and they/them/theirs. As we interact with people in the workplace who, due to names or personal expression we are unclear as to how to address respectfully, having procedural supports in place will make it easier to handle these situations with courtesy and finesse.

Some ways Marberg has implemented infrastructure to facilitate conversations about pronouns and language include giving our staff the option to include pronouns in our email signatures, and creating a field in our onboarding documents for candidates to indicate pronoun preferences if they wish.

This small change has broad potential impacts:
• Removes the burden on candidates to initiate a sometimes awkward conversation.
• Normalizes the courtesy of indicating pronoun preference within our professional community.
• Encourages greater awareness of the candidates we’re representing and their preferences as to how they wish to be addressed.

Ultimately, we all want to be treated with respect and dignity. Within the Canadian context, our legislative and practical expectations of workplace culture have already laid out measures for this. Extending respect and courtesy to people on the language they would like used for themselves is an easy way for businesses to make their workplaces more welcoming to current employees and potential future ones. Using a person-centered paradigm encourages us to integrate infrastructure that better supports employees, encourages smoother business courtesy and ultimately results in a more respectful and empowered workplace.

KK (they/them/theirs)


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