Union Pacific Building America

Company: Union Pacific Railroad
Innovation Title: Living Library
Company Website: www.uprr.com
Year Introduced: 2023

Executive Summary

What makes this program or initiative unique?

Union Pacific Living Library: We all have a story to tell.

In the summer of 2023, Union Pacific’s Diversity and Inclusion team launched the Living Library.

Employees can participate by checking out a “human book” where they are able to listen to passionate railroaders tell their personal stories in a one-on-one setting to better understand how life experiences shaped their unique perspectives.

The Living Library is very much like a regular library where people go to check out books, however, the only difference is that the books are all UP employees who have generously agreed to speak about their experiences. Readers can choose a topic they wish to know more about and check out a human book to have a conversation. When the reader is finished meeting with the book, they can return it and check out another that is available.

More than three dozen human books are currently available for check out. Their life stories include overcoming obstacles and challenging experiences such as childhood poverty, illness, adoption, immigration, loss, neurodiversity – and so many more deeply personal journeys. Additionally, some of the human books cover lighter topics and events like unique hobbies, great achievements, and some unusual life experiences.

What was the purpose or goal?

The purpose is to utilize storytelling to drive empathy, understanding and exposure throughout the workforce to create an environment where every team member can see themselves belonging and succeeding at Union Pacific.

What are the benefits and positive changes of this program or initiative?

Storytelling may not seem like a hard-hitting business method, but it is quite the opposite. Research shows that storytelling is one of the most underutilized, yet best approaches for change management. Something happens to our brain when we listen to stories. We can be transported into the characters themselves. We feel what they feel – joy, fear, embarrassment. This is known as neural coupling – a learning technique we, as humans, used to survive by learning from other human’s experiences. The physiological impacts of storytelling will help drive empathy throughout our workforce to promote inclusivity.

What are indicators or metrics that demonstrate the innovation is effective?

Around 300 employees participated and attended the launch of the Living Library program at our corporate headquarters. Now that the project has been available for over a month now, 48 books have been “checked out” of the library and 2,200 employees have engaged with the Living Library web page and book catalog thus far! Since launching, more and more employees have stepped up to be a human book with two more rounds ready for release.

How is it driving growth and if so in what areas?

The Living Library is driving growth within our retention rates. When employees feel seen, heard, and connected, they stick with a company. The Living Library creates an avenue for employees to make genuine and real connections with other employees at Union Pacific.

Who does it impact?

The Living Library impacts 33,000 Union Pacific team members across our 23-state network. Every employee is encouraged to tell their story and be a human book and every employee has the opportunity to check out a book. It provides space for employees to share their stories and understand that it is ok to bring their whole selves to work.