The Secrets to Keeping the “Human” in HR

Humanizing a Digitized Workplace

Recently, a young man I know was contacted by a recruiter looking to fill a position for a company that was relocating to his current city. He had been exploring other positions on and off for a while and had sent his resume to this recruiter without much thought. In the end, he took the new position at a substantial increase in salary and an organizational culture that was a much better fit.

This is an example of inbound and outbound recruitment and hiring. There was nothing really digital about it, other than the transport of the resume. The rest was by phone and then in person and certainly involved extensive “human touch.”

All functions of HR are not so “human” today. In fact, digitization has taken over many of them, and that is not a bad thing. Many tasks that have eaten up time on the part of employees and HR staff can now be automated with greater efficiency and far less chance for error.

What Exactly is Digital HR?

This term applies to the use of any type of technology to perform human resources functions, many of which were formerly conducted by people and some of which are new themselves.

Consider all of the functions that are now digitized:

  • Staff Directories in databases that can manage everything from dates of hires to job titles, to personal information, to transfers, promotions, etc.
  • Payroll – this function was probably the first to be digitized and has been in place for decades.
  • Time Sheets, allowing employees to “clock-in and out” digitally, some organizations even using fingerprint identification to prevent errors, employee “cooking,” and to accurately account for such things as overtime.
  • Scheduling of shifts, to ensure appropriate levels of staffing at all times, and to alert schedulers of needed changes.
  • Employee expense reporting, especially the ability of employees to remotely record and send those items directly into the system
  • Mobile apps for both employees and HR staff, in order to access functions from anywhere.
  • Recruitment and scanning of resumes to narrow the applicant field to a manageable number
  • Onboarding functions, such as initial training in company policies and procedures
  • Training & Development programs and modules that give employees the flexibility to engage in their own time schedules.
  • Management of remote employees. You must find new ways to communicate information and keep your workers on task.
  • Personnel records, including results of performance evaluations.
  • Self-service tools for employees – They can check their leave status, the contributions to their retirement plans, etc. and even make changes in deductions for tax and savings purposes. They can put in for vacation time and have it automatically approved.

With all of the digitization, where does the “human” part of human resources come into play anymore? Does it pose a threat to employee engagement and commitment?

Digitization Can Actually Promote More Humanness

With all of these tasks now functioning in digital space, what is left for HR to do? In fact, many HR departments have contracted in the interests of monetary savings.

But there is an opportunity here for HR managers to develop strategies to engage their employees in new and far more meaningful ways and, in so doing, significantly benefit the organization.

1/ Involve employees in development of core values and principles

When employees believe that they have meaningful input into an organization, they develop “ownership” of its mission and purpose. Involving them in discussions demonstrates that the organization values them and their opinions and see them as integral parts of success.

Bill Harrison, HR manager for the writing service Trust My Paper, has this to say:

“We are a highly technology-driven organization. And yet, with all of our digital ‘withitness,’ the relationships we have with our writers are critical to our success. When we involve them in problem-solving and potential change, and when they believe that their views matter, we have a loyalty that keeps our talent on board.”

2/ Develop Individualized Career Training and Development Goals

Nothing engages employees more than the belief that the organization is interested in their career aspirations. HR managers and directors can and should make time to meet with individual employees and discuss their career goals and how the organization can help them achieve those.

A natural outgrowth of such interactions should be more personalized training and development programs.

3/ Revamp Performance Evaluations

Typically, performance reviews are conducted by supervisors and department managers. HR’s role in this activity is to develop the procedures, policies, and documents that drive the function. Perhaps it is time to take a look at the performance review process in its entirety as well as newer approaches that look promising.

Again, involving those involved in the process is key to buy-in.

4/ Lead Humanization of the Whole Organization

Too often, those who are not involved in HR – CIO’s, CFO’s, and other C-level executives, think of employees as “human capital.” But that is changing, particularly now that Millennials are moving into management positions. They have an entirely different “view” of what a workplace culture should be and are far more focused on the personal needs of people.

HR managers can lead in the movement to humanize the broader organization, introducing strategies that are relationship-focused. It is what the contemporary workforce demands, and it is what will serve to keep talented and skilled employees on board.

One of the other benefits of the leadership will be that HR departments will no longer be seen as rather unproductive people who simply lower risk and limit liability/damage. They can and should become viable innovators in leading the critical changes in the workplace environment.

5/ Use Humanization Innovations to Attract and Maintain Top Talent

There are a lot of incentives that talented people will view as important – these include flexibility in work hours and places, but they also include diversity, inclusivity, transparency, and collaboration.

HR managers can make these things happen and can thus demonstrate to the C-suite that they actually work, especially in retention rates.

6/ Other Ways to Drive Humanization

There are several other things that HR personnel can do to foster humanization in the workplace.

  • Lead by Example: Practice human interactions with employees on a daily basis. Get out of the office, greet people, remember their names and use them. These things can have a profound impact.
  • Encourage employees to be open with one another and with you. An environment that fosters this type of openness is healthier
  • Set up channels for communication. When old and outdated hierarchies are still in place, there is a hesitancy on the part of employees to make suggestions and provide creative thinking and problem-solving that can benefit the organization.
  • Change up training and development. Get outside the traditional presentations and the outside “experts” with their whiteboards and their slides. Get outside the box on this one and let employees take the lead in their own professional development. Develop an in-house mentorship program that allows employees to develop new skills that can lead to promotions. If you must plan training activities, make them fun. Employees who can play together work better together.
  • Be an active listener. Acknowledge what employees are saying and validate their views. This goes for communication with the C-suite as well.
  • Devise ways in which “strangers” whose work never crosses paths to collaborate in problem-solving or focus groups.
  • Demonstrate appreciation for hard work in verbal and in concrete ways.
  • Conduct employee satisfaction surveys regularly and actually do something with the results

7/ The Times Truly are Changing

Organizations that invest in their people as much as they do in their customers, products, services, and marketing will discover that their bottom lines are positively impacted. As that organization prioritizes humanizing its workplace, research shows that this ROI can be significant.

Here are just a few of the outcomes:

  • Productivity increases
  • Camaraderie and an atmosphere of collaboration and helpfulness become the norm. The “air” of competition and “politics” decreases
  • Employees become invested in the organization’s growth and success and are willing to go “above and beyond” for the general good
  • Turnover and absenteeism significantly decrease

8/ Lessons from a Fish Market

Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington is a messy place. Early every morning, fresh catch is delivered, and the employees set about cleaning, gutting, and preparing the fish for the day’s customers. It is not a lot of people’s idea of an ideal job. And yet employees here are happy, enthusiastic about their work, and convey that enthusiasm to the huge number of customers who patronize the shop daily. In fact, so famous has this market become, that it is a stopping place for out of town visitors, just to see the “action” and banter between employees and customers.

The market became the catalyst for a book, Fish, and, although it is a modern-day parable, the principles of humanizing the workplace (and the impact they have on company success) are clearly spelled out. Every HR manager, team leader, land C-level executive should read this book – it’s an easy read and will serve as a catalyst in one’s own organization.

In the End…

No matter how digitized HR functions become, no matter how much technology contributes to efficiency and cost savings, the true drivers of organizational success are its people.

Technology should be seen as the great “giver of freedom” to HR departments so that they can focus more energy on human interactions, needs, and engagement.

Marie Fincher is a digital content director at Trust My Paper company with a background in marketing, technology, and business intelligence. She frequently writes about data science, BI, new marketing trends and branding strategies. Marie gradually changed her focus from working in marketing to writing about it.


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