If you ask most HR leaders and professionals why they got into HR, they are most likely to reply that they wanted to work with people, build teams, nurture talent, and learn people management. However, then, why is it that the role of HR is resented and looked down upon today? Why do employees believe that the foremost role that HR plays is protecting the organization against the employees? If we dig a little deeper, we will find that we have stopped treating employees like humans and started viewing them as resources. Humanity, which is one half of the domain, has been missing for some time now. As a result, we’ve reached a situation wherein employees in most organizations are fearful of being unwell, or caring for elderly parents or honoring personal commitments; wrongly assuming that putting work and the organization before everything else is the only way to develop and progress.
The need to focus on ‘human’ in HR
When the entire narrative in the business world focuses almost exclusively on the bottom-line, everything else takes a backseat. It is no surprise that most organizations are struggling to elicit trust from their workforce because they are committing the grave error of treating their employees as replaceable numbers. The ramifications of using algorithms, keywords, and tech tools in every process, big or small, are severe. There is an evident shift in the mindset of the workforce wherein HR is no longer working in their best interests. Thus, HR needs to rebrand itself and infuse humanity in their roles. We need to consciously make transactions more humane and drive recruitment, learning, culture, and leadership through the lens of humanity.
It is also equally crucial to understand that technology is not fool-proof. We need some level of human intervention in a tech-reliant system to maintain checks and balances. For instance, if an ATS system is left unchecked, the danger of abusing the system goes up. Candidates might simply paste the exact text from the job description to better their chances of being selected. Similarly, if we rely entirely on technology to screen applicants, they can manipulate the system by controlling their facial expressions, tone, or words. Unfortunately, technology cannot help us identify and recognize passions, drive, commitment, soft skills, or creativity.
Respecting employees and their experiences
How many times do we tell candidates that ‘we will get back to you’ and fail even to tell them if the position has been closed, let alone give some feedback on the interview? We need to understand that people invest financially and emotionally in applying for a job and are always hopeful that they might be selected. Hence, they need a sense of closure and need to be treated with respect. We need to start treating our employees, present and potential, with care, respect, and humanity. This is intricately linked to the kind of culture we have at our organization. There are certain tell-tale signs of a toxic culture, like micro-management, blaming, bullying, or aggressive behavior.
This is where emotional intelligence and social awareness comes into play. Are we aware of the people around us and the things that are dear to them? Are we aware of the things that bother them? Or are we too focused on numbers? This is one of the leading reasons why workplace engagement levels are plummeting across the world; because most employees assume that the management doesn’t care about them and all they need to do is work from 9 to 5 to get by. For instance, surveys and feedback forms in most organizations do not lead to significant changes; this makes employees disenchanted and disgruntled, making them feel as if they aren’t being heard. Here, we can use technology to ensure ongoing and continuous feedback instead of relying on end-of-year reviews to ensure long-term planning. So, if you see a pattern in the feedback for a certain manager, the question is, how do you act? Do you brush off the concerns or make sure that the manager undergoes training?
It is essential to remember that when we are implementing technology, it must be to make people better off. We shouldn’t get into the trap of using technology to monitor or track employees by compromising on their privacy as this will plunge employee morale. The objective of all workplace technology must be to increase employee satisfaction and help people work better.
How to improve employee engagement
At the most basic level, we all want to feel valued and appreciated, and feel like we belong. This can be ensured by putting people in positions where they can use their skills and abilities to the best of their abilities. Engage with employees to ask them for feedback and suggestions; when you encourage ‘open feedback’ make sure you aren’t merely doing a lip-service. It is critical that we nurture emotionally intelligent managers who do not hold grudges, breed resentment or view employee feedback as personal attacks. Empower employees to be collaborative and creative so that they can perform their best. Train and coach employees to excel in skills that machines cannot mimic—negotiation, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration—and provide them the tools they need to excel in their roles. Finally, view all your employees as brand ambassadors and pay attention to how they leave the organization. Identify all the touch-points where you interact with employees and work towards improving them.
To put the ‘human’ back in HR, we need to start treating our employees with respect, fairness, and honesty. Small gestures of care and support go a long way in building loyalty, and organizations can foster a loyal workforce by being more mindful and thoughtful of how we treat our employees.
(This article is based on the session ‘Emotional intelligence in the age of tech’ by Brigette Hyacinth, Author, The Future of Leadership: Rise of Automation, Robotics, and Artificial Intelligence, at TechHR 2019.)