How to put the ‘H’ back in ‘HR’

The more we’re bombarded with tech, the more we seek out human contact – is HR ready to meet all the needs?

How to put the ‘H’ back in ‘HR’

In this tech-crazed world, an interesting trend is becoming apparent. It seems like as generations become more screen-obsessed and people seek out technology to ease their day-to-days, the more we seek out ways to be human.

Maybe it’s just a way of managing rapid change or a quiet resistance to it all, but it’s definitely something worth acknowledging.

Take a recent study by Dell Technologies on Gen Z. They’re touted to be the ultimate digital native, exposed to screens practically from the moment they’re born. However, the study found that even they yearned for human interaction at work.

Yes, they do expect to work with cutting-edge technologies (79%) and accessibility to tech would be a crucial factor when choosing between employers (91%). Additionally, about two in three believe the future of work will involve humans and machines working in integrated teams.

But they still expect face-to-face human interaction at the office: 76% expect to learn on-the-job from co-workers and 50% would prefer chatting with teammates in person instead of through messaging apps.

The more tools we have to connect with our colleagues, the more ‘disconnected’ we feel. Are we getting lonelier at work?

Organisations thus must balance between providing a digital-first work environment – from hiring to onboarding and daily work experience – and ensuring the human element doesn’t get lost in the wires.

Resistance to automation
Maybe handling employees’ desire for human touch is easier when they’re 100% on board with working alongside tech. But what if the connection is a cultural issue and presents itself as outright resistance to change?

At an HRD event, Sudakshina Ghosh, senior director HR, HR head – Global Operations Business at Hewlett Packard Enterprise shared her experience deploying an automated HR system.

“We wanted employees to be able to access everything that they wanted on their device, so they didn’t have to walk up to an HR operations person and ask for a letter or information,” Ghosh said.

“But if you look at certain regions like Southeast Asia, Latin America and pockets in Europe, there are a lot of cultural nuances where people are used to people. Employees do want to walk up to the HR person and have that conversation, so how do you tell [them] that you can now log on to the system and get all the details?”

She said some of her employees’ first reaction to the new system was this: “hey, now you’re trying to cut costs and not serve my needs”. In reality, HR was simply trying to implement a digital experience where they can settle any questions or requests, such as approval of leaves, in real-time and even on weekends.

Is HR tech helpful or harmful?
Gary Lee, global head of leadership and organisational development at Sivantos Group believes that resistance is a natural human reaction. He added that bad user experience could be additional reason for spurning tech.

“I think for HR, we want to implement HR tech because we want to make our employees’ lives better, right? That’s our intrinsic value,” Lee said. “[But] I came across an article just this morning. The header was ‘HR Tech: it’s ineffective, stupid and cruel’.

“Why? Because the thing is, yes, it’s supposed to be self-service. But I mean, a lot of us here have used self-service systems and we wanted to kill the computer, right? Like travel management systems, you click, click, click, and it doesn’t give you what you want.

“And then what do you do? You call up a travel person. And the travel person goes, ‘I’m sorry I can’t help you because your company is now on self-service’, so you go back to the system. In other words, if you try to bring in HR tech, you might as well just have people in place [to monitor progress].“

To combat this, he suggested patience in finding the best, most user-friendly solution for employees. He personally favours piloting projects and testing new products on small groups of employees before investing and implementing the system across the organisation.

Digital transformation: a people issue
Besides seeing user experience as a hurdle to successful transformation, Lee also made another observation.

“We want things to be more personalised now,” Lee said. “I have witnessed learning systems that are more personalised. They start feeding you things [you might want to learn].

“But when you ask people what they really want, they just want to learn from another human being – to them, that’s personalisation.”

Employees demand more facetime with tech takeover – is it possible to meet their needs? How can HR increase human touch in a tech world?

That’s not to say that employees are averse to automation. They understand the merits of it and most are optimistic about working in a digital-first environment.

A ServiceNow survey recently found that 82% of employees believe process automation has a positive effect on personal productivity. Another 83% think that workplace automation can enhance efficiency, boost productivity (77%) and improve the organisation’s competitiveness (71%).

When asked about its personal benefits, 80% of employees believe that automation simplified work processes, reduced repetitive tasks (75%), increased opportunities for advancement (58%), and increased time for creativity (68%).

But with all the tech bombarding us in every aspect of our lives, it has to be natural that we’d seek out human contact at our final vestige of hope – the transforming workplace. After all that time staring at screens, it shouldn’t be surprising we’d just want to chat with another human being, right?

“If employees don’t get to spend time with you personally; if they can’t sit down and say, ‘I’ve had a terrible week and I don’t think I can perform’, then they won’t stay with you,” said Jessica Dourcy, chief happiness officer at Palo IT. “They need to feel that connection.

“We tried to be tech-focused at first but the reaction was, ‘okay it’s great you’re collecting data and it all looks wonderful…but what does it mean for me?’

“That was when we saw people leaving – not because they’re upset with the organisation, but because they didn’t feel the bond you should feel if you believe this was the right organisation for you.”

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