Putting the “human” back in human resources

There’s a lot of talk about employee engagement and discretionary effort, but are HR leaders missing a key tool in winning over employees?

Putting the “human” back in human resources
When employers and HR professionals talk about engagement and recognition, they’re often looking at how to reward specific results to encourage specific behaviour, but is this search for the one-size-fits-all program taking the “human” out of human resources?
One of the first questions Symbolist VP of solution design Paul Hebert asks HR professionals when they talk about engagement is how much training they give managers in how to connect with employees.
“We spend a lot of time asking employees to do things for the company, but over time there has to be some quid pro quo,” Hebert told HRM. “How do we make organizations more human?”
Hebert cited the recent Starbucks initiative to fund employees’ college education as an example of offering employees something that doesn’t directly relate to the company’s bottom line. While not all companies could fund such an ambitious program, it’s not all about the budget.
“A lot of people think it’s a money issue, but it isn’t, it’s a people issue. How much training do they give their managers on how to relate to people at a human level? Employees want to be validated for doing their work. If you don’t get that after a while you just disappear,” he said.
An example Hebert gives from his own management experience is choosing personalized gifts for employees at Christmas or other occasions. Even without spending money, remembering to ask an employee how their marathon training is going or whether their new puppy is house trained yet can go a long way towards showing you appreciate them as individuals.  
“Employee engagement is not simply finding ways for your employees to connect to the company – it is also about finding ways for the company to connect to employee,” Hebert said. “How would your life be if all you did, all day long, was reward people – friends, family members – when they did things that helped you?”
While it’s important to reward employees for helping the company achieve goals, other types of recognition are just as important in winning over employees in the long term.
“If all we do is reward behaviors that benefit the company without the reciprocal effort of creating things that benefit the individual we’ve created a very one-sided relationship,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with saying thank you and recognizing when employees have lived up to the standards you want as an organization. But in addition to that, every company needs to adopt an attitude of giving back and understanding that employees are not Pavlov’s pets and that we only work for scraps.”

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