Human Nature: The “Human” in HR – Part 1

In recent years we have observed the increased use of technology and big data in Human Resources. The question is whether this shift is taking the “human” out of Human Resources by devaluing genuine personal interactions and conversations when it comes to matters such as employee wellbeing and performance.

In a recent article about employee data collection and utilisation, Associate Professor Uri Gal from the University of Sydney Business School told Fairfax Media that, “Despite the allure of scientific rationality, there is little evidence to suggest that the use of workplace analytics results in actual business benefits.” Associate Professor Gal, who specialises in Business Information Systems, also said, “Algorithms are not accurate because inherently what they try to do is to build a simplified model of complex human behaviour.”

One of the most common information gathering tools used by HR is the engagement survey where employees fill out a detailed annual survey about their employment. Technological advancements have made the traditional engagement survey a relic with new online platforms enabling micro-surveys that are intended to become a weekly or daily ritual. But to what end? Can clicking an icon on a screen really measure employee happiness better than an authentic conversation between the employee and HR and/or their Manager?

The modern employee wants and expects more from their job than just a wage - they want a work environment where they feel valued, supported and have meaningful work relationships. Time and effort must be directed towards establishing regular personal ‘human’ interactions so that the business gains direct insight from the people within the organisation. Having genuine conversations with employees gives employers and HR the opportunity to listen and learn what motivates employees and how they really feel about their job and the business.

In the next two parts of this three part series, we will explore the technological changes in human resources management and their impact on the workplace. We will also examine the role of big data and its interaction with the functions of HR.

Finally, we will delve into the ways the following three central workplace concepts are affected by both data analytics and good old fashioned conversation:

  • Retention – encouraging employees to build a career within the business.
  • Dispute resolution – working through employment life cycle issues.
  • Engagement – what methods produce greater employee “buy-in”?

Continue reading: I, Robot: The “Human” in HR – Part 2 and We Don’t Talk Anymore: The “Human” in HR – Part 3.

Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.

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