We Don’t Talk Anymore: The “Human” in HR – Part 3

Human resources management is experiencing a digital revolution as online platforms and data collection solutions flood the market.

If the make-up of a workforce can be understood and managed through data alone, will future HR departments be the domain of data analysts?

In this final instalment of our series about the “Human” in HR, we consider the value of authentic human-to-human interactions in three central functions of HR: retention, dispute resolution and engagement.


     1.   Retention

Employee retention is vital to a successful business. It is widely acknowledged that retaining good people improves productivity and minimises the costs associated with recruiting and training new employees.

One way to predict retention is by understanding employee satisfaction. If an employee is unhappy in the workplace, they are unlikely to stick around for very long. Gauging employee satisfaction can give business leaders insight into areas requiring improvement, and digital data collection has been very helpful in this regard.

However, asking employees to anonymously “rate” their satisfaction has its pitfalls – surveys can be outright ignored and participants can give false, sarcastic or “funny” answers which skew the results. Furthermore, providing a “rating” doesn’t allow room for the specifics of a response to be articulated.

Retention is about an individual employee’s satisfaction in the workplace and digital data collection and online tools don’t adequately account for an individual’s experience. Great HR starts with a simple question: “How’s everything going?” Hearing an individual employee’s response to this question can provide more information than a survey could ever hope to collect. Real conversations are two sided, meaning that an employer (through their HR person) can demonstrate genuine interest in an individual and build a rapport, and we all know that feeling valued is a major factor in any employee’s decision to stay or move on.

When it comes to employee retention, person to person interaction not only demonstrates that an employee is valued but also provides the organisation with an opportunity to discuss an employee’s thoughts about the organisation. People can talk people out of leaving or turn a situation around, a data set can’t.


     2.   Dispute resolution

Managing the relationships between employees and managers is a central function of HR, and dispute resolution walks hand in hand with this responsibility. 

When disputes arise, they can only really be dealt with in person and it helps where there are existing relationships with the parties. This means putting away the data and venturing out from behind the computer screen to regularly take the ‘temperature’ of the organisation or individual teams in person. Putting in a personal appearance demonstrates to employees that HR is more than a data collection point or centralised inbox and is made up of humans who can help when issues arise. If managers and employees know and are comfortable with their HR contacts, they are more likely to accept HR’s guidance in dispute resolution processes when things get tough.

The risk with data and digital platforms is that they can create distance between HR and the employees.


     3.   Engagement

Engagement is all about “buy-in” – how committed are employees to the goals of their team and the overall mission of the organisation?

Employers use all kinds of tech tactics to improve buy-in, from specially developed apps to online learning and development programs. Often, HR are recruited to manage these engagement initiatives, but how effective are they?

Research shows that employees retain more information and respond more positively to information when it is delivered in person rather than through a digital platform or even through a video conference.

HR has a special responsibility in this regard to ensure that its message (and the message of the organisation) is being received and absorbed. Where business goals or other workplace news needs to be disseminated, employees are more likely to absorb the information if it is delivered in person. Even in a group setting, employees are more likely to buy-in if HR deliver training or make announcements in person rather than send an email or provide a link to a video or online course.

Our thoughts

Without a doubt, there is some amazing technology out there that is improving the information that HR can access. However, digital technology should be embraced as a tool to aide businesses and employees to be better at what they do – it should not replace genuinely meaningful human interaction in the workplace, particularly for HR, whose work involves understanding and managing the complexities of human beings.

Catch up on our previous posts in this series: Human Nature: The “Human” in HR – Part 1 and I, Robot: The “Human” in HR – Part 2.

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.

02 9256 7500 | sydney@workplacelaw.com.au

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