HR is facing a perfect storm. The fast pace and immediacy of business today, fuelled by advances in technology, mean we are making less and less genuine human contact.
Alongside this, modern life is taking its toll on us as individuals. In particular on our mental health and ability to cope in times of stress. This is a problem for HR. Yet, with its current focus on technology as the easiest way to communicate, it’s doing little to address this. Today’s HR is processing people rather than supporting them.
What went wrong
Over the last 10 years or so, in response to the 2008 financial crisis, many organisations have made cutbacks. At the same time, advances in technology made it easier for organisations to automate processes. As a result, the balance of priorities tipped from people to process. Take this sorry tale from a bank manager I spoke to recently.
He told me his head office had emailed staff to tell them they had to submit a question through a portal before they could speak to HR. “I’m a bank manager,” he said. “Stuff is raining down around my ears, I’m so stressed out. I just want to speak with someone.”
This is a perfect example of how HR has become process driven. How the relationship between HR and the people they are there to support is now transactional, rather than relational. This demotion of employees from people to resources means that the H in HR is losing its significance.
What is happening now
It appears that HR isn’t listening. There seem to be few opportunities – or at least few meaningful ones – for employees to share their concerns. For example, the Banking Standards Board recently found that 40 per cent of bank employees who had raised a concern felt as if they had not been listened to or taken seriously. And responding to a recent survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit, 88 per cent of people said poor communication had added to their stress at work. 26 per cent said this happened very often. Earlier this year Ford referred to redundancies it was making as ‘voluntary employee separations’. This kind of evasive language is no way to treat people, in particular those you value. It damages both relationships and reputations.
The challenge for HR
Employees need to have trust in HR and believe they are onside. This can only happen through meaningful communication. HR needs to be proactive and make genuine, human contact part of their daily ‘doing’, rather than defaulting to technology. They need to speak to people in person, go and see them, call them on the telephone or use a video conferencing tool.
The key to success in business is strong, meaningful relationships that put people at the centre, rather than process or technology. It’s something HR should be leading, as communication ambassadors for their organisations.