It’s Time To Rethink Human Resources, The Key To Employee Morale

"Human resources." When it comes to your career, those two words will ultimately influence whether you are hired or fired, have to relocate your family to move up or move out, and whether you receive a holiday bonus or that dreaded membership to the “Jelly of the Month Club” a la Clark Griswold. If there’s one area within a company that should focus solely on the “human” side of human resources, that should be it.

Big data and the perpetual pivot

But somewhere along the line everything started to change. Instead of seeing employees as people, some companies started to think of them purely as resources or commodities. That might not sound too bad until you start to think about some of the other resources that are out there—coal? wind? water? machinery? Don’t get me wrong, those are all great. I’m just not sure you’d want to be grouped in with them when the powers that be are making decisions that will directly impact you both professionally and personally.

Putting the “human” back in human resources

Companies have to make tough choices. And some of those will undoubtedly involve their employees. When that happens, it’s critically important for both morale and talent retention to evaluate everyone on your team as individual contributors—not line items on a spreadsheet, percentages, or some predetermined dollar amount.

Instead of focusing solely on “the numbers,” companies must take a more holistic approach to broader staffing issues by looking at 360 feedback, performance reviews, and the impact those changes will have on specific departments and the organization based on each individual.

The ills of human resources and the rise of the free agent workforce

Human resources needs get back to what it was intended to be—an area dedicated to attracting and retaining the best employees by providing a healthy work environment, opportunities for career and professional growth, and a “human” approach to the way organizations think about staffing. If and when that fails, employee morale usually isn’t too far behind.

We’re all free agents. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. In a corporate environment where employees are seen as resources, you have no choice but to think of yourself that way. If you’re lucky, you’ll avoid getting caught up in all of the layoffs and restructurings. In reality most employees are not much more than one performance review, bad boss, or corporate shakeup away from being shown the door.

Short-term fixes create long-term morale killers

Big data, the speed of information, and a ridiculously competitive global marketplace are forcing companies to pivot at the drop of a hat. Each economic downturn and dip in quarterly earnings has the potential to trigger a shockwave of headcount reductions and corporate restructurings that send hundreds if not thousands of employees into a tailspin. Some of those who are let go are poor performers. I get that. But a lot of others aren’t.

Balancing “human” capital and long-term outcomes

Appeasing anxious shareholders, reacting to unexpected dips in the economy, and managing the day-to-day personnel issues that arise at large companies can be taxing on even the best of human resource areas.

Organizations that “get it”—those that are able to focus on the “human” elements of staffing and balance those considerations with the short- and long-term goals of the business—are the ones who are doing what human resources was intended to do.

Shawn Graham is a marketing and brand strategist for startups and small businesses. Find Shawn at shawngraham.me or continue the conversation on Twitter.

[Image: Flickr user Martin Gee]

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6 Comments

  • Todd X.

    Not to be a devil's advocate, but my question would be "Why?" What data show that being more "human" provides a greater ROI for employers? (I believe it does, but we in HR must be more quantitative if we want to have an impact on the business.)

  • Shawn

    Thanks, Todd. That's part of the point. Organizations are so focused on ROI that they often forget that they're dealing with people, emotions, and morale.

  • HR Ability

    Perfect question, I think - devil's advocate or not. What's needed is a description of "being more human."

    I like this classic from Douglas McGregor (The Human Side of Enterprise):"The essential task of management is to arrange organizational conditions and methods of operation so that people can achieve their own goals best by directing their own efforts toward organizational objectives."That's how organizations - and their HR people - can "be more human." And isn't the ROI out there in just about every employee engagement survey?  

    "The essential task of management is to arrange organizational conditions and methods of operation so that people can achieve their own goals best by directing their own efforts toward organizational objectives."

    That's how organizations - and their HR people - can "be more human." And isn't the ROI out there in just about every employee engagement survey?  
     

  • Shawn

    Thanks for sharing, HR Ability. Which comes first--organizational objectives or personal goals--is an interesting philosophical question. To your point, both have to work in tandem if you're going to maximize your ROI.

  • RolePoint

    “Short-term fixes create long-term morale killers.” We live in a world of short-term fixes, unfortunately. You’re right though, these are the worst solutions to use. HR today needs to be focusing on true long-term solutions. What employee engagement programs are going to work for you? Would an employee referral program help with hiring and engagement? What’s the long-term solution? When you think of it in the long-term, you’re forced to consider the “human” aspect again, as you mentioned.

  • ShawnGraham

    Thanks for the comment, RolePoint. It's definitely a tough spot to be in--anxious shareholders (and board members), economic downturns, disruptive technologies and a myriad of other factors that can have a direct impact on their profitability.


    The first step is looking beyond the spreadsheets to truly understand the impact any staffing changes will have on employee morale. Overly-used catch phrases like "the new normal" and "doing more with less" aren't going to be enough convince your best talent to stick around.