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Feb 2, 2023

In an article for Fortune magazine in late 2021, Rasmus Hougaard, CEO of Potential Project and co-author of “Compassionate Leadership: How to do Hard Things a Human Way,” made a deliberately arresting statement.

Getting straight to the point, he surmised that it was “the dehumanization of work [that] has been the biggest factor in creating unhappy and disengaged employees.”

He added: “High anxiety, daily stress, and the constant need to prove oneself in order to be “good” at your job” was becoming ruinous to employees’ sense of wellbeing – and something, he argued, needed to be done about it.

Hougaard’s big idea was to introduce more of what he called ‘radical candor’ (basically being more compassionate to staff), and that the spread of this should absolutely come from all levels of leadership, including HR leadership.

But two years on, Charlotte Thatcher, SVP People at YOOBIC, says HR professionals are not responding fast enough to this challenge.

She argues HRDs could still do with remembering the vital word that’s part of their job title being – ‘human’.

“Part of the process of making employees feel valued is to build a real community, and allowing staff to feel heard,” she says, speaking exclusively to TLNT.

“But at present, it’s still the case that many companies fail to see even communication, coaching, and mentoring as a two-way street. Only 20% of business-tech pros say they’re investing in improving the employee experience or are prioritizing knowledge-sharing and employee feedback.” She adds: “What’s needed is a more evolved and human-centered view. It’s only by embracing a human-centered workforce strategy can we truly support our frontline teams.”

But what exactly is being more human-centric?

If dehumanization is defined as the ‘denial of full humanness in others,’ and refers to the practice of treating people as though they lack the mental capacities that are commonly attributed to human beings, Thatcher suggests HRDs ought to feel embarrassed if things are really felt that badly.

She says: “HRDs need to remember that for today’s frontline workers, the workplace is changing fast. It’s no longer simply a place where people turn up, put in their allotted time, and earn a paycheck. It’s a place where people build relationships, find meaning and a sense of purpose, and derive real fulfillment from excelling and creating value.”

She says: “The old ways of managing workforces weren’t designed for this new era. In order to overcome the challenges of the post-pandemic world, and shepherd both organizations and employees through the stresses of the lasting labor shortage, the looming recession and associated cost cutting mandates, we need a more compassionate, creative, and above all human-centered approach.”

So what should HRDs do to push a more ‘human-centric’ approach?

According to Thatcher HRDs a human-centered strategy is one that returns to treating treats employees “as people with valuable ideas, legitimate needs, and meaningful aspirations.”

To realize it, she says HRDs need to refocus on getting back to basics.

She suggests that there are five key elements HR professionals need to get right first:

Pay your employees what they’re worth:

 Thatcher says: “Let’s face it: money talks. When you’re trying to make your team feel valued, giving them an appropriate raise or bonus — or other perks such as paid time off — can be a great way to recognize their contributions. Remember, if a small bonus helps you to retain a key worker, you’ll reap bottom-line benefits. Research shows that replacing a frontline employee can cost their employer up to twice their annual earnings. Many companies are already boosting hourly wages, with some big retailers also offering benefits such as paid parental leave and 401K matching. Increasingly, an appropriate salary and benefits are table-stakes. This human-centered workforce strategy is vital, as it meet employees’ human needs as well as their financial needs.”

Reality check:

  • Data from Bankrate (September 2022) finds 55% of Americans feel they are under-paid
  • Pay was the major reason (37%) Americans quit their job in 2021 according to data for Fortune magazine

Provide schedule flexibility

Thatcher says: “Scheduling might not seem like an obvious place to deliver a more fulfilling human experience, but 65% of frontline employees say they value more scheduling stability. It’s been proven that employers who work to accommodate employees’ scheduling preferences typically see higher productivity, decreased absenteeism, and an uptick in sales. One smart approach is to use digital workforce management tools to understand when workers are needed based on traffic forecasts and other data, and then empower employees to trade shifts via an online portal. Done right, such solutions can ensure companies aren’t short-handed during high-traffic periods, while also giving employees agency over how and when they work.”

Reality check:

  • More than half (55%) of employees polled in a 2022 Qualtrics study said more flexibility over their hours and schedule would make them more likely to stick with an employer.
  • A UK poll found 69% of workers would prefer an earlier start and finish time rather than traditional 9am-5pm hours

Remember that employees want to grow

Thatcher says: “On-the-job learning is a critical capability for today’s frontline employees. With turnover rates being so high, it’s never been more important to quickly and efficiently onboard new workers. But learning shouldn’t stop once an employee has mastered the basics of their job. Up-skilling battle-tested employees is a great way to make people feel valued and motivated, helping to reduce churn and keep your most valuable employees happy and engaged. Giving workers a real path to personal growth makes them feel empowered and respected. It also boosts the long-term value. People will then deliver for your company too.”

Reality check:

  • Even though 80% of US adults consider an employer’s professional development and training offerings an important consideration when accepting a new job, just 39% say their current employer is helping them improve their current skills or gain new skills to do their job better. This is according to results from the latest American Staffing Association Workforce Monitor
  • Recent research by MIT Sloan professor, Paul Osterman, found that workers who need employer-provided training the most are precisely the ones who are not getting it. It found less than half of all surveyed Hispanic workers received informal training, while just 32% of high school educated workers received informal training.

Make frontline work meaningful

Thatcher says: “Employees don’t just want to earn more: they want a purpose, and the knowledge that their work is having an impact in the world. Many are seeking out new positions with purpose-led retailers that emphasize values such as sustainability and ethical trade, and that recognize frontline workers both as individuals and as part of a purpose-driven team. For today’s frontline employers, building a sense of camaraderie and connection isn’t just about boosting morale it’s about creating a sense of shared mission. To achieve that, it’s important to reinstate to all of your employees what the mission actually is (and how integral they are to achieving that goal). Your ultimate aim is to have employees share ideas and feedback across the organization. This drives value and empowers teams to carry the mission forward.”

Reality check:

  • Just over half of working Americans (55%) claim their job is making a meaningful contribution to the world, while 22% say it doesn’t provide them with any meaning at all, according to YouGov.
  • Among those who say their job is not making a meaningful contribution to the world, just 42% say their job is ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ fulfilling.

Unlock your employees’ knowledge

Thatcher says: “What’s needed is a more evolved and human-centered view that seeks not just to push messages down to employees, but also actively encourages employees to ask questions, raise concerns, or share insights — not just with their supervisors, but also with one another. Your frontline teams are an incredible source of knowledge about your customers, products, and business processes, so put digital channels – including user-generated content and peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing solutions – in place that make it easier and more engaging for workers to communicate in rich and meaningful ways.”

Reality check:

  • Research by the University of North Colorado found 41% of employees polled said leadership didn’t value innovation, and 67% said leadership operates on the notion that “this is how we’ve always done it.”



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