Why It’s Time for Organizations to Evolve to Holistic HR

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Mar 19, 2020

In the not too distant past, employees would show up for work in the morning, check their personal lives at the door, duly complete eight hours of work, and then clock out at the end of the day.

Suffice to say, this strict compartmentalization doesn’t tend to represent most workplaces in the 21st century – and human resources is responding accordingly.

At many companies, the tide is starting to turn in favor of a more holistic approach – one that recognizes that employees are real-life, three-dimensional people with personal lives and their own array of challenges, triumphs, joys, and sorrows. Creating a work environment that values the employee as a whole person – and allows employees to fully be themselves – is key to establishing a positive workplace culture, which is beneficial for both the worker and the organization.

This shift towards knowing and appreciating what people are experiencing both inside and outside of the workplace is at the heart of holistic HR. Every employee should feel that HR sees them, cares about them, and is “with” them – ready to support, develop, coach, strategize, and help as needed.

The holistic organization

Holistic HR is also about examining the role of the human resources department within the larger organization. In some companies, HR is viewed as a “set aside” department that should work away at its particular mandate in relative isolation from other departments.

Here’s the thing, though: HR exists to serve anything people-related within the organization. Since people are woven into the fabric of the organization, HR should be too. This holistic approach allows HR to have the greatest impact on people and culture.

A holistic perspective should be applied to hiring decisions as well. In an environment like the tech world, where the job positions can be quite niche, and the skill set quite specialized, companies are going to be selling themselves short if they’re not looking at the full candidate.

In practical terms, what does this mean? It means that if companies need someone to be competent in a certain specialized area, then, by all means, they should check for that competence; there are all kinds of skill-based exams that are helpful in this regard. The results of those exams, however, shouldn’t be the only measure of success and shouldn’t be the only metric by which candidates are evaluated and selected.

Instead, companies should be looking at the whole person. What have been their successes and their wins? How did they address a failure or a challenge? Does this person have a record of being resourceful and driven? How have they balanced their life? Did they work while going to school? Did they have a family to support?

You learn a lot about a person by looking at the whole picture – by better understanding their full life and work experience. Not only can it help better determine if they’re the right person for the organization, but it also helps companies be less narrow in determining who’s a good “fit” for the organization, helping to mitigate unconscious bias.

Tips, tools, and more

A quick note here on unconscious bias: one of the most challenging things about it is that it’s unconscious. As a result, it’s very difficult for individuals to recognize when they are falling victim to their own biases. And to be clear: we all have biases – each and every one of us. The problem is less about having biases than unknowingly being influenced by them when making decisions.

One welcome trend in the HR world is the emergence of practices – such as blind resumes – that can help mitigate unconscious bias. With a blind resume, the name, gender, and all identifiers around race or ethnicity are scrubbed out, helping organizations really “see” the candidate neutrally, rather than viewing them through a potentially biased lens. In doing so, companies can better understand what this individual might bring to the table that could help the organization flourish.

In addition to taking steps to actively guard against unconscious bias, companies interested in practicing holistic HR should focus on creating an inclusive environment at work – one that is welcoming of all ethnicities, genders, orientations, backgrounds, and other diversities. Most organizations start their diversity and inclusion efforts with recruiting – which is to say, getting people in the door – but a better approach is to first start with the culture. If your culture is inclusive, you automatically increase your odds of hiring diverse candidates and will have created an environment that sets them up for success. Start with inclusivity, and the diversity will follow.

Evolution, not revolution

None of the above requires a revolution in HR so much as an evolution. The goal with holistic HR is to evolve the organization – to respect where it’s been and what its current state is while allowing for growth going forward.

Even this measured change can potentially be a frightening prospect. In any organization, there might be those who say, “We’re just fine the way we are, thank you very much – no need to rock the boat.” HR should lead by example by shifting how they view their own role in the organization and slowly offering leaders the tools and insights they need to make holistic HR a reality.

Every organization will be at a different starting point, so each one will have a different set of priorities and a different path forward. But by starting small and demonstrating the value and benefits that holistic HR can bring, organizations can start to transform themselves for the better.

People have always been more than the sum of their parts – holistic HR simply helps to acknowledge that truth and make it a fundamental aspect of company culture.