Blog post

Work is changing, but is HR changing with it?

Coen Brandsma
Coen Brandsma 30 June 2015

You hear it. You see it. But most of all, you experience it. Organizations are struggling with the differences in how different generations perceive work. Due to the many technological developments, the speed at which our society has changed over the past ten years has been unprecedented. Change has become a constant factor in our society. We now spend many days a year doing everything via our smart phones. Younger generations have grown up with new technologies. They want to be in control themselves and they set different requirements on employers. What does this mean for employees, the organization and for HR? And how can we deal with these changes? These are questions that occupy many organizations.

A three-year old kid got me thinking

Baby boomers, generation X, generation Y, generation Z, and all future generations: thanks to the exponential growth of technological innovations, our approach to work has completely changed and will continue to change from one generation to the next. It's not so long ago that working at home was simply not done. Work and private life were strictly separated. This is a situation that is hard to imagine now, given all the technologies we have at our disposal.  

Another example: there was a time that jobs that lasted 25 years or longer were the rule. But if you talk to members of generation X, Y or Z now, only few among them will say that they would like to work in one organization that long. What does this mean for staffing policy? And how about legislation and regulations, or collective labor agreements? Have they been adjusted to this new situation?

And that’s not the end of it. Things we find self-evident now may have changed completely by tomorrow. In the supermarket the other day, I heard a little boy of about three ask his mother: "Mummy, why do we still have shops? The shopping can be delivered to our home, can't it?"

Why do we keep on doing the things we're used to doing?

The questions this boy asked are the kind of questions we should ask ourselves more often. Why do we still do what we've always been doing? The world around us is changing. But for some reason, we often still try to organize things as if nothing has changed. Don't you agree that this also applies to HR?

Talent management is a good example of this. Talent management is often about policy, about processes, about standardizing. The organization's perspective takes center stage. That's what we're accustomed to. But how about the risk that any policy will be outdated by the time we have implemented it? Shouldn't we focus more on the changing wishes and expectations of employees? I think that now is the time to consider the needs, drives and values of employees young and old, and to map them and anticipate them.

Another example is that of administrative HR processes. Lots of organizations are still struggling to get “the basics” right, using paperwork and Excel lists. A waste of time. Digitizing payroll files, changes, real-time insight into facts and figures: just a few examples of obvious digitization actions. In a time when change is the constant factor, when technologies make work lighter, and the gaps between generations are ever-greater, it's time for HR to rise to the occasion. Show leadership! Start computerizing and digitizing your processes now.

There's an adage that says: “If you do what you have been doing, you'll get what you already had.” That's the mind switch we have to make. Don't continue doing what you've always been doing.

Focus on people, instead of on technology

There's often a willingness to change. I deal with organizations that are considering new HR software every day. That's great, of course. But thinking back to the questions that organizations had ten years ago when I was taking my first steps in HR, and comparing them to today's questions, there's actually little that has changed. I think that's quite shocking. Organizations are still struggling to digitize their HR processes, or are disappointed by the results of their digitization efforts.

Where do things go wrong? I already hinted at the answer above: I think that we don't focus enough on the end user - the employee and his or her individual needs. In general, there are four groups for whom digitizing HR processes makes sense: the board, the HRM department, managers and employees. In 95% of all implementations I coordinated, organizations started from the needs of the organization (particularly those of the board and the HRM department). That's quite understandable, but where's the manager's or employee's perspective?

HR is still all about people (human resources). But employees are rarely asked the question: what would be helpful to you? Nor are managers asked: what guidance mechanisms do you need? Missed opportunities.

Employees in control

Information - right now! People want to see, feel, and experience it. At any time they want. Rapid and understandable information via apps, extensive information via portals. That's what managers and employees are looking for. They want to be in control themselves. Technology makes this possible, but it requires more than just technology from organizations: it’s mainly a change in mindset. A mindset starting from the employee and their changing world.

It’s time that this change of mindset was set in motion. You might start by asking your employees a question: how can we ensure today that you can excel tomorrow? This might well be the most important starting point in order to really remove employees' fears and worries and to enable employees of all different generations to fully develop their talents.

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Coen Brandsma

HRM specialist

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