So how do we change ‘human resources’ or the HR department? What is the story we want to tell ourselves about work of the future? What do we want to tell each other about the relationship between staff, management, and organisation that is authentic and sustainable? How do we develop trust when individual ambitions and desires for work somehow might conflict with the interests of the manager and organisation?
I don’t have all the answers but I asked those questions not so I can give you the answers. I ask them because they are worth thinking about. And one starting point, is to consider why we need workers and what do we want from them; as well as what do they want from us?
The brilliant thing about the knowledge-based economy is that it has made work more tightly woven into the fabric of our identity and life. In the past, earlier generations might see work as an enabler for a better life, to raise children so they can go to school, to get a bigger house so there’s room for the parents and children, to buy the things they want. Work also didn’t take up as much time in their life; and definitely not as much mindspace. Yet work in those days gave a special kind of security (in terms of financial aspiration and stability) that was unprecedented compared to the pre-industrised societies.
The disconnect now is that work is giving less of that security while demanding more of the lives of workers. It doesn’t square up; and Human Resource departments have to recognise that. They have to start seeing themselves as stalwarts of the company, safeguarding and keeping the most valuable asset of the company – it’s people. And when HR begin to see that they are not filling empty seats but caring for their staff (as an asset manager of a building would care for the development), they’ll begin to see the physical and mental health aspects of the work, they would go beyond developing the staff with just skills they define as useful for work, they’ll go beyond just ensuring a competitive paycheck.
The story we must keep telling ourselves is not that we are just replaceable cogs of the machine; because we are not. It is to be constantly clear about what we bring to the table for this organisation. And never to lose that confidence in one’s plasticity in terms of picking up new skills and retraining/retooling in order to stay relevant, not based on what the companies say they want, but based on the ability to produce what is valuable in the marketplace.
HR can start with that kind of staff empowerment; and the cultural change it produces, and the impact it makes will start snowballing. Your organisation will mature, grow and be more successful as a result of that.
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