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We need to put the human back into automated HR

If the only live human interaction is a scheduled video meeting, don't be too surprised if you begin to lose talent.

The workplace has been transformed by technology in under two years. As businesses were forced into a working-from-home-at-scale experiment, many are just beginning to explore what hybrid working will look like. But spare a thought for the employees who were recruited and onboarded online, many of whom have yet to meet their colleagues in person.

In the UK, AI and facial recognition were used for the first time to ensure managers found the best applicants. Unilever drifted into creepy territory by leveraging technology to analyze candidates' facial expressions and linguistic information throughout the interview process. But those that beat the algorithms could have quickly felt isolated or overwhelmed by the level of workplace surveillance and left yearning for a right to disconnect outside of their working hours.

In a world of uncertainty, many employees suffered challenges around their well-being and remaining engaged or motivated when it felt like every keystroke was being monitored. The Great Resignation quickly reached buzzword status as record numbers of employees began leaving their jobs in droves. Was the obsession with technology and automation dehumanizing the workplace?

Is technology dehumanizing the workplace?

Process fatigue has been building in every industry for a while now. In recruitment, using AI algorithms to remove candidates based on slower speech patterns, an undesirable tone, or facial expressions fails to recognize the benefits of Neurodiversity in an organization. Digital micromanagement through keystroke tracking, screenshots, and facial recognition is never going to end well for the employee or employer either.

The push for efficiency via automation in the workplace can remove human skills, which in turn reduces the much-needed creativity and innovation to fuel new ideas in a business.

Rating and monitoring systems can further dehumanize staff, while algorithms also reduce human empathy in the workplace.

Predictably, many leaders are looking to outsource or automate areas that do not add value to the business. But when the human portion of human resources gets automated, what kind of message does this send out to employees?

Applicant tracking systems, chatbots, and automated self-service solutions often sound great in the sales pitch, but they are often created by organizations with dysfunctional HR departments and low employee satisfaction scores.

Why nuance and context are everything in the workplace

On a global scale, employees seem pretty fed up. Many feel disengaged after a tough couple of years of restrictions, and it will take more than an algorithm to lift them back up. In addition, new applicants are increasingly checking employee reviews at Glassdoor before applying for a role. These trends offer a wake-up call to business leaders to get the balance right if they want to attract and retain talent.

For important matters, nuance and context is everything in the workplace, and there will be times when staff will want to communicate with a human being instead of a chatbot.

Emotional intelligence will play a critical role in ensuring that HR provides an appropriate response to human issues. It's also a timely reminder that some things cannot and shouldn’t be automated.

People-centric policies that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) can ensure that every voice is heard. The culture within a company needs to be welcoming to everyone and help every employee find their sense of purpose, rather than just being seen as another number or rating on a spreadsheet.

Putting the human touch back into HR

It doesn't need to be a binary choice of tech being good or bad. When used in the right way, HR tech can automate cumbersome tasks via an easy-to-use self-service solution that will free up a manager's time to spend with their teams. Ironically, without HR tech, both employees and their managers would be spending most of their time completing mundane admin tasks, preventing them from having time for any form of human interaction.

The events of the last two years saw employees retreat to their safe spaces. While some focussed on building relationships, others found themselves becoming more task-oriented. As a result, a cookie-cutter approach to HR will not work anymore. By contrast, an employee-centric approach and creating a culture of inclusiveness are required to navigate these new expectations and shifts in the workplace successfully.

Ultimately, it's all about balance, and HR technology software will need to create a symbiotic relationship between both businesses and employees to be deemed a success.

Vast amounts of employee and company data can ensure that leaders make data-driven decisions while helping their teams to improve and grow continually.

HR without technology or the human touch will inevitably end in widespread dissatisfaction on all sides. But together, it becomes much easier to explore new concepts, innovative ideas, and tools that will add value to the business and its employees. Rather than being yet another strain to employee engagement, culture, and value proposition, technology and automation combined with the human touch can finally put the human back into human resources.

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