Is Technology Dehumanizing the Workplace?


Employee engagement is an ongoing concern for organizations who are always at loggerheads to attract, engage, and retain the best talent. Despite all the attention that employee engagement initiatives get, their effectiveness is askance. Why else would a Gallup survey point out that less than one in every seven workers worldwide are engaged in their workplace? This is a true employee engagement crises and one that threatens to reduce business performance. Organizations are trying to tackle this storm by using technology to engage their employees. The rise of machine intelligence and conversational experiences is creating near-human interactions. But the question is whether they are adding the element of human touch? Many experts opine that as employee engagement becomes more system and machine driven, workplaces are gradually losing the much-needed human touch. And that will send engagement levels further down a spiral.

HR Technology is the latest hot agenda on CHRO’s minds, and many are trying to integrate it into their daily HR lives. Automation to reduce time-to-delivery and costs and increase the accuracy of work jobs has gained much attention. In fact, the future of work entails that man and machine will soon work side by side, as transactional and mundane jobs are given to machines, while man gets to spend time on more strategic work. Chatbots are being considered to replace employer-employee conversations, at least the basic ones if not all. This is not an aberration, it is a trend. For years pulse surveys have been reduced to filling cumbersome questions as a check-mark, rather than having a heart-to-heart one-on-one to understand the real person behind the employee-mask. And with the unprecedented focus on HR technology in today’s times, this dehumanization is set to increase. A survey by Ernst and Young outlines the top HR tech investment areas as Performance management (19%), Compensation and Benefits (14%) and Recruitment and Staffing (12%).

The above examples do not mean that technology is bad, it is just important to put technology-versus-humanistic interactions in perspective. It is important to achieve a balance between the two. For example, managers may tend to avoid spending time with their team members to understand them better. They may assume that the employee engagement system is already capturing the needs and aspirations, so why spend time on one-on-ones? This is just one example of technology overtaking human-presence. Such attitudes will only set up the organization at large for failure and must be corrected by HR.

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HR is faced with many a challenge—engaging employees, building the skills of the future, controlling attrition and so on. It is important to address these challenges while keeping the employee experience at the core of every intervention. Get into the shoes of the employee, and take a call whether an out-and-out technology will serve the purpose. Or maybe a conversation here and a human consideration there will serve better. Here is how HR can change the above three top HR tech areas of investment, and add a human element to it.

  • Performance management: The annual review process is fast being replaced by regular check-ins and systems to support it. Here, the role of the supervisor-employee one-on-one discussion is even more important so as to provide ongoing feedback. An ongoing human connect will give the employee the sense that the organization cares about his or her professional development. This goes a long way in creating engaged, loyal, and productive employees.
  • Compensation and benefits: Self-service modules for selection of compensation and benefits plans are now a norm. However, most employees would like some guidance in making the selection. Here is where financial wellness sessions, education, and advisory can empower the employee to make the right choice. For example, have a financial consultant in place, who employees can reach out to for case-specific doubts. Adding this human-angle will remove the stress of making financial planning and make it a happy and productive process.
  • Recruitment and Staffing: A great candidate experience is crucial to become an employer of choice. Your ATS may do the job of maintaining records and sending out automated communication. But it is up to the recruiter to engage with the candidate on authentic humanistic terms. The recruiter is the first brand ambassador of the organization and how he or she communicates with the candidate leaves a distinct impression. It can result in a candidate convert, or a negative experience that spreads like fire.

HR must play a balancing act—between the employee needs and the organizational strategy. The right mix of technology and human interface can help this cause, by empowering and enabling your people the right way.