Interface between people and human resources policy: human capital is rebelling

How the search for purpose and reflection is changing HR policy and HR

Employer branding or algorithm matching: How can HR policy promote talent? How good work succeeds beyond performance pressure through reflection, co-determination and empowerment.

I would like to thank all the participants of the Bosch Alumni Forum “Work of the Future: Focus on People” whose valuable input made this article possible.

Human resources have a problem. Overworked departments, rigid processes, long selection procedures, high turnover of highly qualified employees. But in the so-called war for talent, good recruitment and retention is vital for companies to survive. Markets demand innovation, disruption and change – no one can afford to lose knowledge. What can HR policy do to escape this dilemma?

It’s employer branding, stupid: Companies lure employees with recruiting parties, leisure activities, internal training, flexible working methods and special benefits. The trend is toward job portals and professional networks that use algorithmic matching to bring companies and employees together – ranking tables replace formal applications and assessment centers. (See also: Digital sourcing) Outsourcing the search for personnel to specialized agencies that have an extensive network of potential candidates is also widespread. Personnel consultancies, in turn, work with psychological models to better identify talent.

But what actually is talent and how can it be found when no one knows exactly what it is supposed to do? Structures are only worth as much as the mindset behind them. Because there’s one thing neither automated recruiting tools nor schematic potential analyses can do: look beyond the systemic horizon. Development potential can only be released through meaningful work that integrates the individual in a holistic way and allows time for reflection and recreation. There are no people without talent. There are only people whose talent has not yet been recognized. A sustainable human resources policy must take this into account.

The fine line between meaningful life or self-exploitation

The digitized world of the 21st century is a hypersensitive network of dynamic interfaces – the highest manifestation of capitalism. Work intensification, pressure to perform, and alienation of work stand in contrast to the complexity of tasks. Individual effectiveness, recognition and the feeling of passing on knowledge to others are increasingly falling by the wayside. But the so-called Generation Y wants to be part of a sustainable post-growth movement instead of serving an uncritical hyperconsumption.

The dream of a life without meaningless work – it should actually be feasible when computers, artificial intelligence and robots take over more and more jobs. But although many jobs are being eliminated by the digital transformation, the workload doesn’t seem to be getting any less. On the contrary, new “bullshit jobs” are even being created. Only a small elite benefits from digitalization, while the broad mass of prosumers grows into the new “proletariat in the digital factories of platform capitalism.” (Timo Daum: Das Kapital sind wir. 2017)

And human resources policy? The term human resources has been rightly criticized for several years. Reducing people to an economic quantity is a problem because it leads to anonymization and dehumanization. Although working people have very different ideas of the ideal job, they are united by the same fear: to break under the pressure of the markets (see the study “Wertewelten Arbeiten 4.0”).

Alarmingly, depressive disorders are on the rise worldwide and are well on the way to becoming the new widespread disease. Worldwide, 18% more people are affected than ten years ago; for Germany, the WHO estimates the figure at 5.2% of the population. Studies prove the connection of depressive illnesses with factors at the workplace. According to the DGB Report 2017, it is above all the reconciliation of work, family and private life that is particularly stressful. The key question should therefore be how can the pressure on individuals be reduced and a good working environment created?

Vita contemplativa or the digital ego needs a break

A working day in the not too distant future: The morning begins in an oriental jürte in the middle of a modernized agricultural complex. Incense sticks spread a pleasantly sweet scent. Sounds of meditation, played by electronic media, fill the room. The staff is gathered and relaxing together, each in their own way – sitting, standing or lying down. No communication, just silent exchange. Then it’s back to work. Wouldn’t that be an attractive idea of a digital yet value-based company?

Only a person in mental and physical balance can deliver peak performance. There is strength in rest: Lifelong learning does not mean pumping as much knowledge as possible into oneself, but on the contrary: selecting valuable knowledge (appreciation), dealing with it intensively and critically (appreciation), and enriching one’s personality with it (value creation).

Eastern philosophies are in vogue. Mindfulness and a holistic view of the human being are often demanded, but unfortunately not always understood. Yet Western philosophy itself has a proven concept: the Vita Contemplativa, the antithesis of the Vita Activa. Highly esteemed by Greek philosophers and Catholic theology alike, solitary, contemplative contemplation of the world has always served as a counter-image to active everydayness. However, too little attention is paid to how enriching leisure can be in the world of work. The modern world is virtually suffering from a lack of generalist reflection:

“If one compares the modern world with the worlds we know from the past, one is struck above all by the enormous loss of experience inherent in this development. Not only does descriptive contemplation no longer have a place in the vastness of specifically human and meaningful experience, but thinking, insofar as it consists in reasoning, has been degraded to a brain function that electronic calculating machines perform considerably better, faster, and more smoothly than the human brain.” (Hannah Arendt: Vita Activa or On Active Life, 1960)

But it is precisely the critical interpretation and the art of interpreting knowledge that will be one of the core competencies of the future in order to shape the future. When the majority of empirical knowledge in companies is evaluated by machines, hermeneutic knowledge will be in demand to make purpose out of the growing oversupply of data.

Good work: Tips for successful personnel policy

Dare Diversity.

A generalist approach can only be achieved through different perspectives on the same subject. Diversity of education, gender, origin and age is therefore the key to an efficient personnel policy, although it is also a challenge that should not be underestimated. After all, differences of opinion can quickly lead to communication problems and conflicts. Used correctly, however, diversity leads to measurable increases in business success, as a McKinsey study shows.

Live Democracy.

More freedom and co-determination in the workplace is necessary – the majority of workers agree on this. Companies with highly democratized structures are best suited for this. This can include flat hierarchies, but does not necessarily have to. Prototypes of hybrid network companies with a high degree of self-organization and governance offer such approaches. Instead of vertically and horizontally organized departments, they are structured as complex ecosystems that contain autonomous cells.

Know your Enemy.

Personnel management is relationship work and translation therapy. Problems and innovation blockades arise from poor communication and entrenched structures. Instead of “find the superstar” tactics, HR policy should rather promote internal interface management: break down silos, create exchange between areas, compare best practices, identify conflicts, make diagnoses and suggest treatments.

Be a Role Model.

Leadership of the future is not a person-related status, but a flexible role in project-based teams. So anyone can be a leader! This requires the ability for self-analysis, self-organization and autonomous learning. Employees must be guided to enable themselves to further develop their strengths. Supporting methods for this are, for example, a feedback culture and tools for knowledge management in order to better record the abilities of the employees.

Change the System.

Design the personnel policy in the company in such a way that change is permanently taken into account. Establish the job as a way of life within the company. Train employees to become more involved, to take on responsibility and to work on the meaningfulness of their work. Job rotation and job crafting are models for this. If companies invest in trust and co-determination, everyone can benefit from the company biotope.

Simone Belko is a linguist and European studies scholar with a strong focus on digital literacy. With experience in journalism, PR management, marketing and training she has excelled in Germany and abroad. As a manager for digital products in the online games and FinTech industry she gained deep insights into how online platforms and communities work. Simone is the author of "Digital Consciousness" ("Das digitale Bewusstsein") and currently works at Otto GmbH, leveraging her expertise in business transformation.

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