The rise of humanity in HR: why it’s time to embrace employees’ individuality
28 September 2022

The rise of humanity in HR: why it’s time to embrace employees’ individuality

Top experts say more and more employers are recognising and capitalising on the unique differences among their staff to create a better employee experience


Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery

Cathryn Newbery is head of content and community at Ciphr. She was previously deputy editor at People Management magazine. You can find her on Twitter @c_newbery.


Employee engagement Future of Work HR transformation


Top experts say more and more employers are recognising and capitalising on the unique differences among their staff to create a better employee experience

If you’ve been to an HR conference or even dived into HR-related chat on social media over the past couple of years, it’s likely you would have heard more than a few professionals talking about ‘putting the human back into human resources’ or that ‘the future of work is human’.

In 2018, we’re finally set to see HR professionals realise that employees are individual humans with diverse needs, wants and preferences, and aren’t homogenous groups that can be managed according to stereotypes. Nearly 80% of HR professionals we surveyed expect their strategies to be influenced by ‘humanisation’ this year – which has the potential to liberate HR thinking and strategy, usher in a new era for HR practice, and deliver a better quality of service to HR’s internal customers (a priority for a further 85% of people we surveyed).

“I think it should be a basic expectation of any workplace, that you are treated like a person rather than just a unit of production,” says David D’Souza, membership director at the CIPD. “There’s a greater understanding that you need to do things differently to get performance out of a person, than you do to get performance out of a computer. We have different wants and needs that need to be supported.”

We will avoid using gimmicky benefits to attract talent, but instead look at things people really want – by actually talking to our own staff rather than going with the industry standard
Anonymous survey respondent

Kathryn Kendall, chief people officer at Benefex, agrees: “People are no longer willing to be seen – and nor should they be – as commodities. They are people who are giving up a huge percentage of their week to deliver for your business. It’s surely good common sense to make that a good, positive experience for them, so that they want to deliver more. It’s obvious, but unfortunately a lot of companies just aren’t doing that.”

While Dave Ulrich, author and Rensis Likert professor of business at the University of Michigan, notes that the topic of employee experience has been on HR’s agenda for “40 years”, it is evolving. “Firms should not just build an employee experience, but one that links to customers and investors,” he says. “Also, employees are increasingly seeking meaning from their work. It is not just about the experience, but the meaning one gets from that experience.”

Although humanisation might have some of the hallmarks of a ‘bandwagon’, “done right, this could be a profound change in the way that organisations work and value their people,” says D’Souza.

And getting it right doesn’t have to mean making things complicated. Just as HR should be looking to marketing for inspiration on the smarter use of evidence and data to make decisions, so too can HR learn from its marketing colleagues about how to tailor and personalise the employee experience. “Marketing realised the importance of the customer experience years ago; we’re playing catch up,” says Kendall. “Great people want to work for great businesses who will treat them like individuals. Every day that you don’t make the employee experience a priority, your competitors are going to overtake you in terms of how they are going to attract and retain that talent.”

“We are gradually getting our heads around the fact that we need to see our employees as consumers, not assets,” says Lucy Adams, CEO of Disruptive HR and former HR director at the BBC. “While personalised HR is probably still well beyond our reach, we can be quite innovative and think about how we consumerise further – everything from different talent management and career solutions to learning environments that enable employees to learn how and when they like.”

Employee expectations have changed drastically in the last 10 years and we need to move with the times
Anonymous survey respondent

Reward is another area that is ripe for personalisation, adds Kendall. “Last year we added a beer club to our range of benefits. It’s certainly not a traditional employee benefit in any sense, but I think it reflects the increasingly diverse nature of our workforce.”

The human factor is becoming more and more influential on organisations’ approach to restructures, says Perry Timms, founder of PTHR and author of Transformational HR. “A lot of people are shunning traditional restructures and saying, ‘let’s have some dialogue first before we start putting the plan together’. I did that a couple of times in 2017 and it looks like there is more coming in 2018. People are saying, ‘we know things are coming, we don’t know precisely what they are, and we want to get people involved in shaping the plans.’ It would be good if that becomes the norm; transparency and honesty always help.”

More human, more personalised HR will be easier for some organisations to achieve than others – but it’s clear that it’s coming further down the path. “It’s easier for consumer businesses; they find it easier to make the leap in seeing their employees as consumers because they are used to thinking about individual end users,” says Adams.

“They are therefore familiar with the level of insight you need to develop employee personas, customised solutions, different messaging, and menus of options, for example. But we are beginning to see other types of organisations get their heads around it, too.”