Human factor will determine excellence in digital HR

Automation may be here to stay but it will not push out humanness from HR. The function has evolved over time with newer roles and responsibilities. While automation may have relieved HR of some tasks, the human element will always remain the fulcrum.


IR led the way for ER, BP was suffixed to HR and people management has changed and how! In the past, HR was a preferred choice for people who liked to serve people, but intrusion of technology has changed that, at least to some extent!

Can the core functions of HR be automated? Can identification and hiring of personnel, their onboarding, L&D, compensation & benefit, engagement, safety, welfare and wellness, and so on be automated? When everything that HR does revolves around people, how can the human element be absent from it?

If HR = people, business = people, then HR = business, right?

It is pertinent to mention here that since ‘people’ connect ‘HR’ to business, is it possible to imagine ‘HR’ moving away from ‘people’? However, the futuristic HR trends radically conclude that the mundane daily jobs of serving people will be taken care of by machines, while HR will be free to play a more strategic role for the business.

Moreover, there are talks about HR distancing itself from people to play a greater role for business outcome.

HRKatha spoke to senior HR leaders to throw some light on this subject. Exactly where do we stand today and how far is the future? Are we taking baby steps towards transformation? Does transformation mean that HR managers can compromise on the human factor?

Adil Malia

“An HR manager can be a voice of an employee by performing an employee advocacy role in the organisation”

“It’s a good subject to speak on!” says Emmanuel David, director, Tata Management Training Centre. He adds, “I often ask myself whether the primary function of HR is to serve people or enable them to give their best.”

David points out that the demographics are changing rapidly. Employees are either single, single parents or belong to nuclear families. They suffer from loneliness, and today more than ever they need a designated desk to go to for empathy.

A veteran in HR, Adil Malia, CEO, The Firm talks about the employee advocacy role of HR. He says, “An HR manager can be a voice of an employee by performing an employee advocacy role in the organisation. The manager stands for progressive views and promotes inclusion, diversity and transformation.”

“Employees get empathy from the line manager or somebody designated to express empathy, and that is perhaps a human resource function,” expresses the veteran HR practitioner, David.

Earlier there was asymmetry of power, explains David with an example, “In the era before automation, if employees needed clarification on provident fund loans, they would approach HR. Today, however, they will find the information by pressing a few buttons on their phones.”

From personnel management of yesteryears to combating disengagement, bullying and harassment at the workplace, the role of an HR manager has transformed.

However, that does not mean that AI and robotics will eliminate the ‘human element’ from the role. The eye contact and sharing an employee’s joy or tears among innumerable other ways to bond, will all continue to be HR’s domain.

Emmanuel David

“Employees get empathy from the line manager or somebody designated to express empathy, and that is perhaps a human resource function,” expresses the veteran HR practitioner”

Human beings are known to face dilemma, and quite often too. They need to have another person to discuss things. Finding a patient listener in an HR manager is the biggest help at the onset of a problem. Moreover, speaking to someone is therapeutic and can help people resolve matters in their own heads.

The whole realm of possibilities, where you encourage someone, help them to see their blind spots and motivate them to give their best is an exclusive domain of humans, especially at the right moment. While AI is also capable of giving feedback, it cannot really fathom an individual’s circumstantial need or behaviour.

Empowering individuals and helping them enhance their performance is possible only through HR. This is because HR managers are aligned to the mission and the objective of the business and create a culture conducive for the same.

A dialogue is very important to counsel and support employees, periodically. Here also AI cannot replace the ‘human element’ possessed by HR managers.

In case of new joinees, a little nudge and an acknowledgement that they are on the right track and doing well also goes a long way in bringing in that much-needed dash of humanness to the job.

Automation in the function can coexist along with the humanness of the function. The latter will continue to be superior than the former.

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