Rethinking HR: Prioritising Employee Well-being Over Metrics

April 22, 2024 thehrobservr-hrobserver-ethicalHR

In the past 20 years there has been a significant emphasis, and rightfully so, on positioning HR as a strategic business partenr. Both academics and practitioners agree that doing so not only benefits the organisation, but the HR professionals themselves.

However, in its quest to prove its strategic nature and distinctiveness there is a concern that HR prioritises business performance, focusing perhaps too much on demonstrating that they are adding value, and thus neutralising its moral impulse, distancing away from its people – its employees.

HR is often placed in what we can consider morally ambiguous or ambivalent situations, i.e. do we downsize to save the organisation money? and as a consequence, HR does face a dilemma of balancing the need to add value while also showing concern for employees.

Against this backdrop it is therefore important to move away from ethical standards and/or a set of ethical policies or ‘ethical codes of practice’ and instead, focus on what HR should do in their day-to-day interactions with employees, demonstrating and practicing a genuine care and responsiveness– placing employees above everything else, prioritising, understanding, and supporting their overall well-being. 

The suggestions below put the employee at the forefront, one that is rooted with a genuine commitment to ethics.

  • Respect for your employees:

It simply isn’t enough for HR to comply with legally mandated employee rights; instead, they need to demonstrate a genuine respect for its employees. This may be in their day-to-day interactions with employees such as professional courtesy, but also when developing HR policies and programmes which are rooted in the dignity of labour of all employees, regardless of organisational level. It may also involve respecting boundaries and employees’ time, for example, respecting that employees may have different degrees of family and/or other personal commitments and encourage fairness and equity and genuine work-life integration in their initiatives and policies. 

  • Be an ally and advocate for your employees:

HR is not only the voice of management, but also the voice of employees. Feedback mechanisms via employee surveys, town hall meetings and suggestion boxes provide employees with an opportunity to know their voices are not only heard, but that they matter. Granting voice doesn’t mean that HR turns into a ‘complaints centre’, rather it gives employees the opportunity to provide meaningful input into their work and organisation, giving them a sense of pride.

Granting voice is also a form of amplifying the voices of the marginalised and/or ‘invisible’ employees. It may involve sponsoring or championing for their success, being an ally, confidant, and advocating for their needs, concerns, and interests to management. It may also include proposing and designing programs that support the mental and physical well-being of employees, career development, employee benefits or initiatives to promote and embed meaningful workplace diversity. 

  • Be transparent and honest with your employees:

Employees deserve to receive honest communication. Promote open communication channels via open door policies and regular updates. However, transparency needs to include integrity. There may be times when HR simply does not have the answer, or due to issues concerning confidentiality, cannot be transparent. Simply saying “I do not know right now” or “At this stage, we cannot divulge such information” goes a long way and demonstrates respect for your employees rather than avoiding the topic and/or making up information. 

  • Demonstrate empathy and compassion with your employees:

Employees may come to HR simply because they have nowhere else to go. A simple, “I hear you” or “I understand”, or even more importantly “Your concerns are valid, I believe you” can demonstrate sincere empathy and compassion. Many times, HR may not have the capacity or legitimate “power” to act on what an employee has said, but you can assure them that HR can be a safe space for them.  

HR is not and should not be only administrators of policies and procedures in an organisation. They are also not responsible for only prioritising an organisation’s bottom line.

Instead, HR holds a very important role, delicately balancing these business and legal imperatives but also emphasising its role as the moral conscience of an organisation. It is ultimately the role of HR to be responsible for and promote the well-being, dignity, and respect for all the individuals they serve, promoting a culture of respect, care, trust, and fairness – where genuine concern and compassion is fostered, and where all employees feel valued and supported. 

Dr Nadia deGama

Senior Lecturer and Undergraduate Programme Leader, AFG College with the University of Aberdeen, Doha Qatar

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