Putting the ‘human’ back into human resources

Putting the 'human' back into the workplace
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In order for businesses to be truly inclusive they must adapt their attitudes and behaviour towards those with disabilites and embrace human-centred skills.

We can see emerging trends form in the HR landscape in terms of leadership and people with disabilities. At a time of increased automation and amid businesses preparing for wider use of artificial intelligence, HR functions are preparing by adopting a more intelligent focus on the ‘human’ function of human resources.

If we are making better use of technology, how can we make better use of human skills? My first job in HR (many years ago) was manually inputting over 1,000 employees’ annual leave dates on a huge, slow computer.

The future of HR is in people centred strategy.

When this became automated, new recruits entering at that level entered straight into people facing work on day one, meaning they were learning how to carry out people facing caseloads immediately from day one. 

The future of HR is in people centred strategy. This is not just strategy about people; ‘people centred’ strategy is about involving the people of your workforce in how you develop your resources, your business interests, and your practices.

We still see a huge number of organisations that have failed to involve their people in the development of their strategy. For many of our clients, involving their people in this way has meant employees are more committed and engaged in what those businesses do and the pace at which they grow.

Renewed interest in being ‘human’

A client of ours recently booked a call with me, where the agenda was “What is it to be human?”. Another asked me, “What do my employees want?”. HR directors are looking at how they can use neuro and behavioural science in workforce development. All are proof that we have a renewed interest in being ‘human’. 

Ultimately, the way HR enables effective leadership is to mobilise the strategy across the business. HR is well equipped to do this, but it needs mechanisms to take everyone with them at the same pace.

This means ensuring barriers do not exist for anyone, such as employees with disabilities and long-term conditions.

Businesses are hiring for skill rather than qualifications.

The other thing HR must not miss out on is better alignment with learning and talent development. Too many workforces have great inclusion strategies that don’t reach their learning and talent programmes.

If L&D is not closely aligned with an organisational development strategy, workforces are missing a trick in efficiency and focus. For this reason, we are seeing L&D budgets increase.

Businesses are hiring for skill rather than qualifications and while this is not without difficulties for some, it has proved to be a more intelligent way of recruiting for others.

Showing leadership

Strong leadership has to ensure every area of its businesses’ development and growth is getting to the heart of people –caring about who people are and what they want.

This means not underestimating big life changes that happen to people, such as disability, injury, ill health or loss. When people’s lives change, their behaviours often change too. At these critical changes, leaders need to ensure they are taking everyone with them, and that means meeting all people.

Good leaders know how to communicate effectively and they also know how to engage the people who are mobilising their business plan and strategy. This is good leadership, disabled or not. 

We know that not everyone, at any level of business, uses the category of “disabled”, even if they open talk about a disability, illness or injury that they have.

The key is authenticity. The declaration that you are disabled at senior level is not in itself great leadership; it relies on how you use this message and life experience to create inclusive, impactful change for the people you are leading. 

At our upcoming conference ‘Disability leading the way’ we’ll be thinking about such topics as within business, who is leading the way regarding disability? What does this look like? How is it being done? 

Hosted by the British Library in their Knowledge Centre, it will be an opportunity for HR professionals to learn from key individuals who have shown true leadership in effecting change within their organisations. 

To register your place or for more information please visit: https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/networking-and-events/bdf-conference/2019-conference/

About Angela Matthews

Angela Matthews

Angela is the Advice Service and Policy Manager at Business Disability Forum. She manages the Advice Service and leads on policy work. She is also an advisor to a number of external research projects on disability related social policy. She has been a consultant in diversity and human resources and has also been a strategic adviser to Central Government departments. She is Chair of the Central Government Disability Inclusion Network which exists to engage diversity and disability-related professionals in Central Government in best practice exchange and solutions-focussed debates.

Diversity, and particularly disability, has been a focus for Angela throughout her career. This gives her a unique insight into disability as a business issue from a variety of perspectives. Starting in advising people with long-term conditions on nutrition and wellbeing, she then moved into occupational therapy where she specialised in older people’s mental health and physical rehabilitation). She then changed career and trained in human resources, where she quickly focussed on disability-related employee casework, data management, and workplace adjustments. She then became an advisor to senior management teams and governing bodies on equality and discrimination law in practice in the public sector. Eventually managing diversity, Angela led projects managing equality analysis procedures, establishing disability and diversity monitoring frameworks, and implementing workplace adjustment processes.

Angela’s key interests at Business Disability Forum are:

Employee engagement, productivity, and wellbeing;

Diversity data monitoring and information ethics;

Welfare reform, disability rights, and health care and disability policy development;

Social research methodologies and research management.

Angela is academically qualified (BA Hons, PgCert, PgDip, MPhil) and graduated with distinction in equality and discrimination law at postgraduate level. She was also trained in the Equality Act 2010 by the lawyers who drafted the Act itself. She has enjoyed serving as a volunteer advisor at local ‘blue light’ diversity forums on hate crime related to race, religion and belief, and sexual orientation.

Angela is currently doing her PhD in religion and social theory at the University of Kent. Her research is on the role of emotion in social policy and law formation, which includes the role of protest and social movements in securing rights and legislation for disabled people.

Angela plays the flute and the viola and spends free evenings after work at the Royal Festival Hall.

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