Ten Ways HR can Reimagine Social Contracts with Workers

The rapid pace of change has outpaced many of the public policies, business strategies and organizational practices that were designed in an earlier era to govern work, pay and employment relations. Closing this gap by updating these policies, strategies and practices is essential to building an economy and world of work where all can prosper.

– Thomas Kochan, Shaping the Future of Work

The words of Thomas Kochan are particularly relevant today, as not only technological advances but also the ongoing pandemic continue to strain and test the worker-employer relationship beyond anyone’s anticipation. Thriving in an uncertain future depends on having a compelling vision and powerful social contract with the workforce that guides that relationship as we move forward.

Here we briefly describe some insightful ways HR can reimagine social contracts with workers while at the same time keeping its finger on the pulse of rapid change as this second wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution evolves. These include consideration for an employee experience strategy that will boost your ability to attract, engage and develop high-performing employees, to designing a flexible culture that supports diversity and well-being.

We also consider the importance of continuous learning and worker resilience in an era when advances in technology are changing our perception of traditionally secure career paths, as well as the benefits of leveraging machine learning capabilities to enhance people analytics and workforce planning.

Our goal here is to provide some high-level, thought-provoking material that will help you consider several different perspectives that will enhance your social contracts with the workforce.

Create and implement a new employee experience strategy

As this second wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds, we are seeing organizations focusing on a holistic employee experience that strives to unify the entire workplace. Culture, employee engagement and employee brand proposition are now top priorities among business leaders, while a mixture of economics, politics, technology, demography and several other complex social and environmental factors are influencing how we think about resourcing our organizations. The employee experience strategy must be aligned with critical business goals – mission and purpose, growth and performance, culture and human-centricity. For example, culture is the “river that runs through” all employee experiences. Beyond words and commitments, culture needs be actionable.

To do this, companies must design innovative and engaging experiences where participation, networking, real-time learning, the free flow of ideas across business units and divisions, the incentives to seek out new people with different ideas are all available and encouraged. People should be able to bring their personal brand to work and become known or found and tapped for a wide range of expertise and interests beyond their immediate job skill requirements.

Instigate policies to support hybrid work

HR has a crucial role to play in the instigation of policies to support hybrid work. This includes considering all eventualities from both a human resources and a legal perspective. Policy changes should include those for onboarding and time-tracking, as well as consideration of how new hybrid workforce policies might affect partners outside the company. Also, as so much hybrid worker communication occurs online, HR must offer alternatives for worker collaboration, and include remote learning and development tools. Creating a safe and productive environment for workers is always the primary objective through a carefully considered combination of the right policies and practices that enable effective communication, performance management, and team building.

Hybrid models include the “remote-first” or “at will” varieties, whereby workers may come in to the centralized office when they choose to do so, most often for collaborative purposes. The “office-occasional” model, on the other hand, means that hybrid workers are expected to attend the office for a certain number of days or hours each week. Finally, the “office first” model means that workers will only work remotely when required to do so, as in the case of recent lockdowns due to the pandemic.

Define and develop worker personas

As organizations strive to create more personalized experiences for each worker, many are building personas that group individuals based on shared traits, experiences and behaviors. This is a helpful way to build a narrative around the entire organization, which in turn assists HR in designing experiences tailored to satisfy worker needs based on the views, challenges and perspectives of every individual. The concept of building worker personas has a positive impact on driving engagement by targeting a handful of distinct employee types, making it much more efficient and cost-effective to create experiences that are likely to resonate with workers. Using qualitative and quantitative research as a starting point, organizations can apply analytics to cluster attributes that classify shared worker motivations, goals and potential pain points.

By linking these findings to known demographic information such as age, gender, role, company longevity, and training, commonalities emerge that can add depth to emerging personas. Ultimately, business leaders will have a holistic picture of the entire workforce, as represented by a finite number of these personas that may then be utilized to maximize worker engagement.

Design a culture that rewards wellbeing and flexibility

Designing a purpose-driven organizational culture based on well-being and flexibility, as well as worker growth and safety, is one key to retention in an era that has seen the rapid expansion of hybrid work. A sense of personal empowerment is instilled in workers who see clear opportunities for personal development in an environment that promotes inclusion and transparency, flexible scheduling, a strong sense of community, and a focus on wellbeing.

One of the biggest challenges today is for business leaders to cultivate a working environment that safeguards the mental health and physical, emotional and economic wellbeing of workers, as well as the more complex considerations that drive employee satisfaction and engagement levels. Internal influencers in this regard include relationships with co-workers, tools and resources, flexible hours of work, remuneration, and workplace safety. These attributes are all key to promoting a robust and attractive company culture.

Implement a single destination for all HR services

Fueled by cloud computing and mobile applications, the implementation of a centralized HR service delivery model is undergoing rapid evolution. From workforce analytics to governance and decision rights, from global mobility to solution integration, the transformation of HR is going far beyond traditional boundaries around efficient and effective service delivery, integrated HR systems, employee self-service, and timely access to workforce data.

For example, mobile self-service delivery models give workers the flexibility to access required information through knowledge bases, while technologies such as cloud computing and social media enable HR to deliver services more efficiently and effectively. HR can use these to deliver new innovations quickly and affordably using tiered or shared service models.

Build worker resilience through continuous learning

The rapid emergence of a substantial hybrid or entirely remote workforce over the past couple of years has greatly diluted the informal learning opportunities for co-workers that centralized operations imparted by its very nature. Even while online training is nothing new, the ‘new normal’ is placing unusual demands on isolated workers that must be met by a concerted effort to build greater organizational cohesion and resilience.

As such, a more deliberate approach to continuous learning and employee engagement can be facilitated through the provisioning of self-directed and on demand content that is customized and personalized for the workforce. In this way, areas like problem-solving, productivity, and working and managing virtually can be highlighted for consumption by workers who must embrace the prospect of imminent organizational change.

Align technology development to workforce upskilling

As digital technology continues to flourish during this second wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the organizational desire for more complex problem-solving skills within the workforce is growing exponentially. As new digital channels become the primary customer-engagement model, workers must reskill and quickly adapt to an ever-changing environment.

Human Resources can lead the way in providing insights as to what gaps exist based on alignment with technological development plans. This can be achieved through close cooperation and knowledge sharing with executive leadership in terms of the evolving business model and technological investment plans, as well as the development of a learning culture that can build high-demand skills.

Evaluate existing mobility strategies

In today’s business environment, flexibility is one key to attracting new global talent, and mobility is leading the way as the key enabler and support mechanism for hybrid or remote workers. As organizations align policies, processes and service delivery models to support critical mobility strategies, the task of managing a mobile workforce becomes an integral part of employee experience, as well as enabling the business to integrate and deliver new and innovative business services faster.

For example, bringing data analytics into the equation can facilitate the mobile strategic decision-making process by consolidating data and information across business platforms. Mobility is driving and enabling work from anywhere, and by strategically aligning this to the operating model, it will leverage both data and technology and also fully utilize people’s capabilities, regardless of physical location.

Establish new workforce planning and people analytics capabilities

The concept of using analytics capabilities to manage talent and make evidence-based people decisions is surprisingly still somewhat novel to many institutions, who may rely largely on analyzing more traditional HR data, such as headcounts and performance scores. However, that situation is rapidly changing as ever more sophisticated reporting capabilities are opening the door to data science and statistical experts who can add significant value to both workforce planning and people analytics initiatives.

This could include automating and visualizing HR dashboards through business-intelligence platforms in order to generate standard reports or respond to ad hoc requests. Fit-for-purpose predictive models are now most often applied to workforce planning, while the acquisition of advanced data science talent is accelerating the analysis of areas like employee health and wellness, for example through building algorithms that mine free form worker comments. Obviously, the organizational context can have a significant impact on the extent of people analytics, but advances in areas like AI and natural language processing are also changing the face of HR reporting.

Partner with employees to create new optimal 4IR career pathways

In concert with the automation of routine tasks, the rapid evolution of 4IR technologies means that employers need to think differently about the traditional organizational structure and adopt a more fluid, team-based approach to projects. Human resource professionals must now think in terms of worker potential and assess those attributes that are less likely to be automated in the near future, including critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving skills.

This means partnering with employees in order to leverage those hard to replicate skills that can reveal optimal career pathways. Incentives such as personal development opportunities, revamped benefit programs and the development of a culture that promotes lifelong learning are all motivational adjuncts to an organizational structure that encourages partnership with workers at a time when many are concerned about the obfuscation of historically secure career corridors.

Logical Design Solutions (LDS) is a digital strategy and design consultancy to global enterprises. We create experiences that transform business and help people work successfully in the new digital organization. Clients come to LDS because of our reputation for intellectual rigor, our foundation in visionary experience strategy, and our commitment to enabling digital transformation inside the enterprise. Learn More about how LDS has dramatically improved the way that some of the largest corporations in the world do business.


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