In the early 1990s, Bruce Springsteen famously proclaimed: “I just want something to hold on to and a little of that human touch.” Thirty-odd years later, a similar refrain emanated from the plush room at the World Employment Conference 2023 in Brussels, Belgium. We live in disorienting and technology-infused times, navigating work in a digital age. But the reality is that the human touch has never been more critical.
So, how can business leaders deal with digitalisation and adapt to AI while maintaining a human touch and getting to grips with workers’ evolving expectations and needs? And what role can HR services professionals play in finding the right balance? Here are some pointers, five phases of a #WEC2023Brussels ‘manifesto’ for people-centered leadership:
- Workplace ‘periodisation’ will boost wellbeing – In athletics and other sports, periodisation is essentially the division of a training calendar into phases of varying intensity. The idea is that you can’t be flat-out all the time, so recovery becomes as essential as high-intensity training blocks. This was the theme of a rip-roaring keynote talk from Microsoft’s Alexia Cambon at the conference. The business world can learn from the world of sports to enhance performance and well-being through better workload pacing and a workplace version of periodisation. Just do it!
- Volatile times are a test of leadership – In the words of Murielle Antille, Head of Government and Industry Affairs at LHH and Chair of WEC’s Career Management Network, “There is a duty of care on leaders to help workers deal with change and uncertainty and to nurture relationships based on trust.” A fast-changing landscape also highlights the crucial role of career management in helping individuals and organisations manage technology-driven transitions, moving away from their more traditional role of outplacement. And assisting individuals to navigate a changing sills and employment landscape is a straightforward test of a people-centric leadership philosophy.
- The ‘attention economy’ is creating new challenges – How can we maintain any semblance of an attention span in this age of massive cognitive overload? This was a theme raised at the World Employment Conference 2023 by Laetitia Vitaud, Author and Speaker on the world of work. In this ‘attention economy,’ the ability to build relationships and to focus on the task at hand and the person in front of you is a strong currency. Debates on technology and the world of work must go hand in hand with discussions on human psychology and the world of work.
- Understanding what workers want is a vital prerequisite – Jeff Neumann, VP of Product Marketing, Global Enterprise and Salesforce at Bullhorn, said, “The motivations of individuals are changing.” One manifestation of this is the discrepancy between what individuals value from a staffing firm and what a staffing firm thinks they value. For example, Bullhorn’s research shows that reputation matters much more to individuals than staffing firms believe. A sustainable human-centered approach must be based on a clear understanding of what workers and job seekers really value.
- Good matching is key to well-being – What are some human implications of technology and AI adoption? OECD research flags mental health risks and uncertainty linked to new skills needs and job displacement. The same research highlights a range of potential benefits, such as improved quality of work. This all boils down to the importance of effectively matching people to the right job. According to the most recent data from the World Employment Confederation, 83 million people were placed into work by private employment agencies globally (roughly equivalent to the whole population of Germany!). And their satisfaction levels in most countries range from 70% to 90%! The industry’s job-matching role is more critical than ever from the perspective of both employer performance and individual well-being.
The World Employment Conference in Brussels was quite a journey through the constantly evolving living organism that is the 21st-century world of work. Although the event’s central theme was working in a digital age, there was absolute consensus on the need for balance and the role that the HR services sector must play in maintaining a human touch at all costs.
The Boss would approve.