From Human Resources to The Human Side of Business

Human Resources can be more than just the HR department. This is also necessary if it is to make a contribution to securing the sustainability of companies.
Since the concept of industry 4.0 was first been introduced at the Hanover Fair 2011, the term 4.0 has gained a life of its own. In 2014, the term HR 4.0 was introduced. As usual with new terms, it is not yet entirely clear what is behind these buzzwords. The following article attempts to define for the so-called white-collar area, the themes and issues that are specifically relevant to ensure the sustainability of companies from an HR perspective.


Which jobs will survive and who will be qualified to do it?
The first important question for HR concerns the professions of the future. An Oxford study in 2013 assumes that over the next 20 years, nearly 50 percent of all jobs in the United States are going to disappear. Depending on which study you choose, 50 to 70 percent of all children born in these years are one day going to work in jobs that currently do not exist. HR needs to monitor this development more than ever before and need to raise the question of what professions are needed in the future, what they look like, and what professions are not going to have any future. HR should ensure through proper training that current employees are also going to be the right talents for the near future.
The second important question concerns the professionals of the future. In the age of the Internet, huge quantities of data can be retrieved with little effort. Thanks to smart phones and other devices all information is now available in the shortest possible time. The depth of knowledge may become unimportant. New type of experts are probably going to become more important, they will act in in tandem with technical equipment and will be able to distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information. This can be illustrated by an observation in chess. Since no man is anymore able to beat the best chess computer, a new form of chess has developed in which humans and machines are going to compete against other machines. It has been shown that even the combination of a medium strength computer, and a good, but not above average chess player can beat the best chess computer. The ability to see technology not only as a tool but as an enforcement and extension of one´s own skills is becoming increasingly important. HR has to look for people with soft skills not only with regards to people but also with regards to technology.


How will we hire employees and what contract shall we give them?

The third question is about selecting the right candidate. In recent years, the discussion about the digital challenge for HR has focused on this point, together with the demand for a greater use of social media in recruiting. Internet platforms need to increase their ability to make a preselection by finding the perfect fit between an employer and a candidate. There is also reason to believe that there will be a change in the discussion on whether to employ tests in the hiring process or to rely on interviews alone. In the time of big data, it will be easier to compare several tests with each other to find out which predicts best the long-term success of a candidate. However with Big Data we only use the data of the past and therefore can only determine that in the past a certain candidate with a specific profile has managed to make a career. Likewise, we will never be able to use Big Data to determine whether a candidate fits well into a particular team or the culture of a company. HR has to learn,  more than ever before to combine their own experience with data in order to find the right candidates for a company.

The fourth question deals with whether there will be a preference in the future for permanent contracts or free contractual agreements. Technically, it is getting easier to find an employee for an activity or project. Through large career networks HR can choose now from a global candidate pool for almost any activity. If platforms take the place of recruitment firms, hiring freelancers is also likely to become cheaper. The permanent contract, however, is unlikely to diminish in importance. On the contrary, the war for talent could even increase the number of permanent positions, as smaller companies might otherwise fall behind in this competition. The task of HR  here is to find the right model for each company, but,  also to ensure that  knowledge remains in the company if a contract is terminated.


Where will we work and how are we going to stay healthy?
The fifth question concerns the location of the workplace itself, since most laptop and mobile phone based office work could, in theory be done from anywhere. Historically, the company building is only the place where immovable machines and tools were found. Without immovable machines the work can be done from anywhere.
However, remarkably, since 2000, the number of those who work from home has steadily declined, at least in Germany. It has become increasingly clear that the workplace is also a social space. HR must therefore also intervene in the design of buildings to ensure that the workplace is not only a silent work place, but also a place for personal and creative exchange by, for example, moving coffee kitchens, cafeterias and other meeting places more than ever before into the center of buildings as is,  already the case in Silicon Valley companies.
The sixth question concerns the health of workers. The health disadvantages of the digital revolution have become increasingly apparent in recent years. Burnout due to the need to for constant availability has been discussed for several years. But the issue goes further: Internet addiction is threatening to become a bigger problem than alcoholism over the coming years and could become the most widespread addiction. For HR this is likely to be a bigger problem than alcoholism has ever been, as the computer will represent a working tool and an addiction in one. HR needs to find answers in the next few years on how to deal with this problem.
The issues mentioned above are only a few key areas. Increasing digitalization will raise more questions in the coming years. Under no circumstances should personnel managers succumb to the fallacy to use current developments and simply extrapolate them linearly. The future is, to use a Buzzword from Silicon Valley, disruptive which means that new and unforeseen inventions are directing economic development in new directions and this is going to change old business models.


And what about HR?

HR can influence these changes decisively. More than ever, HR is going to be the change management department (agent – this may be a better word). It should, more than ever,   help to shape change by being the advocate on the human side of progress, since man no longer represents the most important but not the only difference between companies  The more technical and automated organizations are, the more interchangeable they will be.  Human beings are going to be the only differentiator between companies.
There are four factors relevant for every change in business: what is technically, what is financially, what is legally and what is possible from a human perspective. What’s technically possible has been outlined above. What is legally possible, we will probably find out only in the next few years. The human side of change should be more than ever the domain of HR. This is not just about how we want to work in the future, but also about how we want to live in future. Human Resources can be far more than the human resources department. Human Resources could be in the future The Human Side of Business.

Dirk Ollmann

Impressum Angaben gemäß § 5 TMG: Dirk Ollmann Tulpenweg 37 64291 Darmstadt Kontakt: Telefon: 06151-24910 E-Mail: The views in this blog are entirely my own and do not represent the view of any organisation or company.

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