Thinking Outside the Payroll

What exactly are the “Human Resources” of an organisation? 

The easy answer is that they are the people who work for a business, charity or public body. But while in the past, for the overwhelming majority of organisations, this term was synonymous with “employee”, these days that’s frequently not the case. And I’m not just talking about trendy hi-tech firms either – the chances are that if you’ve ordered anything for delivery recently, whether online or from a store, it will have been delivered by a self-employed contractor, not an employee of the company. Nor is it uncommon in many organisations to have sub-contracted out ‘ancillary’ services to others (indeed, that’s how I make my living!!)

So why is that an issue for those of us who work in HR? Well, there are lots of reasons:

·         It won’t be enough to know about “employment law” – HR professionals will need to understand the full range of legal relationships that people can have with organisations, and be able to advise on them. The excuse that “x is a freelance, nothing to do with us” won’t wash in future

·         How will we hire and fire in the future? Some of the time-consuming processes that we use to recruit, or dismiss, are not only not necessary but don’t fit with those who are working in a non-traditional way. And given that recruiting consultants or freelancers has been a traditional responsibility of procurement departments or line managers, how do we get involved without creating a turf war?

·         If we have to recruit people differently, do we also need to start rethinking how we develop them? And indeed, exactly who do we need to consider developing?

·         We talk a lot in HR about behaving “ethically”. If we start to use labour as a resource to be taken up and dropped when necessary for our business, how does that square with behaving in an ethical manner?

·         Even if you don’t accept the ethical arguments, there are several clear business reasons why HR will need to change. The whole “psychological contract” between businesses and their workforces will change and our practices will need to as a consequence

·         Things that we devote a lot of time to currently – like the nebulous concept of “employee engagement” – may become pointless; if workers aren’t all employees then chasing after engagement becomes a meaningless exercise.

That’s not to say we need to throw out everything we do in HR. Nor am I suggesting traditional employees will disappear – they will still form the majority of the workforce for the foreseeable future (at least for the remainder of my working life anyway!). But what I am suggesting is that we need to rethink exactly how – and why – we do a lot of things if the profession is to remain relevant in 21st century organisations.

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