"Mass discontent, disengagement, burnout, and vacancies that simply don’t get filled. Traditional HRM cannot meet today’s challenges. “Employees no longer want to be treated as a ‘resource’,” says Professor Laurent, Taskin.
Who is Laurent Taskin?
As a professor of Human Resources and Organisation at the Louvain School of Management (UC Louvain) in Belgium, and with numerous articles and books to his credit, Laurent Taskin is an internationally recognized and influential expert on managing people and work. His mission is to bring the ‘H’ back into HRM and offer a humane alternative to the outdated HRM model in these times of great social transition.
In 2007, around 40 HR professionals and researchers met on the UC Louvain campus to discuss academic research and workplace practice. Both groups, academics and practitioners, faced the same problem: their field of human resource management (HRM) was under considerable pressure and seemed to have lost its way.
Professor Laurent Taskin: ‘For HR professionals on the floor, this means being torn between the need to be a strategic business partner and the need to look after employees’ well-being. Traditional HRM is unable to address the current challenges. It is based on motivational theories, and it objectifies and measures the work through targets and KPIs, activity indicators and individualized reporting.
People are reduced to measurable units expected to deliver economic and financial returns with increased productivity.’ In mainstream HRM textbooks, people are seen as an economic variable that should be used to the fullest extent possible to contribute to the company’s economic growth. The result: no focus on the real work. ‘Despite all the energy expended on it, HRM is disconnected from what people really do and how they manage their work.’
Models from the last century
Taskin recounts how the malaise is getting worse. “Workers are protesting, they say they don’t want to be reduced to resources, to mere objects. And that’s how it’s being perceived, particularly in the context of digitalization and robotization. They demand respect for their human dignity.”
The time is ripe for an alternative, argues Taskin. “Managing people as resources, as factors of production, is no longer acceptable or effective. We need to recognize that in most organizations managing people and work has been relegated to HRM and organizational behaviour models developed in the last century, which fail to address the major social changes we are going through. We’re still using methods designed to respond to problems identified in the 1970s.”
As a researcher, Taskin critically examines himself and his peers. “In our work, we can denounce the long-term effects and thus unsustainability of certain management practices, but isn’t it also our job as scientists to come up with alternatives?”
Taskin outlines that alternative in his recent publication ‘Towards Managing Humanely’, in which he calls for a humane approach towards employees.
Taskin: “Humane Management brings together two areas that textbooks often separate: HRM and organizational behavior. Meanwhile, these are often strongly intertwined at work. Work can be organized differently, and we can manage employees differently. It all needs to be more focused on people, on the work they do, and on recognition for it. That’s how you pave the way for more sustainable, ethical and qualitative management of people and organizations.”
The basic question: if viewing people as resources is inappropriate, how should they be regarded? Taskin: “We know a correlation exists between how you regard people and the management practices and work organization you put in place.” Taskin refers to modern thinkers who see workers not as passive agents who will implement HRM’s plans, but as reflexive beings fully capable of defining the ground rules in tandem with their organization. “It’s an alternative that restores respect for human dignity, rather than promoting individual happiness. Happiness and autonomy are important, but do not end in themselves. Feeling happy at work is a tool conducive to productivity. But recognition is what really drives us. So, the primary goal of Humane Management is recognition.”
Employees don't want to be reduced to objects.
Humane Management requires thorough self-examination by organizations. Taskin: “You need to look at your practices and policies as an organization. Are people viewed as economic variables or as reflexive beings? Are they involved in setting the organization’s ground rules? In identifying which work is good and where action needs to be taken? Organizations can identify what might be redundant and what contributes to recognition after this self-diagnosis.”
It’s also important to note that becoming more humane must happen at all levels. “There must be consistency. We can’t convince ourselves that we’re following Humane Management principles in a particular team if the rest of the organization is working differently. It’s everyone’s business. HR managers and the management board. It’s not enough to train managers in certain leadership styles. Everyone must see the need to move away from a personnel policy that can be degrading in some respects. A positive vision of business and work needs to be developed. A vision that restores respect for human dignity. So organizations must also be bold enough to make empathy a management principle and reflection on policy and work a daily practice. This is what employees deserve at a time when more is expected of them than ever before in terms of skills, commitment and adaptability.”
Taskin is confident that this new vision will be the catalyst for a stronger organizational identity. Especially with more and more people working from home and losing themselves in anonymous open spaces. “This increases the need to belong, be part of a community and recognized as a human being.”
Taskin emphasizes that the concept of Humane Management is firmly grounded in scientific research. “We’re not experimenting here. Everything is based on hundreds of studies and analyses.” Fifteen years on, the meetings initiated by Laurent Taskin between researchers and the various players in human resources policy are still going strong. In 2022, in the 17th edition, more than 100 HR professionals gathered to discuss research. “These meetings are essential. We have a shared responsibility in implementing Humane Management. The respectful management of people, who are regarded first and foremost as human beings, not as capital resources or objects.”
TriHD puts people first
While the concept of Humane Management is relatively new, the ideas behind it have been deeply rooted in TriFinance since its inception, and evidently in TriHD as well. The company was founded in 2002 on a single idea: the growth of people. Founder Gert Smit also brought structural thinking to the organization, as a counterbalance to the corporate drive for efficiency and maximizing profits.
TriHD provides a working environment for personal growth and development, where people are constantly encouraged and given many opportunities. They hold the reins of their own career and are supported every step of the way. In this way, everyone at TriHD has the opportunity to gain a wide range of experience and discover where their talents lie. Because of this focus on personal development, TriHD’s professionals progress quickly. TriHD itself then benefits and grows, and clients in turn benefit from TriHD’s intrinsically motivated people.