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Elizabeth Fuss Arnott, SPHR  I have been working in Human Resources for 23 years. Since 2011, I have been certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).  I have a BA in English and a Master of Jurisprudence in Labor and Employment Law from Tulane Law School. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband Luke and our cat, Poirot. I write about HR, non-profits, the art of managing people and Neurodiversity in the workplace. I'm available for employment, contract work, consulting, coaching and training virtually and in the Portland, OR area. Please email me at for more information. 

  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Arnott, SPHR

Automation Can Complement People Ops, Not Replace It

The hot topic of the year, maybe. Automation replaces HR. Automation can hire and fire. Automation can tell you when your employees are going to leave. It seems pretty crazy what we can do using computers, data and automation.

Apparently Amazon has a tool that automates performance warnings based on warehouse productivity for each individual. It's awesome to have that much data. But as humans, we want to be dealt with humanly. We are already often isolated from other people, with our heads buried in our phones. What if instead of automating the warnings, Amazon provided the data to a person, who then has a compassionate conversation with the employee. Maybe they have personal issues impacting their work. A human can provide them EAP resources and express empathy and confidence in the person. Maybe they have medical issues that need to be accommodated. These are issues that cannot be dealt with by a computer. In fact, I would bet that having computers deal with And they are frequent issues in most humans.

The last HRIS system I used showed people at highest risk of leaving by evaluating commuting distance, longevity and other data points. But data is only data. It can't take into account someone's personality, their personal and professional needs and goals. Perhaps we can use the data as a signal for a stay interview by HR or by the manager. Shouldn't that be happening anyway? The software isn't going to be able to detect conflicts with managers, harassment or discrimination situations or other workplace problems. We need to keep humans involved in human interactions. Data can provide insight and information.

We can't give up the humanity in people operations. We must cling to it and refuse to give it up. We must seek improvement and data, but then act on it with empathy, humanity and kindness. It's gonna be messy and imperfect. But it's what we need - it's what is going to keep us grounded in the world of automation and to help our fellow humans. Lead with heart, tenaciously.

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