Why the Future Role of HR Needs to Emphasize "The Whole Self"

Featured, culture

When it comes down to it, the future of HR requires a mindset shift: from viewing people as assets to seeing (and accepting!) their whole selves.

You do your job, you get a paycheck. Right?

That’s always been the tacit agreement between employee and employer.

But the pandemic changed everything. The idea of lifetime employment with one company, or even one industry? Poof!

People Want a Purpose

Now, people want to have a purpose. They want to feel connected to a company’s mission. They want to have an impact.

Instead of thinking, “How will I contribute to this company for the next 20, 30, 40 years?” people are wondering, “How can I get the most out of this job?”

It’s no longer simply coming into work and punching a clock – it’s building their future.

And it all starts with this truth:

An Employee's Career Belongs to Them

I’ve talked about agency before – the belief that you have the power and ability to make decisions and take accountability for your actions.

More and more, we’re seeing people exercise agency over their careers. They realize, “Hey, I’m no longer at the mercy of my company. They don’t get to decide my future – I do!”

When employees have agency, yes, they take responsibility for their career. But they also take responsibility for their role.

They understand how they can contribute to an organization in new and different ways. They can think beyond their job when they understand a company’s strategy and goals. They can be innovative and disruptive and take ownership when they have permission to commit their talents, skills, and passions.

This is exactly where things get tricky for HR. You hired someone for a specific role with very clear responsibilities. But everyone offers something unique and approaches things differently. How can you accommodate this diversity? And how does HR’s role shift in this age of employee agency?

Well, you need to develop:

A More Nuanced Relationship with Employees

The traditional employee-employer relationship is history. It’s no longer about command and control or a complicated hierarchy.

It’s about collaboration. We need to ask: How do we account for the myriad ways people can contribute within the same role? How do we develop more agency so people take responsibility for their jobs and the outcomes? How can we ensure the best outcome for everyone?

It’s also about viewing training in a more holistic way. Training doesn’t necessarily have to be in a specific area, and it’s not limited to hard skills.

We need to think about how we can encourage people to be more innovative, to lead, to work in a team. How do we train people to adapt to change? How do we think beyond the scope of the current job to encourage growth and development?

Finally, it’s about seeing each person as their whole self. How do we encourage and enable people to bring their full selves to work? How do we get curious about what’s going on in people’s lives, outside of work? And how do we create a safe space where they’re comfortable expressing their whole selves so we can tap into their entire skill set?

(Hint: This goes way beyond what’s on their resume! After all, how can one page accurately represent someone’s full self?! Their potential? Their skills and capabilities? Their side projects? Everything that transcends a list of companies and a job description?)


It’s about maximizing human potential. Yep, that’s a really tall order! But you can:

Strategically Prepare for the Future of HR

When it comes down to it, the future of HR requires a mindset shift: from viewing people as assets to seeing (and accepting!) their whole selves.

If you’re ready to fundamentally change your relationship with employees, here are four powerful ways to initiate that transformation:

  1. Make room at the strategy table. How will HR be represented in the boardroom? How will they show up in C-suite meetings? How will they reframe their function and engage with employees differently? It’s important for HR to have a seat at the table, especially when the conversation revolves around a long-term strategy for moving the people function in a different direction.
  2. Understand employees' aspirations. Here’s where the whole self model comes in. How does HR work with management to learn about each employee’s whole self? How do they partner with other departments to understand employees’ long-term aspirations? And how can they ensure the company leverages people’s strengths against the organization’s goals?
  3. Develop agency. Intentionally and strategically reinsert agency. Start by giving employees permission to bring up problems. Then, encourage them to brainstorm potential solutions so the team can recommend the best option. And then? Let your team make it happen! This takes time, but with the right team (and the right partners in HR!) your organization will be filled with people with the skill and agency to solve problems independently.
  4. Acknowledge that a job isn’t forever. In their book The Alliance, my friends Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha, and Chris Yeh described starting a new job as signing up for a tour of duty. At the end of that tour, ask your employees: Do you want to continue in this role? Do you want to do something different? Do you want to leave the company? This is where the whole self model and creating agency converge: Give your employees the power to decide what their next step is – and be willing to support them as they explore new opportunities.

The future of HR demands that we see employees as humans, not assets. We need to acknowledge that they want to contribute their strengths and skills to a company’s mission – and helping them maximize their potential is critical to our success as leaders.

We need strategic relationships with HR and our employees to execute our strategy – but we also need balance! Join me for a discussion about maintaining balance in the midst of personal and professional change. I’ll see you on Tuesday, March 29 at 9 am PT / 12 pm ET.

Your Turn

How are you transforming your HR department or the human function? What have you been differently over the past few years? What do you think still needs to change? I share an unusual practice I used when I ran Altimeter Group, and I'd love hear what you think about the "future of people" function. 
    -- Charlene Li, Leading Disruption


How PTO Exchange Reinforces Culture

Forward-thinking employers are always looking for ways to reinforce culture. How can HR and executive leadership reinforce a supportive, collaborative workplace that employees can brag about?

One way is to add PTO Exchange to the benefit mix. PTO Exchange is a highly differentiating benefit that gives employees more options to realize the value of their unused vacation, based on their own personal situation and priorities.

With PTO Exchange, employees can now exchange the monetary value of their unused vacation for: 

  • Retirement savings - including 401(k) and Roth 401(k) plans
  • Student loans - tuition and loan payment reimbursement
  • Cash-Out - help pay for unexpected bills
  • Discounted Travel - exchange for airfare, hotels and other travel
  • Leave-sharing - donate PTO to fellow employees who may need it
  • Donations - contribute to over 1.7 million charitable organizations in the U.S.

Request a Demo

Published on Mar 25, 2022 by Charlene Li

Subscribe to blog updates

Discover The Real Story Behind Unlimited PTO 

Unlimited PTO might not be as amazing as many HR executives make it out to be. Find out more with this research report conducted by Lighthouse Research and Advisory.