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Do Humanistic Approaches In HRD Work?

Dr. Upali Mahanama

Sri Lanka


Warm and sincere Greetings from sunny Sri Lanka to all at the World HRM Forum 2006!


Once there was Clerk in a Company who habitually came late to office. His Manager, an autocratic type, reprimanded him many times. But, he continued to come late.

One day, informed him, that as he continued to come late, his services would be terminated. He was sent to the Personnel Manager to formalize his termination. The Personnel Manager had a humanistic approach towards employees. He put the lad at ease and tactfully encouraged him to open his heart out.

Tears trickled down his face, when he said, "I am the only son in my family. My father died when I was a kid. I live with my mother who is paralyzed. Every morning I attend to my mother's personal needs, before coming to Office. That is why I get late." The Personnel Manager replied, "I admire your commitment to your Mother – but we have to maintain disciplines. Can't you rise early, attend to your Mother and get to Office on time?"

The boy then said, "Sir, I can get up early. But my Mother sleeps well only in the wee hours of the morning and it breaks my heart to wake her." The Personnel Manager understood the problem and assured the boy, he will not be terminated. He explained the matter to the boy's Manager.

A Staff Meeting was convened and the problem was explained to all. He was then officially permitted to come late; on the understanding he would complete his work by working late after hours.

The boy applied himself to the job with renewed enthusiasm and turned out to be the best in Team. Now ask the question: "Does the humanistic approach work?"
Now, the second story. In 1970, I was the Propaganda Manager of a leading Company. Propagandists handling Outdoor Promotions were expected to handle Company cash carefully. A breach of this discipline would result in termination. On Field visits, inter alia, Managers were expected to check their cash balances, based on expenditure incurred.

Once, I checked the cash balance of a new Propagandist and found it was way off the mark. Although, I could have terminated him, I took a humanistic view and explained the seriousness of his lapse. I pardoned him on that occasion and cautioned him, that a repetition would result in expulsion. He promised it would not happen again.

Two weeks later, I checked his cash again. I was surprised to note there was a shortage again. I told him he would be terminated forthwith. He cried and pleaded with me for one more chance, as he was married and had obligations. He promised me he will strictly adhere to Company rules. Once again, I took a humanitarian view and pardoned him.

On a third occasion, I checked his cash expecting it to be in order. To my horror, there was a shortage. His pleas fell on my deaf ears, as I concluded that he was incorrigible. His services were then terminated.

Now ask the question: "Does the humanistic approach work?"


Sandwiched between the two stories lies the answer to the question, "Do Humanistic Approaches in HRM Work?"

What does 'humanistic' or 'humanitarian' mean? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as:

"Showing sensitivity….…seeking to promote human welfare." Funk and Wagnell's American Dictionary defines it as"being philanthropic with qualities such as kindness tenderness, compassion, benevolence etc."

The approach to achieve optimum results should vary according to the personality of the individual. Some respond to the humanistic approach whilst others treat it as a weakness. Some respond positively to a tough approach, whilst others may react unfavorably.
Shareholders are concerned with return on Investment. Managers are responsible to ensure that ROI is maximized through improved productivity. Resources to run a business primarily fall into 3 categories – Men [People], Material and Money. Only the Human resource can feel, think and react.

Therefore, to achieve optimum results, one must understand the personalities of different employees and adopt appropriate approaches.


The major problem in business today is managing people. Managers must have special skills to study individual personalities. Such a study in a workplace is a study of Organizational Behavior. It deals with peoples' emotions, moods, attitudes, behavior and actions. Attention should also be given to the following 4 key factors:

Employee Turnover
Health of Employees


Creating a performance-accountable organization with a focus on productivity is the responsibility of management. Managers should:

Identify & review the critical factors relevant to performance – accountability.

Develop a healthy human relations environment to create a performance management system.

Create a system of monitoring performance levels to identify good performers & their contributions to goal achievement.

Offer strong motivation and leadership by example as opposed to precept.

Managers must make a special effort to understand the value of the individual and focus on developing a structured system of skills development.


The objective of Organizational Behavior is to understand the behavior of employees control such behavior to maximize productivity. Technological advancement has revolutionized traditional business practices and values. Employers are losing the human touch. In complex international Markets, with global competition, the bigger Companies ignore traditional practices like job security, job satisfaction, welfare of employees etc.

We see retrenchment, closing down Companies, replacing permanent employees with contractual labour and so on. Thus, employees have a justifiable sense of insecurity and fear, resulting in a decline of loyalty. In this situation, Companies must demonstrate a concern for employees through HRD. Managers should motivate employees, ensure job satisfaction and strengthen reward and recognition schemes.


When we talk of employees, the focus should be on their personalities. The Myers - Brigg Type Indicator [MBTI], provides an excellent 5 - factor model of Personality dimensions:

Extroversion: This captures one's comfort level with relationships. Extroverts are assertive and sociable. Introverts are timid, reserved & quiet.

Agreeableness: An individual's desire to defer to others. Agreeable persons are cooperative, warm & trusting. Others are cold, non- conforming and antagonistic.

Conscientiousness: A measure of reliability. Such persons are organized, responsible, dependable and persistent. The B opposite are disorganized, easily
distracted and unreliable.

Emotional Stability: Ability to withstand stress. Those with Emotional stability are calm, self- confident & secure. The opposite are nervous, depressed & insecure.

Openness to Experience: A person's interests and fascination with novelty. Such persons are creative, curious and artistically sensitive. The opposite are conventional & find comfort in the familiar.

Research has shown important relationships between the different personalities and Job performance. Thus, job functions and personality need to be carefully matched at the time of recruitment. On recruitment emphasis should be given to HRD with a focus on developing personalities, values, attitudes and emotions of employees. HRD will, inter alia, act as a catalyst to:

Win the emotional commitment of employees
Motivate employees to perform at optimum levels, by acquiring new skills

Management should not be viewed as a one - way exercise reduced to yelling orders and expecting faithful execution. A humanistic approach - an approach after a study of the different needs of the individual personalities, is the need of the hour.


Galileo once said: "You cannot teach a man anything. You can only help him to find it within himself." I share this view. Based on my 20 years' involvement in HRD in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, I have given my views on the subject. I trust this will stimulate further discussion among participants.