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Soft HR vs hard HR: Is there a better option for deskless workers?

While any organisation with shift-based workers can gain a competitive advantage by making optimal use of their human resources, the question is how best to do this.

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When used appropriately, both hard and soft human resource management (HRM) can help you build a motivated workforce dedicated to achieving your business objectives. Contemporary workforce management software can facilitate a strategic approach to human resource management, enabling you to make optimal use of both hard HRM and soft HRM practices to drive business success.


What’s the difference between hard and soft human resource management?

Soft and hard human resource management are two opposing methods of managing your employees. Hard HRM is a more traditional approach to people management, sometimes associated with human resource departments that treat employees as just another resource for the achievement of business goals. The main features of hard HRM include:

  • employee appraisal systems that examine positive and negative performance
  • one-way communication between managers and employees
  • a hierarchical and autocratic management system
  • minimal business transparency
  • lower wages and high turnover
  • minimal focus on employees’ needs for self-actualisation.


In contrast, soft HRM is a progressive approach that emphasises the ‘human’ aspect of human resource management. It aims to empower employees and support them to achieve their potential. The main features of a soft HRM model include a:

  • transparent business model with two-way open communication
  • focus on long-term business and workforce planning
  • competitive pay structure and performance-based rewards
  • more democratic approach to managing people
  • focus on identifying training opportunities in appraisal systems.

While these human resource management methods may seem diametrically opposed, your HR department and managers can use a blend of both a hard and soft approach to achieve your business objectives.


The benefits and downsides of Soft HRM

The key advantage of a soft HRM approach is that it boosts employee morale. Soft HRM practices, with their emphasis on employees as people, help your workers feel like valued members of your organisation. This is more than a ‘feel good’ – motivated workers are likely to be actively engaged and loyal, leading to less absenteeism and increased productivity and retention rates. Positive company culture will position you as a great employer, helping you attract quality talent and enhancing your brand reputation. The bottom line: soft HRM practices can help you attain your business goals. 

However, there are also potential downsides to soft HRM. First, offering higher pay and perks may challenge your company financially. The emphasis on training opportunities can also be costly, although upskilling staff may deliver a healthy return on investment. A more democratic leadership style can also lead to delays in decision-making as managers wait for input from their teams. It’s also important to find ways to acknowledge the specific skills of your managers.


The benefits and downsides of Hard HRM

A leading advantage of the hard HRM approach is high control. The emphasis on monitoring staff and giving managers greater powers can lead to better visibility over your company, ensuring you know exactly what’s happening. The focus on cost control can support business efficiencies, as can faster decision making. 

The disadvantages of hard HRM include potential employee frustration and disengagement, leading to lower productivity and high staff turnover rates that may cost more long-term. 


Is there a preference between soft HR and hard HR when managing the deskless workforce?

Whether you take the hard or soft HRM approach depends on your business goals and leadership style. However, if there’s one thing the pandemic and Great Resignation have highlighted, it’s that employees are increasingly seeking out workplaces that offer a great experience. 

For your deskless workforce, a soft HR model that places a positive experience at the centre of your employee value proposition can enhance employee engagement and reduce churn. A more empathetic and collaborative management approach helps your deskless employees feel more like valued team members than just workers, with flow-on effects for business success.

Hard HRM approaches are still necessary for analytics, reporting, and optimising profitability. This can be achieved through using the data and reporting capabilities of workforce management tools, like Humanforce’s workforce management software


How workforce management software can help you implement both soft HRM and hard HRM approaches

Quality workforce management tools make it possible to get the best out of both hard and soft human resource management methods. Humanforce helps you to foster the human side of workforce relations, with innovative technology that allows your managers and HR personnel to conduct soft HR practices at scale. For example, with Humanforce you can:


At the same time, Humanforce enables hard HRM functions, including:

  • greater visibility – managers and company owners can easily see what’s going on in their teams without being perceived as micromanaging
  • efficient rostering – ensure your staff needs are covered with smooth and streamlined scheduling tools
  • compliance – stay on top of award requirements with our innovative Award Interpretation Engine
  • analytics and reporting – our workforce analytics tools transform your workforce data into actionable insights, helping you make better decisions and increase your top-line revenue.

At Humanforce, we’re constantly adding new features to ensure our users benefit from both soft and hard HRM approaches, with cutting-edge, user-friendly technology.


 If you want to speak to us about how the Humanforce software can transform your organisation’s employee engagement and team motivation get in touch today to schedule a demonstration.