Many HR people rely heavily on spreadsheets to help them record key people-related information. It’s an approach that works well when you are managing just a handful of employees or want to work with a very specific set of data.

But the reality is that spreadsheets just don’t cut it once the business starts to grow and staff numbers increase.

The admin associated with tasks such as approving annual leave, recording sickness, and managing performance soon becomes unmanageable. Before too long, there comes a point where spreadsheets are no longer fit for purpose and the HR team need to look at other solutions – such as HR software – that will help them free up time and do their job more effectively.

Here are 10 reasons why it might be time for your business to step away from the spreadsheets:

1. They are insecure

Spreadsheets are typically held on PCs or laptops, and frequently emailed back and forth between colleagues who need to update them or access information. It’s easy to forget to password-protect them, which leaves confidential information at risk.

2. They are easily corrupted

When a spreadsheet passes through numerous people’s hands, it is all too easy for the information to get corrupted. Although it is possible for people to go in and deliberately change figures or add misinformation, often data corruption occurs inadvertently. Someone who doesn’t know how to work with spreadsheets can quite easily key information into the wrong place, delete a raft of data, or change macros by mistake. If spreadsheets are being emailed back and forth, and sometimes being accessed on unprotected devices, they are also more prone to becoming infected with viruses.

3. They are often out-of-date

HR data changes almost constantly, new joiners/leavers, changes to contact information, dependants or bank details; holidays, sickness, training qualifications… the list is endless. It’s almost impossible to key all of that information into spreadsheets as soon as you get it. For example, the HR team may be under pressure and fall behind with recording the latest absence reports, or a busy manager can forget to record when a member of their team has taken annual leave. With HR software, all of the information goes straight into the system – and processes are automated too…

4. They don’t reduce the paper trail

A lot of HR’s time is taken up with tedious and time-consuming activities, such as updating employee contact information, answering questions about holiday entitlements, routing requests for approval, and chasing up on overdue sick notes or performance appraisals. Spreadsheets don’t automate processes, they don’t send alerts, and they don’t provide a central library of information. HR systems – especially those with modern employee self-service – do.

5. The business has no central source of information

HR teams must often juggle numerous spreadsheets: there’s one for holidays, one for absence, one for training, and another for recording when appraisals have taken place. To complicate matters further, different departments may also be holding their own spreadsheets. There’s duplication, inconsistency and the business has no one reliable source of ‘truth’. HR software systems cut down on all this unnecessary admin, providing the organisation with one central place where all HR information – from basic employee data to HR policies – can be safely and securely held.

6. It’s difficult to access real-time information

In an environment where HR information is housed on spreadsheets, a request for data from the senior management team can throw everyone into a panic. People are rushing around to establish which version is the current version, and making sure the latest information has been input. The latest generation HR software systems, however, consolidate all the data and put it in one central place and make it securely available 24/7 so that managers can easily access the information they need to inform strategic business decisions.

7. They are time-consuming

A spreadsheet-based system can take an inordinate amount of time to manage. HR people often find themselves having to input the same information into more than one spreadsheet, or having to trawl through one spreadsheet in order to extract information and put it onto another. HR software systems streamline the whole process, cutting down on admin time significantly, and allowing HR to concentrate on the more value-adding aspects of its role.

8. They are not easily accessible

Spreadsheets are usually designed to be used only by a handful of people. Much of the data is confidential – and has to be ‘sliced and diced’ before it can be shared with others in the organisation. Even for straightforward requests, like how many days’ holiday has my team got left this year, managers have to go through HR. This leads to frustration and delays when people can’t access the information they need at the time they need it.

9. They are not joined-up

Spreadsheets don’t allow you to ‘join the dots’. Typically there will be a separate spreadsheet for each HR process or even each department – and no easy way for managers to make connections or spot trends. Is there a link, for example, between a dip in performance and unusually high absence rates? Is short term sickness more of a problem in one area of the business compared to others? HR software systems bring all the key information together and make it much easier for the business to see the big picture.

10. Spreadsheets are slow

Spreadsheets slow everything down. It takes time to input information, you have to laboriously check the data to make sure it’s up-to-date, and extracting information takes time. In a vibrant, fast-moving environment where HR teams are being expected to deliver more than ever before, it simply doesn’t make sense to carry on using spreadsheets when software offers such a fast, cost-effective solution to managing HR processes.

You may be interested in reading our guide to building a business case for investing in HR software

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.

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