What’s holding HR back? Is it technology?

As I was reading the recent CIPD HR Outlook report, I was surprised to see that only 30% of HR practitioners reported implementing HR software that allows manager and employee self-service, while just 28% were using HR portals; the figures were even less for SMEs (companies employing up to 250 staff).

These findings wouldn’t have been surprising even a couple of years ago, when HR systems were often costly and complex to implement. But technology has moved on apace, and thanks to the advent of the Cloud, sophisticated and time-saving solutions are now within reach of businesses of all sizes.

So why should HR solutions with employee self service be on HR’s radar for 2015?

It’s about progress

HR people are never going to get the voice they both desire and deserve if they don’t put measures in place to give themselves space. Automating processes such as annual leave and sickness absence, and giving managers and their teams the ability to keep information up-to-date themselves can drastically reduce the administrative burden hanging around HR’s neck. Even simple actions like sharing HR policies and documents on an internal portal can cut down on unnecessary emails and phone calls, saving a significant amount of time. Employee self-service makes sense because it frees HR up from much of the mundane day-to-day stuff, and allows them to concentrate on activities that add real value to the business.

It improves HR influence

Research has shown that when HR increases the amount of time it spends on record-keeping, compliance and administration, its impact on organisational effectiveness is reduced, and it is less likely to be perceived as strategic. When strategic level work takes priority, however, the effectiveness of both the HR function and the organisation improves. In other words, how HR people spend their time does make a difference – and of course if the profession is seen to be core to business efficiency, its overall influence will increase.

It drives employee engagement

The internal social portals that come as an integral part of modern HR systems have a huge role to play in building employee engagement. Employees are much more likely to feel personally invested in the successes of the company and committed to their work and peers if they can read the latest company news on an HR portal, connect with colleagues outside their immediate department, and get real-time answers to their questions. Many organisations are also successfully using internal portals to drive collaboration and creativity, and as a forum for ongoing feedback from employees, as well as for light-hearted initiatives such as joke of the day, World Cup predications, or ideas for the company/department away day. HR practitioners say that engagement is top of their agenda right now – so supporting their engagement initiatives with tools like HR portals is a bit of a no-brainer.

It’s what employees expect

Generation Y – the young people active in the workforce now – have grown up as digital natives. They largely prefer to be able to manage their own personal information, connect with colleagues online, and access company information via their own device – while at home or on the move. If HR wants to build productive relationships with employees, it needs to communicate with them in the way they prefer, and via methods that are familiar to them. Internal social media can also help with relationship building in a multi-generational workforce. Some organisations have experimented with, for example, reverse mentoring – where young employees help those who haven’t been raised in a digital world get to grips with new forms of communication.

It supports business growth

The latest generation HR systems don’t just cut down on the admin, they also produce valuable people-related data that can be used to help improve productivity and inform key business decisions. Managers can get an overview of performance in their team, for example, so they can pick up on any worrying trends and nip problems in the bud. Up-to-date information about head-count, skills gaps or retention rates can be pulled from the system at the click of a mouse and used to support decisions about recruitment, talent management, and development. On a practical level, self-service systems can also grow alongside the business. New joiners can be added quickly and easily, and will be able to access all the information they need to get up and running quickly.

When the arguments are so compelling, it is difficult to understand why more HR functions aren’t running self-service HR systems. The problem may well be that although HR itself is convinced of the benefit, it is struggling to secure buy-in at senior level. In the Outlook survey, almost one in three HR professionals cited ‘budget’ as one of their top three HR-related technology challenges, along with ability to integrate systems and meet specific business needs.

But this doesn’t need to be the case. Today’s HR software is cost-effective, rich in functionality and considerably easier to implement than in the past. Most systems even come with smart on-boarding tools that allow data to be uploaded quickly and efficiently. Many businesses have found they can get up and running with a new system in just a couple of weeks.

Maybe HR has a job to do in bringing managerial understanding of HR technology up-to-date?

The CIPD HR Outlook report is a regular round-up of key issues and emerging trends for HR, offering a great insight into what’s on the mind of your average HR practitioner.

You might be interested in reading our guide to using HR technology to boost productivity and engagement

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