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HR Technology: Harnessing Automation and Maintaining Employee Engagement

Automation and innovation are buzzwords in most industries. Human Resources is no different.


With the advent of technologies that are revolutionising HR and how it relates within the corporate structure, we took an in-depth look at what that means for business and how HR managers can avoid employee disengagement by increasing personalisation.

A report released this week showed that a majority of companies are ill-prepared for the changes that will arise due to increases in workplace automation. This is especially true in the HR sector, which has been slow to adapt to technological change.

With the advent of new technologies seeking to revolutionise human resource management, industry leaders ought to exercise caution as they hurry to develop transformation strategies. While some automation and innovation will undoubtedly increase efficiency and make significant financial savings, it’s vital that the human element is not discarded along the wayside.

A failure to recognise the importance of the human factor in human resources will ultimately result in employee disengagement, to the overall detriment of business outcomes.

Technology is Shaping the Future of Human Resourcing

There are several key technologies expected to make significant waves in the HR sector in the coming years. The biggest trend expected is the increase in automation for tasks such as onboarding, payroll management, and learning and development. Previously time consuming tasks will be delegated to digital devices and AI, freeing up HR departments to work more efficiently in areas that require specialist skills and knowledge.

Another significant development will be the increased role of data and analytics, redefining how HR departments integrate information management policies within the wider business. Suggestions include ensuring process guarantee that data patterns and analysis are central to organisational decision-making, creating a forum for best practice discussion among senior managers, and even including collaborative information sharing in professional feedback reviews.

We have even seen some more extreme technological advances posited. Forbes has suggested that blockchain technology will render LinkedIn – and even the humble CV – obsolete, predicting that enhanced encryption will publically store all of our employment data for the casual perusal of future employers (though how this would navigate existent data protection legislation is left up to the imagination).

Meanwhile, a 2019 article from HR Technologist has suggested that, “wearable tech can help capture valuable employee data, impacting healthcare costs and redefining engagement programs.” Again, this seems to throw up numerous privacy concerns. It may seem like the adoption of wearable tech for employee monitoring is good for business, but firms must be aware of the impact such monitoring is likely to have on employee engagement and morale.

Innovation and automation may initially cut costs and improve efficiencies, but the de-personalisation of HR processes runs the significant risk of de-motivating a company’s most valuable asset – it’s workforce. As millennials become the driving economic force, businesses who ignore or devalue the employee experience will pay the price of employee disengagement and, ultimately, poor business performance.

Millennial Employees Want More than Remuneration

As technology improves processes and liberates the time and experience of HR managers, seismic changes are also taking place in the workforce. Employees no longer prioritise salary or financial rewards when making employment choices. Millennial employees, who will make up the majority of the workforce for years to come, are interested in work-life balance, company values and achieving a sense of purpose in their work.

A recent article by The Predictive Index says that, “strong benefit offerings, like PTO, parental leave, flexible work schedules, and better health care options, are connected with employees staying at companies past the five-year mark. Conversely, perks like game rooms and free food did not have the same correlation.” In addition, a recent academic paper indicates that environmentally-friendly corporate policies are increasingly considered important to potential employees.

It might surprise some to learn, then, of The Guardian report that millennials do not seem to practice what they preach. A recent LinkedIn survey showed that only 30% of millennials prioritise purpose over pay and titles.

What accounts for this discrepancy? One likely answer is that the job market is not currently organised to cater for the needs and wants of millennial employees. As the cost of living increases, university degrees cost more than they return, wages decrease and home-ownership seems an anachronism for an entire generation, millennial candidates have no choice but to be prioritise salary and progression over purpose.

This should worry decision makers. If candidates feel pressured into making employment decisions that conflict with their own, higher order desires, this creates a perfect storm for employee disengagement. It’s no secret that employee engagement correlates with business performance.

Just as technology streamlines and improves certain HR processes, employee engagement requires more time and attention than ever before. So how do companies walk the line between embracing innovation and ensuring employees feel valued, purposeful and, ultimately, engaged?

Open Communication Drives Engagement

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer will be evolution and compromise. Taking the best efficiency savings from innovative advancements. Using these efficiencies to focus further on the human element.

Communication is key. Time and time again, studies show that open dialogue and two-way communication between employees and senior management is the biggest factor linked to employee retention, commitment and engagement.

This is the model that we believe must be adopted across the entire HR sector. Technology must improve the personal interaction the employees experience, build communication channels and adapt to new, flexible working patterns. Automation and innovation can improve efficiency and cut costs, freeing up HR managers to focus more on the human element within the business.

Leaders who are able to offer candidates more than just remuneration will be rewarded handsomely by engaged employees committed to the business and the corporate goals and values. Employees who are engaged, committed and feel valued will go above and beyond each and every time. This means being willing to listen, taking time to engage with employees on a personal level and, perhaps, even bringing the company values in line with the values of the workforce. If your employees care about particular issues, perhaps your business should too.

Ultimately, employee engagement will pay dividends. With the advent of technologies that seek to improve efficiency at the cost of providing a human interface, HR managers who are able to harness innovation in order to spend more time and energy focussing on communication and engagement will drive growth and stand out in crowded corporate markets.

Engaged employees make better businesses. What are you doing to enshrine engagement in your department?

Let us know in the comments.