There’s mounting concern for AI and the role it has to play in the destabilization and downfall of contemporary jobs as we know it. Attacks are seen to come from all sides: machines, software, and robotics are frequently painted as villains out to steal the jobs of blue and white-collar workers. HR is no exception to this rule, and with recent technological developments, has been subject to much debate regarding the state of HR and its legitimacy in a software-driven world.
In some companies, there has been an elimination of HR departments all together. A few hyper lean, tech-savvy groups have done away with one of the chief symbols of corporate culture, replacing them with codes, computers, and cloud platforms. For start-ups and SMEs, the need for HR has seemingly been overturned in companies with 0-50 employees. And when you consider the throng of software at their disposal, it’s easy to see why. HR tech tools have become readily available in recent years, capable of assessing employee productivity, managing records, calculating payroll, and more. Decision-makers are opting for HR solutions that handle everything from recruitment to learning and development without the added expense of a whole new department. This paradigm shift isn’t exclusive to start-ups - even large, established companies have made the switch, seeing the added value of decentralizing processes like record management and leave to empower employees.
So, what does this influx of software solutions spell for the hundreds of thousands toiling away in human resources? Will they be forced from their cubicals into the cold hallway of redundancy, or will they preserver? This is certainly the end of HR as we know it, but whether it is a complete elimination of the role still needs to be seen.
The end of HR?
Human interaction is low on most people’s lists. Going places, discussing their needs with people, filling out forms, and waiting is the bane of a busy person’s life; no one has time to waste on the old way of doing things – hence the abundance of apps. There’s an app to get food sent over, an app to schedule and pick up deliveries, an app to pay traffic fines. With that in mind, it’s unsurprising there are apps that cover traditional HR functions as well. So, if the world is moving towards a realm of self-service (not only in our personal lives but in our work place) surely HR is becoming obsolete?
The answer is, no, not at all.
Millennials, who will comprise more than one of three adult Americans by 2020 and 75%n of the workforce by 2025 according to Forbes, are potentially the most researched demographic in history. Their interest in corporate social responsibility, disinterest in material things, and antagonism for rigorous corporate structures are well documented. If a business is not aligned to their personal objective of goals, they will not suffer in silence for the next two years. They’ll leave.
A recent Gallup poll shows that 60% of Millennials would consider leaving their jobs if they didn’t feel engaged at work —and only half plan to be with the same company a year from now. This all point towards a disenfranchised workforce that is costing the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually. Unfortunately, apps and self-service at this level isn’t going to promote this generation to settle down – rather, employers are going to have to create a more bespoke, hands-on experience to attract and retain top talent; software is not going to accomplish that.
The new and improved HR
Too long has HR been reduced to paper-pushers that awkwardly shuffle between sorting employee records, payroll, and reporting to the boss on your performance. Sadly, opposition to software is getting in the way of HR realizing their full potential. A 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey found that 53% of people felt that automation would cause their workplace to become ‘more impersonal and less human’. This coupled with an underlying fear that their roles are under-threat has backed HR into a corner; a corner filled with mind-number tasks like leave management or payroll that could be facilitated by software. Moving forward, HR will have to let go of their uncertainty and embrace automation’s strong suits, so they can focus on their own.
What strong suits are these? To start:
1. Creating a unique culture
Designing the ultimate employee experience is paramount to attracting, retaining and engaging talent. HR needs to be the vanguard of this project; the person who constantly preens and shapes this employee environment to ensure it remains fresh and healthy.
What makes this more of a challenge is that no two cultures are the same. For a very good reason - the point of a company culture is not only to entice talent but to attract the right talent. With it, you’ll be able to highlight employees (potential and existing) that fit and don’t fit; and for those that do, have them become part of a community that they care about and engage with. This has repercussions not only on their productivity and engagement, but on their vocalisation of their company as a great place to work. Giving employees prodigious professional experiences will transform them from staff to ambassadors.
Arguably, HR's most important role is to take a company's values and mission and imbue them across all processes within the organization to create this evanescent thing we call culture. Most modern-day businesses will fail to attract and retain top talent without it. Automation with HR software will give HR time to nurture and develop this foundational piece.
2. Data analysis
Here is where man and machine works beautifully. More sophisticated HRMS or HR software solutions are helping shine a light on the inner workings of a company. Most productive days, most frequent periods of time-off, time-management – all can be accessed and assessed from a good HR system at the touch of a button. With automation, there’s no need to spend hours trying to piece together numbers from an excel sheet, or feeble attempts to quantify qualitative data. It’s all done automatically.
What is required is someone who knows how to read that data, draw tangible conclusions, and foster solutions for what is found. People data can tell you when engagement levels are low, but it can’t tell you what the root of the problem is, nor can it devise strategies to nullify it. It’s HR’s responsibility to identify lags in productivity, recognise triggers, and create plans of action to rectify it.
3. The company architect
The company status quo is changing. From culture to internal processes, life at work is being reinvented. HR is there to draw the lines, set the standards and do away with redundant and time-consuming processes that no one wants to have – performance appraisals, anyone?
HR departments need to orchestrate change to drive employee productivity and ensure the development of a holistic and enjoyable company culture. Finding new ways to assess productivity, implement training (that is more than a presentation once a month), or find a fresh way to onboard new joiners are just a few things HR can go about reviewing and re-establishing.
HR is going places, but it’s not out of the workforce
HR, perhaps more now than ever, is needed – if HR is ready to accept the challenge of redefining itself. Firstly, ending misconceptions about automation’s role in any department, and arming staff with the tools they need to bring their company forward is vital if there is to be progress. Tensions over automation are unwarranted (and regressive). The sooner HR professionals grasp how HR software will allocate more time for strategy and employee development, the sooner organizations will be able to transform their companies into great places to work.
Stephanie Gay, Content Creator at Bayzat
Image Credit: Wright Studio / Shutterstock