Human Resources or HR as it’s commonly referred to, has always been of critical importance to organisations of all sizes. The HR department plays a key role in the company’s bottom line because HR doesn’t just issue contracts or the dreaded P45s; it actually has a pivotal role to play within the business.
These include but are not limited to maximising employee performance, attracting and retaining best talent, creating and promoting company values, change management, career planning, leadership pipelines, advising on and managing employee relations and risk management. Over the years, the role of the HR department has evolved from being one that is primarily administrative to taking on a more strategic and operational responsibility; looking after everything from management training to employee wellbeing.
However, the HR function is under threat from the rise of technology as companies look to become ever more streamlined and cut costs. Many processes are becoming automated, and being an advocate for technology, these changes are at times very welcome as they assist with the bottom line. But, is it realistic to think that robots/technology could really replace humans in the HR department? Research carried out by Oxford University and Deloitte found that 35% of UK jobs are at high risk of computerisation over the next 20 years. While, robo-advisors offer a number of benefits, such as cutting costs and speeding up processes, they should be used in tandem with people to maintain a personal human touch in the delivery of HR services; which can sometimes make the difference between losing a star employee and retaining them.
Whilst there are clearly huge benefits to be had from implementing technology which can automate processes like payroll, and the utilisation of cloud technologies to help make managing and sharing data easier, it doesn’t make the role of the HR director any less important. Technology allows humans to get on with the less-automated and more decision-centred part of the job. In reality, with technological processes in place, HR staff are more free and able to really work on the needs of employees and aligning their wellbeing, performance and output with the business objectives.
The modern HR department has a ‘hybrid’ approach, whereby humans and technology work together to improve the HR practice as a whole. Technology certainly has a role to play and it can prove invaluable in gathering and analysing data which can help to improve the employee experience; and assist with business decisions. However, there are some aspects of the job which need to be fulfilled by a human being and companies must avoid becoming faceless to their staff. Workplaces should be supportive, encouraging places and it’s still important for employees to know that communication is valued and that their employer genuinely cares for them. When this human touch is balanced with technology processes, companies can benefit from a more efficient and productive workforce.
As the traditional world of work continues to evolve, so too does the role of HR. HR leaders have a huge role to play in ensuring their organisation remains competitive as well as a desirable place to work. Technology should be used in tandem with HR professionals to help create a workplace environment which benefits everyone – besides, technology does not give you a warm fuzzy feeling of being cared-for/appreciated when you have a major life event nor will it high-five you when you do something worth a high-five.
By Rosemary Hewat (Assoc. CIPD), senior HR business partner at Neyber