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Editor’s Question: How will HR roles be impacted by automation and technology?

Editor’s Question: How will HR roles be impacted by automation and technology?

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Automation in HR will remove repetitive and mundane tasks, giving HR professionals more time to focus on tasks which need a human touch and creativity.

But as Christine Park, Chief People Officer at Sitecore, pointed out – automation cannot be discussed without someone expressing a concern about job impact.

She said: “It’s an understandable issue – no one wants their career to be taken over by a machine. But while their concerns may be rooted in the evolution of technology and how it has replaced various tasks, automation stands to elevate – and not eliminate – the jobs of human resources professionals.

“Think about what technology has already brought to the table. Through the power of digitisation, we no longer have to print, file and store endless sheets of paper. Everything can now be stored digitally – either locally or in the cloud – providing a quicker, more seamless and less wasteful experience for both HR professionals and employees.

“Now consider how automation can take all of our most mundane tasks and provide even greater benefits. Instead of taking our work from us, automation will allow us to take back our time and use it to complete higher-value objectives.”

Park knows how important a job offer letter is to a jobseeker, while HR, on the other hand, would rather not think about offer letters.

She added that they are even less excited about handling paid time off (PTO) requests and other absences. HR would also like to avoid the task of processing visas for incoming employees or termination papers for untimely departures – in other words, all the very necessary but very mundane tasks that take a good amount of time.

“The good news is that all of these things could move from humans to machines, enhancing the role of HR professionals by allowing them to focus on more meaningful tasks: elevating the employee experience,” said Park.

Automation is a wonderfully capable technology that will revolutionise the world of HR and is already making a noticeable impact with regard to applicant screening. But it cannot motivate and inspire people the way that other humans can. That is the job of a leader.

Park said: “Automation will not be able to create a high-performing team or build a culture where people can thrive and grow within their careers. Coaching, mentoring, creating a sense of belongingness – those are things a machine simply cannot do.

“This means that, as automation takes on a bigger and more prominent role in performing simple and repetitive tasks, HR professionals will be free to turn their attention to their most valuable objective: their employees. As a result, they’ll be able to focus on helping employees enjoy the moments that matter most with personalised experiences and an employee-centric strategy.”

The future of automation is in elevation, not elimination. It will propel the great work that HR professionals do, empowering them to succeed in completing higher-value objectives. This will result in happier, more satisfied and more motivated employees who eagerly rely on technology for day-to-day assistance while reserving their HR enquiries for the moments that matter most and drive business results through the most important asset of a company: people, Park concluded.

Three experts discusses HR in automation below.

Ayman Kattan, Chief People Officer at Bayzat:

As HR policies ultimately have a direct impact on every employee in a company, it is arguably one of the most important organisational functions. But running smooth HR operations – everything from hiring and on-boarding new employees, designing and managing employee benefits and performance appraisals to attending to the myriad of employee requests regarding leave, insurance and more – can be extremely tedious and challenging for HR departments.

Against this backdrop, several organisations in the UAE, both large and small, are turning to technology, specifically employee benefits platforms, to help streamline and simplify HR processes.

Of course, any automation discussion has the potential to raise concerns around humans being replaced by machines. To the contrary, employee benefits platforms actually enable HR professionals to offload repetitive and laborious tasks, and even allow employees to ‘self-service’ HR requests. This has the dual benefit of freeing up precious time for already overworked HR professionals (time they can redirect to higher-impact employee initiatives), while simultaneously empowering employees and enhancing their experiences.

But perhaps the greatest value of HR technology solutions lies in the power of the data these platforms generate. Implementing the right employee benefits platform enables HR departments to leverage real-time analytics and derive invaluable business intelligence from all the internal data, which contributes to faster, better decision making. In fact, Peak Indicators’ 2021 Data Science in HR report found that HR departments are now second only to finance teams in their focus on data-driven business decision making, with 61% using data in most decisions.

Take company leave as an example. According to data from the Bayzat platform, December (12%) and January (10%) are the two most popular months of the year for vacation requests in the UAE, with just 5% of vacations being taken in September. More than half of leave requests (53%) are for three days or less and the average number of annual vacation days provided to UAE employees is 30. Such data is invaluable for HR teams and line of business (LOB) managers – it can be used to design more attractive leave policies or make decisions around team structure and seasonal staffing.

Or consider medical insurance, which despite being a key consideration for any business operating in the UAE, often isn’t given the attention it requires. As a result, many businesses end up overpaying on their policies or failing to adequately meet the needs and expectations of their employees. Our platform shows that general medicine (36%), obstetrics and gynaecology (23%) and dermatology (18%) are the top three consultations booked by UAE employees. Businesses can use this data to optimise their insurance policies in a way that meets the needs of the employees and the business.

In summary, implementing automation and technology in HR departments is much less about making HR professionals redundant and more about empowering them to leverage the platforms – and the data they generate – to focus on solving complex people problems, which will not only give them a sense of fulfilment, but will also raise employee satisfaction and positively affect the bottom line. Now that’s a win-win!

Shiva Sharma, Head – Human Resources, Pearson Middle East, North Africa and Turkey:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been changing the scope of job roles and functions for decades, but today its presence is felt more than ever. Interestingly, the impact of this trend on HR is multifaceted.

On one hand, HR professionals have several strategic responsibilities such as executive coaching, formulating people strategies, change management, cultural transformation etc. which cannot be replaced by AI-led automation. These job functions require good interpersonal and reasoning skills, higher order thinking skills which are difficult to be programmed in robots. And on the other hand, the most skilled strategic HR professionals can find themselves dedicating a large amount of their time in repetitive and mundane tasks such as employee scheduling, payroll management, internal HR processes reminders etc.

HR function in an organisation plays a vital role and it is crucial for them to embrace innovative tech to help businesses transform. However, AI in HR is primarily limited to repetitive, process-based tasks that do not require too much human intervention.

Based on a report by Gartner, nearly one out of four organisations that is already pivoting AI is doing so in the HR domain and is extremely helpful in aiding HR personnel to automate certain HR tasks to create a more seamless, more flexible and more user-driven employee experience. Mundane repetitive administrative tasks such as recruitment, training need analysis, performance and reward can be easily digitalised and HR professionals can focus on performing analytical functions and getting more involved with other organisational activities such as tasks enhancing business operations and profitability, as well as use a wider talent ecosystem to deliver work in a cost-effective way to unlock greater business value. 

HR functions such as employee relations, organisational effectiveness, people performance architecture, HR and business strategy are less susceptible to automation and hence individuals with high business acumen, strong critical thinking skills, good data analysis skills and good judgment will be in high demand to deliver on tasks that cannot be automated and need an element of human touch.  

For Pearson, one of our goals is to deliver digital growth and when this is translated for HR functions, it’s all about using technology to deliver the improved employee experience and using the data to make informed business decisions.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to successfully integrate AI in HR and it largely depends on the outcomes we are chasing. The future is both AI driven and human but not one over the other.

Alan Hiddleston, Director of Corporate Learning, D2L:

Advances in technology, particularly automation, are calling the very nature of the workplace into question. Automation is shortening the half-life of skills, and more manual and repetitive jobs are being quickly automated and replaced by Artificial Intelligence (AI). This is creating a new landscape where continual development or regular ‘upskilling’ of employees is the only viable way forward. HR and Learning and Development (L&D) teams are having to undergo a serious transformation in order to facilitate this. 

We must not forget the impact of COVID-19 and remote working, of course. Digital upskilling and reskilling are a crucial aspect of the UK’s economic recovery. To meet the requirements of the future workplace, HR and L&D teams will need to move beyond content. After all, digital skills are far more difficult to develop and assess, particularly en masse and remotely. The way these departments measure individuals’ progress will need to be far more precise and data driven. 

HR will need to create a skills map of key desirable criteria and behaviours, leveraging data analytics to ‘quantify’ skills and measure progress far more accurately. In fact, L&D will need to provide more varied pathways through programmatic learning – blended and continuous, action-based learning solutions that nurture specific skill sets over time – which can be complemented by digital technology.

Future of HR 

Given these challenges, we will begin to see the de-centralisation of HR and L&D – centralised L&D functions simply will not be able to keep pace with the new learning challenges emerging at a departmental level in organisations. A recent study by IBM revealed that the time it takes to close a skill gap through enterprise learning has increased dramatically. On average, it now takes around 36 days to close a capability gap and retrain teams. It is likely that HR will need to be more focused on the enablement of other business functions to be responsible for their own learning development and delivery. 

HR teams will need to continue juggling the pandemic, the rising tide of automation, a multigenerational workforce and a shorter shelf life for skills. HR’s next big challenge will be how to provide new opportunities for learning and collaboration and developing future-proof learning cultures. 

Through programmatic learning, HR can provide a personalised learning experience designed to deliver high-value transformational projects at an organisational level.

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