The Secret Weapon In The War For Talent? HR Automation

By: Dana Agmon, Managing Director, Meet in Place

Meet in Place’s Midtown venue recently hosted a symposium with top HR thought leaders, together with EverythingBenefits. Titled “How Automation Will Make HR More Humane”, the panel of HR experts from companies such as Unilever and Picwell  discussed everything from the changing approach to HR as a discipline to the role technology plays at key points in the HR process. 

What emerged were key points that speak to HR professionals in terms of how they can leverage technology in attracting, engaging and retaining the best talent in the world.

Technology Is Changing The Way We Do Everything

From the way we start our day (“Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights”) to getting to work (Uber? Lyft?), work itself (Email, Slack, the list goes on), and even the way we spend our leisure time (IG, or even TikTok as a guilty pleasure for some of us)…technology has either completely changed – or at least significantly enhanced – how we do things.

Technology has also made us more productive. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, non-farm business sector labor productivity increased 1.4% in the last reported quarter. Much of this increase in productivity is driven by technology – we can now create more, in less time. Products like typewriters, fax machines, phone books, are barely recognizable to millenials – never mind iGen. 

In terms of workplace productivity, technology is a formidable multiplier. For example, according to McKinsey, organizations leveraging social technologies can raise the productivity of knowledge workers by between 20% and 25%. 

For HR, this is no different.

Technology Is Changing HR’s Strategic Focus

CEOs and other C-Suite executives have been known to criticize the HR function for lack of strategic insight. Indeed, historically HR used to be associated with forms. There is a form for everything; pieces of paper that needed to be signed, files that had to be stored. According to Peter Cappelli writing in the Harvard Business Review, “The most vocal critics say that HR managers focus too much on “administrivia” and lack vision and strategic insight”.  

HR should be more strategic, but is held back by mundane tasks. Like other industries, this is where technology – and particularly automation – can free up the HR team from these tasks and empower them to contribute strategically to the organization. 

The Benefits Space – How Technology Is Making An Impact

The experts on the panel had fascinating insights when it came to the role technology will play in driving HR forward, specifically in freeing HR up in order to focus on strategic input. A common theme was that in winning the War for Talent – that is attracting, engaging and retaining top talent – technology, and specifically automation, need to be harnessed to boost differentiators such as employee benefits.

As a tool to understand and self-educate

According to Matthew Sydney, CEO of Picwell, providing employees with tools that help them understand and choose benefits for retirement and healthcare is a crucial mission for HR. Sydney said that many employees, especially those coming out of college, don’t understand the difference. “They don’t think about their 401(k) separately from their HSA, and while they know they’re different products, they’re not sure how to make those decisions,” he said. “An automation tool can provide support to all aspects of the business, regardless of whether it’s about retirement or recruiting.”

As a tool to improve employee experience

Tatiana Goldberg, change management lead at Unilever, noted that “Anything you can do to simplify and automate tasks that are low value and repetitive, like filling out a piece of paper, will free up the power of HR to do something else”. She continued that “There’s so much space for automation to play a bigger role in making the employee experience better.” This “freeing up” will allow HR to contribute strategically to organizational success.

As a tool to access information

Another example given by Goldberg is internal communication, and enabling employees to access information regarding key issues such as benefits. “It’s very important to understand the voice of the consumer, whether you’re trying to answer your questions or enrolling people and benefits.” 

She added that in the process of automating HR functions, companies should ask themselves questions like, “Would you like to talk to a machine? Or would you like to talk to a human?” Employees need access to information at times that suit them, especially when it comes to a workforce that may be decentralized. “When I need advice, I want to talk to a human, but when I need an answer at 11 p.m. at night, I’d rather talk to the machine and not wait until tomorrow”.

As an engagement and strategic management tool

“Automation can help HR understand the employees’ engagement with benefits, who’s utilizing them and who’s enrolling,” said Rachel Lyubovitzky, co-founder and CEO of EverythingBenefits. “Benefits are the biggest cost for companies after payroll, so you need to understand if it’s driving positive retention and engagement.” Seeing this kind of information from an overall perspective allows HR teams to give powerful strategic input.

HR, Technology, And Strategic Value

What’s clear from the Meet in Place-hosted panel discussion is that leading HR professionals are already integrating technology into key parts of their HR process not just to boost productivity – but to enable them to have a more strategic voice at a leadership level.

Tomorrow’s successful companies are leveraging key differentiators – such as employee benefits and technology – as potent drivers of success. When it comes to winning the War for Talent, this combination could be the secret weapon.

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