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HR Automation: Functions, Advantages and Best Practices

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    When tedious and time-consuming tasks bog down HR, automation offers a way out. Processes like onboarding, payroll, benefits administration and more all benefit from automated functionality, but that doesn’t mean all tech is created equal. Read HR Technology Conference Chair Steve Boese’s best practices and considerations for identifying the ideal HR software for automation.

    I’ve spent my career explaining how HR technology helps employers recruit, retain, manage, develop and care for their people. At the same time, the right tools allow companies of all sizes to extend their brand, reinforce compliance and ultimately focus on the future.

    Even so, I’d be remiss to just talk about what HR tech empowers us to accomplish. It’s just as important to focus on what tasks it automates — in other words, what we don’t have to do.

    Whether it saves HR from data reentry or building payroll from scratch each cycle, automation lays the foundation for a workplace where everyone thrives.

    Automation doesn’t limit or replace HR roles. Rather, it enhances what we can accomplish.

    Let’s diffuse the common concerns with HR automation and explore why it’s vital for forward-thinking business.

    What is HR automation?

    At its core, HR automation is a self-operating set of processes that let businesses manage employees more efficiently, accurately and productively. When implemented correctly, automation takes over the most repetitive, time-consuming tasks and improves accuracy.

    We enjoy the benefits of automation even away from work. A few examples include:

    • alerts and push notifications
    • dryers and washing machines
    • temperature control
    • traffic lights
    • robotic vacuum cleaners
    • self-driving vehicles

    In other words, HR automation addresses the small, yet important details so we can focus on the big picture of our roles and lives.

    Which common HR tasks can be automated?

    The scope of HR automation constantly evolves, but in general, it simplifies and streamlines tasks involving:

    If an HR task involves even a semiconsistent routine, automation almost certainly helps.

    What are the benefits of HR automation?

    Broadly speaking, automation pulls HR out of redundant tasks so it can focus on strategic initiatives and enhance the employee experience. In turn, organizations reap the benefits of high engagement; fewer mistakes are a competitive advantage in the modern business landscape.

    Here are five areas where I find HR automation makes the largest, most positive impacts.

    1. Process efficiency

    HR automation’s biggest advantage revolves around time. Eliminating the tasks HR previously had to do gives them the capacity to focus on people, not endless streams of data.

    Of course, automation also creates uniformity in data, too, which allows employers to make more informed decisions and pivot in the face of potential trends.

    2. Error reduction

    As humans, we’re capable of incredible breakthroughs that redefine how we navigate the world. Even so, we’re not perfect. We inevitably make mistakes. But when it comes to something like payroll errors, even small mishaps lend themselves to significant consequences.

    HR automation creates consistency across processes. It relies on data that was already entered once — and only once — to automatically inform and complete tasks.

    Meanwhile, HR doesn’t just have to hope this data is correct; they know it.

    3. Improved data quality, integrity and compliance

    In an environment where rules, regulations and legislative changes rapidly emerge, HR automation helps businesses protect and bolster their compliance. To be clear, no business can place its responsibility to comply on software alone. Organizations can, however, use tech to help ensure their payroll, benefits and more account for the latest changes to ensure compliance.

    The ideal HR tech providers constantly monitor changes in local, state and federal laws to ensure any automated processes account for potential updates. Taking it a step further, they also communicate with their clients about these changes, including how a shift could affect automated processes.

    HR automation also enforces consistency, which is vital to combat bias. Unchecked bias can influence choices and take root in policies. Automating decisions around time-off requests, for example, keeps favoritism and retaliation out of managers’ consideration while meeting staffing needs and schedule coverage.

    Additionally, HR automation lets employers automatically assign training related to company policies and industry-specific requirements. Even if an employee doesn’t complete the training, automation ensures it was assigned and followed up to give HR a clear trail to follow in case of an audit.

    4. Data management and analytics

    With the right tech, HR automation doesn’t just help store and manage data; it helps us understand it, too.

    I see it from two angles. First, since it removes HR from the most tedious tasks, automation grants them more time to analyze and assess data. Second, since it improves the quality and consistency of that data overall, employers can use it to make more confident decisions around their workforces.

    For example, if HR notices employees overwhelmingly pick a certain benefit over other offerings, they could give the organization reason to reevaluate and adjust its coverage. And with a tool to automatically route employee questions, HR avoids the administrative burden of sorting inquiries while still gaining valuable insight into what their people care about most.

    In most cases, the more tools to analyze data, the better. However, make sure your prospective tech provider produces analytics with relevance to employees and your operations. If your industry requires regular certification or continuing education, you’ll want HR software to automate the upkeep of those deadlines.

    Ultimately, the ideal mix of automation and analytics will depend on your company’s specific needs. Take time to prioritize them.

    5. Agency

    As consumers, we’ve gradually gained more control over our digital experiences. Employees want to truly own their data, too. Self-service HR software — ideally through a user-friendly mobile app — connects workers directly to what affects them most, including:

    • payroll
    • benefits
    • development
    • time and attendance
    • and more

    HR automation ensures they can access this info when it’s most convenient to them. In fact, the right automated onboarding tool guides new hires to fill out tax forms, review company policies and even complete most or all of their orientation before their first day.

    Automated tech also engages workers with their employers and encourages them to ask questions backed by a greater understanding of their data. At the same time, it streamlines HR’s response since it frees the department from tedious tasks. In this way and beyond, automation strengthens the bond between organizations and their employees.

    What are the challenges of adopting HR automation?

    Like other emerging technologies, HR automation isn’t free from concern. Whether it’s worrying over compliance or the myth that automation dehumanizes HR, considering where automation could stumble helps us find how it enhances our work lives. Let’s explore three common concerns.

    1. Limiting human interaction

    This isn’t exactly a new notion, but it nonetheless persists. From this perspective, automation eliminates the human touch — and the need for certain roles.

    But automation doesn’t limit our contributions. Rather, it enhances us. For decades, HR professionals reentered data and completed routine processes because there really wasn’t another option.

    This doesn’t mean HR should be any less concerned with employee data. Instead, they have a greater opportunity to analyze what it means and develop a strategy to address their findings.

    True, automation reduces the amount of direct human involvement necessary to run payroll, administer benefits and complete other everyday tasks. Those same processes, however, effectively shrunk the scope of what HR professionals could accomplish.

    2. Risk and compliance

    At the end of the day, automation is a tool used by people. In no way does it make employers any less accountable for their own compliance.

    Some may argue it detaches HR from key processes and hinders its ability to assess risk. It’s a compelling argument, but it doesn’t hold up for proactive HR professionals who understand the purpose automation serves.

    To put it bluntly, “set it and forget it” should never apply to HR automation. HR can be less involved with the minutia of payroll, for example, but they still need to be present for legislative changes that could change automated deductions.

    HR automation should always be looked at through a compliance lens. In some cases, that could mean creating a new role or reporting and monitoring structures. Either way, companies should ask questions of their prospective HR tech providers about how they automate without risking potential fines or penalties.

    3. Change management

    HR automation isn’t a switch you implement overnight. It takes time, and automating processes that aren’t ready for it — such as those managed by outside specialists — could only amplify frustration. Breathe and don’t get ahead of yourself, especially if you work for a legacy company.

    Companies transform when they automate, but it should still be done at a rate that’s comfortable for those involved. Executives will expect a clear plan of execution, so consider first presenting leadership with a list of priorities to automate.

    If your company experiences regular payroll errors, turn to that process. Or if new hires struggle to get off their feet in the first few weeks, maybe automating portions of training and onboarding will take precedent. Break down these needs in practical terms to help overcome a general reluctance to change.

    What are the best practices for HR automation?

    Businesses that already automate HR functions have experienced how it transforms operations and creates a space to focus on people, not processes.

    Even so, implementing HR automation isn’t effective without a clear assessment of what your organization truly needs. Consider these four tips as you narrow down your ideal HR tech provider.

    1. Gather feedback

    Don’t make assumptions about what your colleagues and personnel would like to see automated. Speak with them about what processes frustrate them the most, then verify if you can automate each safely.

    For example, if you’re concerned employees don’t take full advantage of their HR tech, verify your provider offers a way to automatically measure usage.

    2. Evaluate needs

    After learning your workforce’s thoughts about automation, take time to assess them and build a case for executive buy-in. Your findings should be backed by evidence, even if it’s speculation about what your company could be losing without HR automation.

    3. Ask questions

    Avoid adopting HR software without knowledge of how it automates processes. This is especially important for companies with unique or industry-specific compliance needs.

    Consider asking your prospective HR tech provider:

    • How do your automated tools account for new laws and other regulatory changes?
    • How can we adjust or modify how your software automates a specific task?
    • If we run into an unexpected issue, do you have specialists available to assist us?
    • What’s your estimated timeline for automating our payroll and benefits administration?
    • To what extent can we automate the onboarding process, and can we use your tech to automate portions of new-hire orientation?
    • What are the limitations of your automation tools? In other words, what can your software not automate?

    Use these examples as a guide, but be sure to draft your own questions, too. Remember, if a vendor’s response doesn’t fill you and your team with confidence, you don’t have to accept it.

    4. Communicate

    Once you’ve landed on a provider and have discussed implementation, make the switch clear to everyone in your organization. Efficiency, productivity, compliance and better decision-making all justify automation.

    Still, you shouldn’t throw these tools at HR without a detailed conversation about how the tech works. Give your team an opportunity to ask questions and prioritize the human side of the equation.

    Understandably, some of your people may wonder how their job will change with fewer tasks to do. Make a point to answer them in detail.

    What is the future of HR automation?

    We can’t guarantee what lies ahead for automation, but HR pros can help themselves by staying on top of advancing tech. In fact, it’s possible we’ve barely scratched the surface of which HR processes we can automate. As innovation continues to flourish, these opportunities will likewise present themselves.

    In the meantime, however, I would encourage HR pros to form strong relationships with their tech providers. At a bare minimum, this will keep you informed of new enhancements and upcoming tools. You could even take this a step further and provide your partner with feedback about the areas you see fit for automation.

    Who knows? Your inquiry could be the catalyst for the next big HR tech advancement.

    What should businesses look for in the right HR automation software?

    While the best automation tools for your business may vary, some processes affect every organization.

    Given payroll is likely your company’s biggest expense, look for software that self-starts each pay period. It should be capable of incorporating live data on employees’ hours worked, expense reimbursement and other changes.

    It doesn’t have to stop there, either. Tech that lets employees do their own payroll, for instance, automatically flags errors. Then, it guides employees to resolve them before submission. HR enjoys a streamlined process, employees gain valuable peace of mind and the business reaps the benefit of reduced liability.

    To expedite talent acquisition, consider an applicant tracking tool that automatically posts openings to popular job sites and makes it easier for hiring managers to sort through promising candidates. The tech should also be capable of converting applicant data into comprehensive reports to help your team identify trends.

    Once you’ve decided on the right candidate, automated onboarding tools help them quickly complete important documents and access relevant training early, even ahead of their first day.

    And remember, potential for automation exists in every area of HR. Even decisions around time-off requests can be automated, like with Paycom’s time and attendance enhancement, GONE® . This tech provides instant responses to employees’ requests, ensuring your business has scheduling coverage without the need for a supervisor to manually verify it.

    If intervention is needed on a denied time-off request, managers and their employees still have an opportunity to override the decision and discuss an accommodation.

    This is the spirit of HR automation: It doesn’t eliminate the human touch but empowers us to redirect it to where it matters: employees and the business’s future.

    For more of my thoughts on HR automation, listen to this episode of the HR Break Room® podcast, The HR Automation Agenda: Best Practices for Efficient Processes With Steve Boese.

    DISCLAIMER: The information provided herein does not constitute the provision of legal advice, tax advice, accounting services or professional consulting of any kind. The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional legal, tax, accounting or other professional advisers. Before making any decision or taking any action, you should consult a professional adviser who has been provided with all pertinent facts relevant to your particular situation and for your particular state(s) of operation.