The six thorns in e-HR’s side

Increased workload, lack of support from HR and inconsistency in implementation are just some of the concerns that organisations have about moving HR functions on to the web or automating them with software.

These are the findings of research by Martin Reddington, visiting research fellow at the Roffey Park Institute, and research associate of Glasgow Business School, in his report Transforming HR: Creating value through people.

Such concerns have the potential to severely hamper the success of any e-HR implementation. So how can organisations prevent them creating more problems than the systems claim to solve?

Unclear roles and increased workload

The flatter structure of many organisations today causes line managers to feel overloaded. Many view the devolution of HR via e-HR systems as further adding to their workload, as well as confusing their role.

While on the one hand it will be an extension of their managerial duties, it is also important to ensure that they are aware of the benefits.

“If not handled properly, these increased responsibilities in HR management can lead to a climate of fear and mistrust driven by HR,” says Reddington. “The key to this problem is to ensure that line managers ‘get the plot’ and really understand the rationale for the devolvement of HR activities and how the new ways of working can be beneficial to them – not just the HR function.”

Inconsistencies in implementation

When firing on all cylinders, e-HR systems are capable of a great many tasks. But it is wrong to expect line managers to be able to take advantage of all their capabilities from the word ‘go’.

It is important for HR to take a staged approach to the implementation, advises Christopher Berry, managing director of software company Computers in Personnel.

“E-HR can seem too big and too scary for many managers,” he says. “Ensure they are able to secure some quick wins with the system early on, and put a phased route map in place detailing the objectives of the system.”

Alienation of HR

Inevitably, as staff access more functions through e-HR, the workforce will have less regular contact with the HR department. This can cause alienation and, in turn, lead to mistrust. “This can stem from the perception that HR is putting e-HR in place to suit themselves, rather than to benefit the employees or line manager,” warns Peter Reilly, director of corporate consultancy at the Institute for Employment Studies.

Consulting with all parties when designing the system, and communicating the benefits to everyone, is vital, but so too is staying in control of the project to ensure the system delivers, he adds.

“Don’t withdraw the traditional service until you know the new one isn’t going to place a burden on employees or managers,” he says. “It sounds simple, but HR must be mindful of this, and remember that technology doesn’t always do what it is supposed to.”

Lack of objectives for line managers

Reddington’s research showed that line managers are frustrated that they are not able to devote enough time to HR activities, such as appraisals, because of operational pressures. Unless they receive explicit support from senior managers and recognition for the HR duties they take on, Reddington believes this is unlikely to change just because e-HR has been introduced.

“Individual line managers’ performance objectives should formally state their HR activities, and they should be evaluated to assess whether they are carrying out their new personnel roles correctly,” he says.

Berry warns: “HR must remember that there is a big difference between a manager being able to record absence data about an individual, and having to deal with the problem of a bad attendance record.”

Lack of adequate preparation

Under-valuing the importance of training in a new system has become something of a hoary old cliché when it comes to e-HR, but sadly, many consultants working in the field report that it is still very much a reality.

“All too often, the company will be happy to make the investment in IT, but only set aside enough budget for half-a-day’s training for staff,” says David Lennan, managing director of Businesshr.net. “This is simply bad management.”

But the debate is about far more than IT training. In Reddington’s research, many line managers acknowledged their lack of competence in people management practices. “One of the issues of devolved HR is that line managers become the personnel manager, but they aren’t always good people managers,” says Lennan. “With e-HR, it is easy to get carried away with the e-tools and overlook the training and support that managers may need in other key areas.”

Lack of support from HR

In e-HR implementations, HR must embrace a new role, more like that of an adviser or consultant and business partner. If they don’t, they will be unable to give line managers and employees the necessary support when HR is devolved.

“It’s critical to ensure that sufficient attention is given to up-weighting the capabilities of the HR function, so they can perform their new roles effectively,” says Reddington.

Implementing technology in the workplace

For more information on Martin Reddington’s research, go to www.martinreddington.com

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