Electronic HR management (e-HRM) is often held up to offer many possibilities for organisations, by providing both employees and management with information simply by accessing online data.
For employees, many frequently asked questions can be dealt with by relatively simple information of a general nature, freeing skilled HR staff to deal with more complex matters. For management, electronic data storage can help to make information about employees more readily accessible.
However, there are certain limiting factors, including keeping data sufficiently current to be useful, and providing different levels of confidentiality for personal data on individuals.
The Cranet survey on international HR practices started to collect data on this new development in HR management in 2003, by asking senior HR practitioners about their organisation’s practices in the e-HRM field.
Data was collected from Sweden, as well as the UK, to provide a comparative perspective drawn from a society where electronic methods of communication and data storage are widespread.
More than 1,000 HR managers were asked whether their organisation had a computer-based HR information system. In the UK, only 18% of respondents had no such system, with Sweden even lower at 13%.
The systems tended to be mostly ‘free-standing’, though 25% of UK and 19% of Swedish organisations integrated their HR systems with a wider management information management system. In these cases, it seems likely that data from different systems at least has the potential to contribute meaningfully to the strategic integration of HRM with the organisation’s wider strategy.
In the UK, two-thirds of organisations said they used the system for one-way communication, for example, publishing general company information to employees. And 15% offered a degree of access to employees to find out specific personal information.
Few had reached the stage at which there was even simple ‘upward’ communication allowing employees to change simple personal information, such as bank details.
Respondents in Sweden and the UK were also asked about the areas covered by their HR information system. Payroll was important in both countries.
Time and attendance records showed considerable differences between the two countries. In the UK, 48% of organisations used the systems for these purposes, compared to 80% in Sweden. In UK organisations, however, there is a strong tendency for them to be used for training and development records (68% in the UK compared with 38% in Sweden).
Swedish organisations reported considerable use of the systems for work scheduling, suggesting they are well integrated into daily organisational life in many Swedish firms. In the UK, just 11% reported their use in this everyday way.
Finally, the survey asked practitioners how satisfied they were that their systems met their current needs. In both countries, just over a third said they were satisfied ‘to a small extent’ with the extent to which their system met their current needs. Just over half of respondents in both countries answered that they met them ‘to a large extent’. In both cases, just 4% of organisations said that their systems ‘entirely’ met their current needs.