HR most likely to be reaping automation benefits

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HR professionals are more likely to be experiencing the benefits of automation in their roles than any other professional in the UK, but more than a third think the pace of technological change in their organisation is slow.

This is according to Hays’ What workers want 2019 report, which found administrative tasks had decreased because of greater automation for almost half (49%) of HR employers and 30% of HR professionals. This is compared with an average of 36% of employers and 23% of professionals across all sectors who found the same.

However, 34% of HR departments still indicated that their organisation was slow to adapt to new technologies. A lack of skills from current staff was the main barrier to greater automation, as cited by 59%, while 41% said there was a lack of support for automation from employees.

The survey of 14,500 people across all professions asked employers whether they had invested in anything that would help them overcome the barriers to greater automation. Fifty-six per cent of HR departments said they had adapted processes, 56% had improved staff communications and 53% had introduced internal training. Only 28% had hired a change manager or consulted an agency to help implement new technology.

The report says: “To make sure the momentum gained towards automation is continued, both HR employers and those working in HR roles need to be aware of the benefits of automation and the skills required to get the most out of digital technology, not just within their own function, but the wider business too.

“This will facilitate the most relevant training, improve engagement from existing staff and aid the recruitment of suitable professionals.”

Six in 10 HR professionals were developing their technical skills to bring about greater automation – almost two-thirds of whom doing so through their own training and development. Only 37% were making use of training provided by their employer.

“Employees are eager to develop their skills to make digital transformation a success, but feel they are not being supported by their employers,” the report states.

“The skills that matter most to employers [such as emotional intelligence, people management and critical thinking] have not been effectively communicated to employees, making it more difficult for them to develop the correct skills without support.

“To alleviate this problem, employers need to offer more formal training to prepare staff for automation, and employees must ensure they are developing the right soft and technical skills for their specific role in an automated future.”

Despite the perception that HR professionals were lacking the skills needed to make automation a success, almost three-quarters (72%) of organisations said their HR department was investing in automation or planned to do so in the future. Forty-one per cent of these organisations said they were in the early stages of automation implementation, while only 15% had already automated their processes.

Specifically, HR departments were currently automating, or imminently expecting to automate, learning systems (45%), payroll (42%) and recruitment administration tasks such as onboarding processes and timesheets (39%).

Jackie Groves, regional vice president, sales, at business communications firm Fuze, said digital transformation is no longer about installing the latest technology. Rather, it is about enabling rapid change and future-proofing organisations’ processes.

She said: “The focus should first be on your workers and what they require to do their best work.

“As ever more tasks are streamlined through automation, the focus of the new workplace will be collaboration, communication and creativity. To achieve this, workers will need more time to brainstorm and interact – regardless of when and where they choose to work.

“By preparing for the future of work now, providing the right collaboration technologies, and embracing both automation and the human aspects of work, businesses can reap the rewards of a more engaged, motivated and productive workforce.”

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