Why more HR tech is not necessarily better

Steve Boese explains why it is more important to use HR to support employees at a personal level, and be mindful of how employees respond.
By: | November 1, 2021

At the recent HR Technology Conference, keynote speaker Marcus Buckingham debuted findings from a new ADP Research Institute report about measuring performance and the impact of HR through the lens of employee experience.

The deeply researched report showed which experiences drive employee satisfaction with their HR function, offered a short set of questions that employers can ask to learn how employees evaluate HR and, importantly, explored how the employee assessment of HR influences the organisation’s talent brand.

Think of the perception of the talent brand through a simple Net Promoter Score metric: “How likely are you, as an employee, to recommend the organisation as a place to work to friends and family?” The institute’s research showed that employees who see HR in a positive light—the report calls it “Value Promoting”—are much more likely to recommend the organisation as a place to work than employees who see HR as simply “Performing” the basic duties of HR, or worse, those who view HR as actually “Value Detracting” from their experience at work.

These findings are interesting, for sure, but for me—someone who primarily thinks about how HR technologies can improve work and workplaces and create better employee experiences—the portions of the research that refer to the effects of HR technology on the employee experience of HR were most compelling.

Before diving into the implications for HR technology and HR tech professionals, let’s review what the research revealed about which characteristics related to better employee experiences with HR organisations.

First, having a single point of contact in HR was highly related to seeing HR as Value Promoting. And by a single point of contact in HR, we are referring to an actual person in HR, not a centralised HR call centre or service centre where each employee inquiry is almost certainly going to be answered by a different person (or even an automated response system).

The second key finding was that, with a greater frequency of employee interactions with HR, the likelihood of an improved assessment of the HR function also increases. According to the research, employees who had seven or more interactions with HR in the previous 12 months were 7.4 times more likely to consider HR as Value Promoting than employees who had no interactions with HR.

Let’s take a look at what each of these findings suggests for the HR technology function.

First, the characteristic of having a single point of contact in HR for each employee is certainly difficult to achieve for all but the smallest organisations. Plus, this goes against the recent trend of relying increasingly on centralised HR call centres and/or functional vertical centres of excellence based on HR category for each employee issue.

These newer approaches are usually more cost-effective than providing a single point of contact in HR for all employees, yet the ADPRI data suggest that employees feel as though something important is missing from these siloed HR experiences.

From the HR technology perspective, we are seeing significant increases in technologies designed to drive employee interactions with their HR function to a process that is optimised, streamlined and kind of cold in some ways.

While the new HR technology solutions can increase efficiency, accuracy, and speed of employee inquiries to HR—and their associated transactions can be effective and powerful—they do tend to de-humanise the actual delivery of HR services at some level.

As the data suggest, this is the opposite of what HR should be working toward. The challenge for HR leaders will be balancing the need for cost-effective, technology-powered HR service delivery with the employees’ desire to feel seen, heard and understood by an actual person.

Second, the ADPRI data suggest that the more interactions an employee has with HR, the more likely they are to see HR as Value Promoting and to recommend their organisation as a place to work.

Similar to what we have seen with using technology as a means of providing HR service delivery at the expense of offering a single point of contact in HR, we continue to deploy HR technology to drive employee ownership and responsibility for more and more HR interactions and transactions. This is certainly not a new phenomenon; the early development and deployment of employee self-service capabilities started years ago.

But these early efforts largely focused on less emotionally charged elements of the employee experience, like changing an address or updating banking information. Sure, these are important, but not meaningful in a larger sense. But over time, more and more components of the employee experience with HR have been driven to automated systems and self-service applications (now almost all supported on smartphones).

In a large, technologically advanced organisation, it would not be surprising if almost all of an employee’s interactions with HR could be brokered through an HR technology solution, resulting in very little personal contact with HR professionals.

While that seems exciting at some level to an HR technology professional, it runs directly counter to the ADPRI findings, which show quite clearly that increasing the personal points of contact among employees and HR professionals drives increased perceptions of HR effectiveness and enhanced employee experience. HR pros do their jobs well, this data suggest, and replacing that with technology may not be the wisest choice for the organisation in a bigger-picture sense.

Ultimately, the HR organisation has to find the appropriate level of HR service delivery and employee support that is largely, if not completely, driven by technology and not by people, as well as develop those key HR services and touchpoints that are left to the HR people themselves. HR has to be careful to not just see more and more opportunities to leverage the new and emerging HR technology solutions as the default position moving forward.

Just because we can drive more HR service delivery and support to technology does not mean necessarily that we should. What we really need to do is use HR to support employees at a personal level and be mindful of how employees respond to our HR service delivery and programmes. The ADPRI data provide a good reminder of this and especially that employees want HR to be a “people” business, not just a technology and solutions function.


By Steve Boese, HRE’s Inside HR Tech columnist and chair of HRE’s HR Technology Conference. This article was first published on Human Resource Executive.