Working in human resources can sometimes feel like trying to direct traffic in the middle of a busy intersection. On any given workday, HR professionals could be working on recruiting efforts, overseeing employee onboarding for new hires, tracking PTO and benefits queries, sending out employee surveys, scheduling performance reviews, and managing the offboarding process. It’s all critical to company functioning — and it all needs to be done right, and right on time.
But the good news is that HR teams now have countless automation tools at their disposal to help lighten the load. Whether it’s automatic scheduling for meetings or prompts for weekly recaps, there are automations that can help human resources departments and workers streamline their workflow and make previously time-consuming tasks a seamless part of their day.
What is HR automation?
Broadly speaking, automations are technologies or tools that reduce human input into a given process or procedure. In a home, motion-activated lights and programmable thermostats are automations that make life a little simpler. In a human resources context, automation can take a number of forms — in some companies, it might be as simple as pre-scheduled Slack prompts reminding employees to submit paperwork or send feedback, or a system that lets workers schedule their own PTO and have time off reminders sent to their managers or direct reports. On the other hand, it can be as complex as an integrated human resources information system (HRIS) that sends and tracks onboarding documents, sets up training, and schedules meetings across teams.
At its best, HR automation frees up HR managers from some of the administrative tasks, repetitive data entry, tedious manual processes, and time-consuming follow-up that can bog them down and keep them from doing the long-term planning and strategizing they need to do.
But HR automation is not a replacement for a strong team.
“I know that some people will have concerns about automation in HR and that it may remove the human part of the work, but I think that it frees up those in smaller HR departments to do even more of the human part of the work,” said Brianna Johnson, an Indiana-based HR strategist and career coach. “A process that allows for uploading documents, sharing online checklists to track progress, and even automates the next steps allows [HR departments] to avoid getting lost in the paperwork so that they can better support the people they work with.”
The right automations can add efficiency to HR functions so that the HR department can spend its time focusing on what really matters — the people.
What are the benefits of HR automation?
HR automation can pay off in tangible ways, experts said, for firms that are calculated with how they deploy it.
“When it comes to automation, the question becomes how to best achieve maximum experience gains for minimum cost,” said Christophe Martel, cofounder and CEO of FOUNT Global, Inc., a SaaS company dedicated to reducing employee dissatisfaction. It’s a calculation for every firm: What tasks can be automated in a way that adds value for both the HR team and the company at large? By taking stock of your business and its needs, you can decide what deserves the team’s focus and efforts. It’s a process, he said, of “automating what employees feel is okay to automate — and to have a great personal touch for what shouldn’t be automated.”
It's a process, automating what employees feel is okay to automate — and to have a great personal touch for what shouldn’t be automated.
In fact, Scott Lard, general manager and partner at IT consulting firm IS&T, said the right automations — including self-service directories, benefits portals, and time-off requests — can empower employees to be active partners in their careers.
“With automation, employees can access HR services and information more quickly and easily, reducing the need for manual intervention and speeding up response times,” he said. “By giving employees more control over their HR interactions, automation can also help to increase engagement and satisfaction, which can have a positive impact on productivity and retention.”
In particular, automations that collect critical or time-sensitive things like employee data and time-tracking information, or employee benefits and enrollment, can reduce human error such as missed deadlines, typos, or spreadsheet problems. That doesn’t just benefit employees or the HR staff who are later tasked with fixing the mistakes: Critically, it can help ensure that companies are complying with record-keeping and data-collection mandates.
”HR automation can help to ensure compliance with labor laws and regulations, reducing the risk of penalties or legal issues that can impact productivity,” Lard added.
Well-chosen automations can be an important tool in increasing both productivity and job satisfaction in human resources personnel as well. And while every firm’s situation is different, the upside can be significant. According to an economic impact study Lattice commissioned from Forrester Research, Lattice’s HR software has a 195% three-year return on investment and a payback period of just three months. The study also found that Lattice’s HR software saved $2 million by reducing employee attrition and $921,000 from less time spent on performance reviews. Plus, with HR software, the time spent on HR administration decreased by 78%.
HR Automation in Practice
While there’s no one-size-fits-all automation protocol that suits all companies in all cases, there is a wealth of opportunity for automation in almost every aspect of HR functioning.
Recruitment and Onboarding
Finding, interviewing, and hiring great candidates is a critical — and labor-intensive — part of building a great team, so finding ways to streamline the hiring process with an automated system has an immediate payoff.
Applicant tracking systems can winnow hundreds (or even thousands) of possible candidates into manageable categories, enabling HR staff to “take in an impossibly high number of candidates on any job posting, and within seconds, get that number down to within reason for an actual human to manage,” according to Lauren Milligan, career coach and founder of resume service ResuMAYDAY.
Robust systems can go a step further, scheduling interviews and follow-ups with candidates, and sending reminders to keep the recruitment process moving. “As a result, HR departments are better able to concentrate on more strategic activities like cultivating relationships with excellent prospects,” said Jeff Mains, CEO of Texas-based consulting firm Champion Leadership Group.
Automating [onboarding] allows the new hire, their manager, and the HR rep to focus on training and getting that employee familiar with their new responsibilities.
There’s just as much opportunity for onboarding automations once new employees have been hired. Self-service portals that can supply new-hire documents, facilitate benefits sign-up, start equipment provisioning, and even schedule welcome check-ins, team meetings, and training shifts can get employees set up swiftly and efficiently. “Automating this part of the process allows the new hire, their manager, and the HR rep to focus on training and getting that employee familiar with their new responsibilities,” Johnson said.
Management and Morale
Getting and giving feedback is one of the most crucial HR tasks, but soliciting feedback from employees has historically been both a time- and labor-intensive effort. For that reason, it’s also one that some teams put on the back burner when other priority projects come up — despite the long-term benefits of regular communication.
There’s no doubt that pulse surveys can serve a crucial role in fostering employee engagement, and turning to automations for scheduling regular pulse surveys means more ways to check in with employees with fewer barriers and less chance they’ll get forgotten among daily deadlines. Similarly, using automation to create and distribute a weekly update or snippet can prompt fruitful conversations among team members and give useful clarity around deadlines, progress, and roadblocks.
The same is true of more formal meetings between managers and staff, like one-on-ones and performance reviews. Despite the personal nature of these meetings, there are automations that can help.
Employee performance management tools can automatically schedule one-on-one meetings, finding open calendar slots and reserving time. Similarly, they can send reminders for follow-ups and send post-review surveys for feedback.
Some HR automation software can even create a meeting template and supply questions and talking points for the call. While good managers tailor their one-on-ones to each direct report, prompts for questions can inspire deeper reflection and new avenues of exploration. For example, some productive questions might include:
- Do you feel like you’re able to stay connected with everyone?
- Do you feel like you’re able to ask others for help?
- Are there any specific tools or software you’d like to learn how to use?
- How would you like me to share feedback?
Having well-crafted and relevant premade assessment templates and questions on hand can make the entire process less taxing and more productive.
Compensation and Benefits
There are few things employees — and by extension, most HR managers — take as seriously as compensation and benefits. And when it comes to answering questions or processing pay and benefits, speed and accuracy are critical.
Upgrading from manual fill-in spreadsheets for compensation data can help elevate your business to the next level. Instead of using spreadsheets that are prone to human error and easy to copy and hack, having automations take relevant information directly from employees into a locked database is both faster and more secure. Even better: The right system can also help automate comp cycles, which can help keep the budget on track and make sure that company compensation is aligned with strategic priorities and diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) goals.
Not only does it take the HR team time to manually ingest, say a change in a 401(k) selection, making that process manual makes it more error-prone.
Similarly, corporations may be required to keep (and keep private) annual enrollment data, salary information, and tax withholding information. Automating the collection of and updates to these files lifts a significant oversight and supervisory burden on HR teams and managers.
“You need a system that automatically updates changes that employees make to their tax withholdings, dependencies, benefits selection, et cetera. Not only does it take the HR team time to manually ingest, say a change in a 401(k) selection, making that process manual makes it more error-prone. And since employers take on a lot of liability associated with payroll taxes, benefits, [and more], you want changes that employees request to be made,” said Healy Jones, VP of financial strategy at Kruze Consulting.
The Bottom Line
No one is saying that the automation of HR processes is a one-stop solution to the macroeconomic factors causing changes that can threaten company culture. And there’s no shortcut to solving the challenge of retaining top performers.
But as many HR departments face pressure to increase employee performance without burning out the team (or let’s be honest, the HR department itself), finding smart, iterative ways to use HR software is crucial. The right system can streamline processes, reduce paperwork and busywork, and monitor the efficacy of those efforts — results that may now be more important than ever.
Thoughtful automation of routine tasks and duties doesn’t just help keep firms humming; it can improve feedback, empower employees, and prevent oversights and errors. Even better, it lets dedicated HR professionals spend their time focused on the things that really make an impact — on their colleagues and on the bottom line.
Want to learn more about the potential of HR technology? Download Lattice’s ebook The ROI of HR Tech today.