Is Tech Making HR More or Less Human?

Utilising technology in a corporate setting is all about seeking efficiencies, but when there is a “people” context, cutting corners is a precarious pursuit.

When you are a small HR department in charge of the wellbeing of thousands, the temptation to hand over the admin to the robots is a strong one. If people have a question about their contract, a chatbot can handle it. Employees can be independently trained at their desks, with “iPhone-X-like” facial recognition measuring their levels of engagement and understanding. And we all know that applicant tracking systems are already fantastic at sifting through those crucial keywords on CVs….

When issues have a straightforward and unambiguous solution, ever-more intelligent tech can do a better job than an overworked and stressed human. However, whenever emotions and grey-areas come into play, tech simply doesn’t have what it takes yet.

HR is full of grey areas and emotions.

However, this will not stop the lazier HR practitioners from hiding behind the technology. Remembering the famous “computer says no” comedy sketch, the HR types who don’t want to deal with the admin will simply point employees towards the tech (which will then in turn not do the job anywhere near as well as a human). The HR people will then get even less proficient at dealing with people on the more important issues and relationships will degrade further. In a culture that papers over people problems rather than solving them, the abuse of technology could turn a bad environment into a toxic environment.

Having painted the bleak picture, there is often a flip-side to any threat.

There are already many companies who are harnessing tech in unique ways to understand their people better, communicate with them better and help them to understand more about themselves. For me, the role of HR as a facilitator only works if there are real people making decisions with other people, but that does not preclude the use of clever tech to smooth the path.

Rather than consign people to do training alone at their desks, why not gamify the experience and get people talking to each other? The insights that HR will receive when people are having fun are far more valuable than something that they have been forced to complete.

While tech can relieve HR practitioners of the admin burden, it would be far better utilised in tandem with a human element. Yes, employees could come to a chatbot with their employment questions, but maybe the common questions could be answered on a regular basis by the management team. So many other people simply don’t ask….

The question of tech in recruitment is a thorny issue, but if a recruitment manager has just 10% more time to spend talking to their candidates (and they actually do that), then the impersonal nature of the auto-replies is neutralised. Companies who take a “we use tech, but we’ll talk to you too” approach will be the ones who people will want to work for.

If used in the right way, tech has the potential to take HR beyond its admin roots and on to a people-first future. Alternatively, HR could just hide behind it.

What does technology mean for the future of your HR organisation?