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Automation in HR How Much Is Too Much?


By Swati Sarin

As a 30 Year old prodigal HR Manager I feel that I am blessed to be witnessing this era which is unfolding around me. The universe is again in a state of virtual big bang and I have the fortune of seeing that lounging away in my sofa seat. However our generation has its share of issues as well. The most monumental one is that we love to live in a FAD-World. Starting from Fad Diets, Fad Fashion Trends, Fad Lingos on social media and what not we want to just do the ĎIní thing. Amidst all the madness how can we expect that our corporate world will not be engulfed by this paraphernalia? Automation is the buzz word in today's dynamic business environment. We want to automate everything starting from our systems, processes, policies, procedures, infrastructure and Alas also our PEOPLE.

All around us everyone is talking about the redundancy Automation will bring in the role of the Human Resources department. Agile, Cloud, Virtual world, Chat Robots are to displace HR's and their role in the business. It's like the Phoenix rising from its ashes and somehow gives a feeling that HR was never the Phoenix but rather it was the ash which was holding the phoenix back. Digitizing the processes and procedures helps a human being simplify their day to day tasks however can Automation replace the Human touch or we are again succumbing to another trend trap.

The point everyone is missing is that HUMAN RESOURCES comprises of two words 'HUMAN' and 'RESOURCES'. One cannot take the human out of the equation and look at only the resourcefulness part. Man made Artificial Intelligence to make his/her life easy and not to take his/her life away (Pun intended).

Well if you can find some solace in the fact that HR department was somehow always treated as the step-child of an organization. If we walk back a little in the historical times starting from the early 1900ís the HR Function (better known as Industrial and Labor Relations) was born. This is after steel and oil industry in the US had transformed business in the 19th century, a need for discipline amongst the workforce was felt. Hence Version1 of HR was born. As we progressed towards 1920ís in a thriving economy, good workers were hard to come by and even harder to keep. The HR became the catalyst who taught supervisors to speak to their people in fancy languages to earn their loyalty. So HR became the Communication Specialist that is Version2. However things took a U-turn with the Great Depression in the 1930ís where supervisors came back to their old school of thought and started the 'Drive' system of management. Threating was the most predominant style and HR was seen as a mere hindrance in their Boot Camp strategy. Hence Version3 of HR came into the picture. Then as we moved forward post the World War II, one third of the executives died in office with no one to replace them. To fill the void prototype 4 of HR was created to host revolutionary hiring and development plans (hopefully they didnít just bite the dust). In the 70ís as the economy slowed labor was again bountiful. Business leaders started undoing all those post war programs designed to attract and develop talent. In the 1980ís the US went into a deep recession and workers clung to their jobs for dear life. Rather than invest in HR, companies pushed hiring and development tasks to line managers who neither had the time nor the training for the same. Late 1990ís saw the Dot Com times. Companies saw value in being seen as a Best Employer and fiercely fought for that status to meet soaring talent needs. Our HR Version 6(as 5 was never given the chance to be even bornL) enjoyed its brief glory in its heyday with prime focus on hiring and retention. In 2001 as all bubbles burst our Dot Com was also to go Kaput! Again the economy tanked and business leaders felt little urgency to attract talent. Productivity rose, wages stayed flat and HR again lost the influence it had enjoyed during the boom. Finally we are left with HR Version 8s ( Lets be in sync with the iPhone generation) with the effects of recession in 2008 still lingering, at least in the minds of the business leaders and people are not really running around finding new jobs- Managers are again trying to sideline the role of HR in the system. Lately in the name of digitization they wish to automate every single cell of the organization organism. Companies are going bonkers investing in ERPs, HRMSs and CRMís.They have even gone a step beyond and begun automating some of its industrial functions and mechanized skills. But now comes the pivotal question due to which we have walked our mind over multiple perspectives- How much actually is too much?

For sure we cannot deny the fact that Automation in HR has manifold benefits for the business. Firstly it helps in improvising the efficiency of all the stakeholders including HR. The mundane hours our resources used to spend in managing simple processes like payroll, attendance etc. has been done away with. The business has spared more time to HR to work upon strategies and its deployment. Secondly automation of human resources enhances both the productivity and profit and finally, it leads to better accuracy and precision. No doubt taking away redundant tasks away from HR will help them become more agile. Having said that, managers also need to accept that one cannot and should not replace human managers with mere software programs just to be in sync with the ongoing trends. Mechanization may seem have taken the industry by storm but eventually once the frenzy settles in there will be a time where employees will seek guidance from a human being and not a robot. Systems can answer questions but they cannot replace the human empathy which an employee seeks when it reaches out to the HR department. This will lead to performance dips and lack of enthusiasm in the staff. As we probed through the times the need for human resources arose in order to actually manage and motivate people so they remain efficient and effective at the workspace. HR has its roots in industrial psychology, which emphasizes on the significance of reducing man-machine conflicts.

Hence Automation is important for our progress but it should not equate to less number of HR Professionals at the workplace. This is a paradox which business needs to view and take a call. They need to realize that with increasing automation and reduced human interventions engaging workforce will again fall into the hands of supervisors who were never equipped with such work-neither in the past nor now. There is a need for business to realize the significance of the role of HR and not see them as mere query resolvers. The HR Department also needs to break away from its shackles of Fun People to being more of strategic partners. The key to all the chaos is the ultimate Zen teaching called-'Balance'. Automate to liberate and not suffocate should be the motto.

Well concluding without much ado, we are Human Resources guys! When Charles Darwin was talking about the Survival of the Fittest he was actually referring to us. You can push us back, you can hide us in the closet or you can keep us down but you cannot ignore us ever. We have evolved as a function and will transcend back into the system and no Automation can bog us down!! Thatís the beauty of being a HR Professional- we always have the last word!


Swati Sarin

HR Manager
Tata Consultancy Services

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