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Kate Wadia

Phase 3 Consulting

Former Managing Director

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HR technology: are we facing a digital employee experience divide?


Employees are starting to expect that the standard of technology they use at home is accessible to them in the workplace. How can HR match and meet their workforce’s demand for a premium digital experience?

There are two change curves gently rising when it comes to employee experience, and their compound effect means that HR has an urgent agenda to do better with its people tech:

  • People come to work now for more than money: we work for a richer all-round experience that’s a decent rival for our enjoyment and sense of purpose at home

  • At home, our lives are increasingly digital and our appetite for adoption of new technologies is accelerating

So how can we bring the demand for a digitalisation of our employees’ experience and the realities of what we can offer just one step closer together?

Frustratingly, the parallel universe that I call the people technology industry in the UK persists. That is the apparent gulf between what our lives are like at home (digital) and what our lives are like at the desk.

Consider right now the devices and applications you and your family were using at the weekend/to relax/on the way to work.

Compare that to the look-and-feel of the applications that you have currently open on your desktop station at work. The problem that this difference creates for HR is exacerbated when we go to conferences or read whizzy stuff about the latest product solutions. They are, frankly, futuristic and yet presented as that of today.

Each year I analyse HR technology’s latest trends. One of those key trends that I note for 2019 is the still-increasing concern for user experience.

It is easy to think about user experience as being all about the look-and-feel of an HR system. That’s an important part of what you can do to match expectations, but it’s far from all.

Here are three practical ways to improve your employer offering of technology.

1. Meet and match

Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? The base layers of motivation are about satisfying ‘basic’ needs. I’m not suggesting that technology at work is as essential to survive as food, drink or a roof over our heads, but I am suggesting that today a relatively seamless experience of technology is rather like salary – you’d best get it at least OK else your talent will drain elsewhere.

To address the base layer of expectation with your HR systems you have these priorities:

A. Pay people right

Looking at the fashions in people tech, payroll doesn’t attach much glamour factor, but payroll inaccuracies – often driven by manual calculations or poor quality data habits – are serious demotivators. Holiday matters too.

B. Remove process barriers

Walking through the essential admin processes that your employees and managers have to follow to manage themselves will help you understand their points of pain. Remember to concentrate on the employee experience (they are the many and this is your agenda) rather than the experience of a few in the HR team.

C. Get rid of the negative press

Does your current HR system suffer from a terrible PR story? This is a real consideration in your business case for a new system or redevelopment. A realistic business case these days needs to be richer than an (often futile) attempt to show return on investment based on time and cost directly saved.

2. Support engagement

Beyond the digital agenda, technology has a role to play in the subtle support for the broader experience of being at work. Again, here are some tangible clues for you about how to allow your work with technology to gently promote your efforts to engage:

A. Support culture and employer brand

Configure your HR, talent and learning systems to look like yours (and theirs) and to be personal. The ability to offer a look-and-feel that is at one with different formats you use to communicate with your employees ought to be a given these days. Use these interactions with HR to reinforce key messages.

B. Support wellness

A paradox of advancing technology is that it can now help us to detox from digital. Make that a part of the role you play in delivering an experience which includes the experience of being well. Why not play around with encouraging (self-driven) observation of our time spent on/off-line or on/off email? I like Thrive Global for the work they are doing here.

This year I’m writing a content series with HRZone about stress and a personal story of burn-out. Was too much tech an exacerbating factor? For me, I think not, but I do show you how in the series to deal with the present-day dangers.

C. Make sure your support is reaching people

You want to be aware of how successfully your people technology is actually being used. Adoption measures are something we are increasingly paying attention to and rightly so.

As reliance upon systems to deliver engagement strategies increases we must make sure those are proving effective. One way to check for demotivators is to look for the user drop-out rates. There are specific technologies designed to promote adoption. Or if you are in a smaller context, try just asking.

3. Enhance experience

Is it a step too far for you to envisage in 2019 that your organisation’s technology offering, as led by the HR team, delights and excites? This gently closes a gap between the parallel universe that is an apparent state of people technology out there and that which we can understand, afford and deliver. I trust it’s not.

Here are some approaches that might work for you:

A. Create connectedness

Remember that, much as we might pretend otherwise, the best employee experience isn’t really anything to do with an HR/employer-to-individual relationship but the relationships between individuals.

Use standard social or business messaging tools as part of your people strategy. Accept and adopt the non-HR people technology answers alongside your core HR systems.

B. Be sociable

Social champions can inspire great conversation and feedback. You can mimic a social experience with some of the latest features with HR solutions allowing for interaction via chatbot, gamified engagement or simply front-end displays that make more of image rather than text.

C. Give time back

What better way to improve a holistic experience offering than to allow more time off the job? Closing the digital divide can help that. This goes beyond the wellness campaign, which aims (again see above) to make sure technology is a supporter of wellbeing.

It looks to digital to enhance productivity. And then as a second step to use the added time value to give space for self-driven innovation. Or for the community. Or even to reduce expectations of contractual hours.

The case for an increasing digitalisation of HR of course does not depend on the employee experience alone. Factors I look at here ignore the business imperatives for better use of people data, improving productivity and raising the organisation’s capabilities, for example.

But alone, the question of digital demand can be enough for technology to be a significant part of your people focus in the year ahead.

Close the digital experience divide. Meet and match. And then move on to provide something extra. Because the chances afoot in our expectations mean that extra will not be extra in next year’s climate.

Author Profile Picture
Kate Wadia

Former Managing Director

Read more from Kate Wadia

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