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Technology an enhancement for HR — not a replacement

EVEN pageLike just about everything else, human resources management has been increasingly computerized in recent years. But has that made human resources less “human?”

Not everything can be done by sending an email.

“We have to look at technology as an enhancement for, not a replacement of, the human element in what we do,” said Lynn Nelson, director of employment services at the North Mississippi Medical Center, which has more than 6,000 employees. “There are advantage and there are disadvantages. We as the humans have to decide where to draw that line so we allow the technology to assist us and not hinder us. Every time we use technology to assist us there are those who go overboard with it and those who use it in appropriately. For some things, there is no substitute for the human contact.”

Technology has made HR more difficult in some ways. It is an extra complication. But Nelson said in many other areas, technology has saved a lot of time, cut labor costs and been very helpful.

“Social media has helped us with recruiting, for instance,” Nelson said. “Potential employees tend to use job search engines. For many years, we have only taken online applications. We take about 25,000 applications a year. And using email to communicate is a big time saver, rather than trying to get someone on the phone.”

NMMC recently went to a new Human Resources Information System that is more computerized. Now employees can go into their portal and do things like change their address or the amount of taxes withheld. Nelson said they are exploring scanning for employees who must have documentation like a marriage license.

“Then they wouldn’t have to come to our office when we are open,” Nelson said. “When you are a 24-7 hospital, some people work when we are not open. So it does make it more convenient. Right now we have just revised our employee guidelines booklet and instead of printing 6,000 copies, we are going to push it out online and get employees to sign they have received it with an online signature. It saved about $10,000 in printing costs. When we make updates, we can push them out as they occur rather than waiting until the end of the year.”

But when it comes to things like employee discipline, human interaction is necessary.

“There are some things where you need face-to-face eye contact, especially when dealing with employee relations,” Nelson said. “You look the employee in the eye and say, ‘You can never do that again.’ Technology just does not take the place of that personal contact. Technology is your friend. Explore how it can help you. But use good judgment to decide where that line is for your organization.”

Kimberla Little, assistant vice president for human resources at Regions Financial Corp., said technology makes it easier to communicate with employees about benefits.

“In addition to talking with associates about the various benefit options during the onboarding process, technology is another resource for associates that can be used for clarification,” Little said. “Online systems house more information and are readily available so that associates can refer back as often as necessary. Technology makes record keeping more accessible and manageable, and prevents records from being misplaced when used correctly.”

Little has trouble imagining what recruiting was like before the Internet. She said online applications are an easier process for HR for several reasons: It makes the application more legible than hand written applications. Most systems really require the applicant to complete the application, minimizing the chances of receiving incomplete applications. While companies may be inundated with online applications, it is still a much more reliable process that will continue to prove its efficiency over the years.

Another benefit she sees is Online Learning Management Systems that give organizations and their associates a learning advantage in the workplace by providing computer based training programs and continuing education right at their finger tips. These programs are usually self-paced and are designed to engage the associate in the process.

While technology has made the role of HR management more efficient, it cannot and should not ever take the place of face-to-face interactions.

“It is impossible to learn and understand interpersonal interaction and social communication without meeting your applicant and or associate face-to-face,” Little said.

The University of Mississippi solely relies on technology for recruiting and employment.

“More than 10 years ago, the University stopped accepting paper applications and now manages all applications, resumes and cover letters through our online applicant tracking system,” said Andrea Jekabsons, UM assistant director of human resources for employment and training. “This is significant as the university posted more than 300 positions and received more than 24,000 online applications last year. Much of the advertisement is posted online through various professional organizations and at the time of hire, our background checks are administered online, as well.”

Jekabsons said the role of the recruiter or HR staff is less burdened with the administrative tasks than in the days of paper applications. As an employment coordinator in private industries during the 90s, she was responsible for touching and reading every resume in order to then sort it and direct it to the right recruiter or department.

“At peak times I would have literally a trunk full of resumes to read and then all of the applications and resumes had to be filed in cabinets,” she said. “All of those administrative tasks have been removed from the process.  Hiring teams now have access to applications/resumes, almost immediately resulting in faster recruiting times. Tracking is also available for both the applicant and the organization with the online application tracking systems.

Face-to-face interaction is still vital.

“The hiring teams can focus the quality time during the one-on-one interview without being burdened with the administrative tasks,” Jekabsons  said. “The feedback that we receive with our training programs is that although online training may be convenient (on-demand and at the desk), employees still like the face-to-face interaction during classroom style training and appreciate the ability to ask questions.”



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