Some HR processes that should never be automated

The recent Amazon human resource crisis teaches us a lesson or two about the drawbacks of automating all HR processes

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The ‘human’ element in human resources is much talked about. Ever since the pandemic forced many activities to be moved online, or be digitised or automated, this ‘human’ part has faded into the background, overshadowed by the enhanced and accelerated digitalisation process.

The latest example is that of Amazon, where the marking of attendance has been fully automated. However, due to algorithm errors, even workers who were on leave for medical crisis and mothers for baby care, were marked absent and underpaid. When the employees tried to connect with the concerned HR personnel or the case officer, a chain of automated phone call trees patched them to the already overwhelmed India, Costa Rica and Las Vegas offices.

Clearly, complete automation of some of the critical HR processes that actually require human intervention is bound to kill the entire employee experience.

“An automated process may understand the ‘what’ part of the whole story, but it cannot understand the ‘why’ part of it”

Ashwin Shirali, former VP-culture and HR, Accor

According to a research a single point of HR contact for employees is more likely to make an HR department be rated as value promoting. Also, more interactions of employees with the HR department or someone ‘human’ in HR ensures a better employee experience. As a result, these employees are more likely to recommend that company to others as a good place to work.

What do we understand by this? While automation and digitalisation are important for faster processes, having a human element at various touch points in the employee lifecycle is equally important.

That is why, for any company, it is important to understand some of the HR processes that should never be automated.

Let us look at some HR processes, which HR leaders pointed out to HRKatha as being vital and where human interaction cannot be replicated.

Onboarding

Parts of the onboarding process were suggested to be never automated by a company. Organisation orientation and making the new joinees understand the culture of the organisation should always have human intervention. “These initial contacts and interactions of new comers cannot be automated as these give them the first impression about the company and its experience,” says Ashwin Shirali, former VP-culture and HR, Accor.

“A robot cannot understand human emotions’

Anil Gaur, group chief people officer, Akums Pharmaceuticals

Performance review and appraisal

We all know the importance of the performance review and management process. This process should never be fully automated. All interactions and feedbacks in the performance management, review and appraisal system of a company need human interaction for better employee experience.

“An automated process may understand the ‘what’ part of the whole story, but it cannot understand the ‘why’ part of it,” shares Shirali. For instance, it is easy to spot people who may not have fulfilled their KPIs, because that is visible, but we need a human being to understand exactly why those individuals failed to do so. After all, they could be facing various problems —mental distress or some personal emotional crisis in the family.

“An automated system always has a black and white approach, but we are humans, and we need to focus on the grey areas,” asserts Shirali.

Adding to this, Anil Gaur, group chief people officer, Akums Pharmaceuticals, says, “While an objective performance review is required, there is always the need for a subjective overview of the whole process to assess behaviours. This can be done effectively by a human being rather than a machine.”

Exit interviews

Exit interviews have been quite popular for some time now. Here, the companies interview outgoing employees to understand what really went wrong and lead to a separation. The whole process involves understanding of emotions and reading between the lines to get the true picture, as rightly pointed out by the HR leaders. Automated and digitised processes will always give false responses, which may not give the true picture at all. One will get to hear answers, which, as an employer one may want to hear from someone. This will give one the impression that nothing is really wrong, while the true reality may fail to come out. “An individual physically sitting in front of one may not lie for more than 10 minutes. It is not possible to exhibit false expressions for too long. And these signals cannot be read by a robot or a mechanised automated system,” points out Gaur.

“All HR processes which are not redundant cannot be fully automated”

Manoj Kumar Sharma, CHRO, Aarti industries

Employee engagement

Employee engagement, as a process, is all about understanding emotions. It is about motivating people and making their day a happy one at work. This can never be fully automated believe HR leaders. For instance, employee-engagement surveys and scores, if automated, will give one mechanised answers. These responses will never paint the true picture. Again, the main issues and problems will never get highlighted and employers will simply live with the false idea that everything is ‘fine’.

Gaur shares that when he was with Uniparts, a team of people was constituted just to listen to people and console them during the pandemic when many were going through a hard time. “We allowed people to cry in front of us,” shares Gaur. There is no way such a process can be mechanised, digitised or automated. “A robot cannot understand human emotions,’ asserts Gaur.

Training and development

At the shop floor and the factories, the assembly-line workers cannot be trained through digitised learning processes. E-learning solutions or digital learning can only help to some extent, but one requires a physical coach or a mentor to teach someone how to use a certain mechanical part or an engineering process. “This learning cannot be fully automated,” admits Gaur.

Even in the process of coaching and counseling people for career advancement and leadership development, automation or digital tools can not be used to make that happen since a physical and face time is required to do that.

“All HR processes which are not redundant cannot be fully automated,” says Manoj Kumar Sharma, CHRO, Aarti industries.

Yes, we need technology to make our work easier, but its job is to automate redundant processes or tasks which are repetitive in nature and time consuming. Surely, automating all processes in HR may scale up processes and improve speed, but the ‘human’ in human resources will be left behind and instances similar to that of Amazon will become regular in the future.

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