The New Face of HR in Business Workflow

Jan 19, 2022


The times they are a’changin’—especially for Human Resources.

There was a time when HR resembled a reticent great-uncle living in the back room. He’d quietly write up all your employee files, and meticulously tally up work hours and absenteeism.

You’d meet him in formal situations like job interviews—or on unfortunate occasions involving firings or retrenchments. You met him to check employee information or plan some job-related training. But apart from that, you rarely crossed paths. You let him go about his business.

Routine HR tasks would include administering payroll databases and benefits systems, updating information in hundreds of employee files, issuing contracts, and ensuring compliance with government rules.

If you were a very small firm, you might not even have an HR department. Or HR might live under a firm’s Operations or Finance department, instead of being its own unit.

HR, in short, existed to serve the owner’s interests—not necessarily those of the workers.

HR took care of employee administration so the business could focus on profitability.
Today, however, the entire face of HR is changing to become more dynamic, more strategic, and more involved with both workers and managerial decisions.

Among the new roles HR professionals now perform are:
  • marketing job opportunities to the best candidates,
  • designing recruitment plans aligned to business strategies,
  • becoming experts in supply and demand of future talent needs, and
  • pioneering new engagement drives to retain good workers who come from more diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

The new HR leader is paying much more attention to what workers want. They’re embracing new ways of doing work. And the new HR is trying to respect workers as human beings with a need for balance and intrinsic value.

This is quite different from the dismissive view of workers as expendable, replaceable units of industrial input.

What is driving this dramatic shift?

1. Exploding the use of new technologies

New technologies, for one. The exponential spread of cloud-based web platforms and digital apps in business over the past 20 years has changed how people work, shop, and communicate.

That in turn is changing how HR departments must manage their business and deal with their people. It’s also changing workers’ own expectations when they’re searching for new jobs. HR has to keep up.

Part of embracing new technologies involves selecting the best ones for the business. It also involves providing more on-demand, self-access services.

Technology changes how HR departments contact workers, communicate with remote workers, and store files. It also affects how HR will analyze worker performance and gather all kinds of metrics on workers.
To stay competitive, HR leaders must now educate themselves in these areas and advocate for better technological systems and solutions. They are partners, and sometimes drivers, of the change process in their own departments and the business as a whole.

The Human Resource Executive magazine predicts that artificial intelligence, fueled by people data usage, will soon spread beyond HR to front-line managers. It quotes Paul Rubenstein, chief people officer at people analytics firm Visier, who says the idea is to “…see productivity, engagement, skills, learning, performance, exit risk, and more in one view—and then make better informed financial and operational decisions.”

2. HR data integration for better workflows

The term “workflow” describes the steps in a business work process or project from start to finish. Businesses use the workflow concept to optimize their processes, projects, or cases, to avoid bottlenecks.

In HR, workflows are generally the predictable, repetitive tasks that must happen within any HR process. They involve transfers of data once done manually, but which are now often automated.

Examples might include: employee onboarding; leave requests; employee information management; and exit checklists.

Such automation helps to transform the role of HR to become more strategic.

For example, it can help eliminate double-data manual entry between different HR apps, to save time and effort and avoid human error.

Another example: data integration can enable applicant data from your Applicant Tracking System to be automatically sent to your payroll app when you decide to hire someone.

For large global firms, such data integration makes comprehensive reporting possible. They can centralize all their employee data into one portal.

For firms of any size, HR data integration provides security and continuity. An integrated data system never takes a sick day, and always provides access to the latest, most accurate information.

All of this integration means HR managers have more time to focus on what’s most important for people and the business.

For more information on how to approach an effective HR software implementation, you might be interested in the Pixentia article: How You Can Increase the Value of Your HR Systems.

3. Pandemic impacts and rise of remote workers

The Covid-19 pandemic is undoubtedly a major factor driving the changing role of HR.

At its start in 2020, fear of pandemic infection forced the closure of factories and many other businesses, put millions out of work, and caused significant death, dislocation, economic loss, and trauma. Many smaller face-to-face businesses closed their doors for good.

One Pew Research Centre estimate found that about 9.6 million US workers (ages 16 to 64) lost their jobs in the first three quarters of 2020, in the pandemic’s first flush.

Today, many businesses have survived and adapted by accelerating their digital business models and investing heavily in remote technologies.

HR departments had to learn at short notice to manage people working from home. Along the way, they played a key role in speeding up the digitization process. They were also reinventing their roles as facilitators and enablers.

4. The Great Resignation and rising worker’s rights

A fourth factor influencing the changing role of HR is people’s increasing self-awareness of their values. With so many people isolated at home during the pandemic, people began reflecting on their career goals and life priorities.

Many simply realized their jobs were not fulfilling enough, interesting enough, well paid enough, or balanced enough to bother returning to.

So they left in droves—in what’s been called The Great Resignation.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, four million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021 alone.

People who stayed on in their jobs were asking for more flexibility and understanding from their employers. This might mean many things, from better company-supported learning paths to more flexi-time, for example.

A Harvard Business Review investigation found that resignation rates were highest among mid-career workers between 30 and 45 years old; and among workers in the tech and health care industries.

Peter Schlampp, chief strategy officer of Workday, spoke about the new focus on talent among businesses:

“The number one thing the C-suite is going to continue to be thinking about in 2022 is talent. We will be going from The Great Resignation into a world of the rising voice of the employee. They’re making decisions about where they want to work. They want more flexibility in their jobs. They want to work for companies that have a mission and a purpose that they believe in.

"They want to be heard. And if talent is the top thing on [executives’] minds, it’s going be incumbent on them to listen and put in place the processes to listen to their employees.”

So for HR leaders, there’s a lot to consider.

Instead of the reserved great-uncle in a dusty backroom, today’s HR leader is more of a tech-savvy, friendly, outgoing older sibling.

They are equally at home with employees or management. And they will use digitally connected HR technologies to not only manage employee matters more efficiently but also to empower workers to help themselves.

You might also be interested in:

How You Can  Increase the Value of Your HR System?

About Pixentia

Pixentia is a full-service technology company dedicated to helping clients solve business problems, improve the capability of their people, and achieve better results.

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