When a company sets out its growth ambitions, it’s tempting to focus primarily on areas that deliver the most tangible returns, like product development, growing the customer base and boosting sales. Clearly, this is only possible with a skilled and dedicated workforce – so why are so many firms still unable to engage their teams in a meaningful way?
It should come as no surprise that people who feel sidelined, or frustrated at the lack of opportunity, don’t tend to perform well in their role and it’s normally only a matter of time before they start looking elsewhere. Too many managers only wonder what they could have done to hold on to a valued employee when it’s too late and they are forced to go through the costly and disruptive recruitment process.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a business that does not value employee engagement at all, though they don’t always see it as a commercial priority. Some believe they can simply ‘tick it off the list’ by offering incentives like free gym memberships or team nights out, oblivious to the fact that people would actually prefer better career progression prospects or flexible working. In other cases, it simply drops off the radar because there are seemingly more pressing concerns.
A lack of time is frequently cited as a reason that HR departments are unable to deliver effective engagement strategies, especially when much of their day is taken up with administrative work like advertising vacancies, keeping personal details up-to-date, logging holidays and managing absences. It’s also easy to lose track of the number of hours lost when tasks are duplicated because data is not stored in a central location, or it has been processed incorrectly.
Access Group's research shows that as many as 65 per cent of HR professionals in mid-tier companies do not have time to promote employee engagement, wellness or talent development. Without initiatives in place, these firms leave themselves vulnerable to skills gaps and unable to reach their full commercial potential.
It can be a shock to businesses when they see how much time is spent on tactical processes, and it is one of the reasons that growing numbers are trying to automate as many of them as possible using HR software.
Technology makes it easier to create a culture of employee self-service in the workplace, helping to remove the administrative burden and support better engagement. Such a system empowers people to manage their ‘profile’ within the business, allowing them to request holiday, update information or submit feedback via their smartphone.
By automating these time-consuming transactional tasks, HR professionals can concentrate on strategies that offer real commercial gain. They include, though are not limited to, talent pipelining, attraction and retention, and succession planning.
Data gleaned from employee surveys, appraisals, performance and absence levels, all collated centrally, means that HR and senior management can work together to develop policies in line with employees’ needs, values and aspirations. Rather than assuming what motivates their workforce, they are able to offer genuine rewards based on real evidence and, in so doing, create a stronger employer brand proposition.
Board or management buy-in is always required whenever there is a shake-up in established processes – but now they have a strong commercial argument for why investment in technology matters.
Apart from the obvious time and cost-saving benefits, there is another more pressing reason that HR departments need the right tools to do their job. With the GDPR legislation coming into force in May, they need to ensure robust processes are in place to store staff data securely and correctly. It’s difficult to do this if records are kept on spreadsheets or in folders, unaccounted for and requiring manual updates.
Even if employee engagement isn’t a top priority, compliance certainly should be. Fines for non-compliance with the GDPR could be as much as £17m, or 4 per cent of global turnover depending on which is higher – not to mention the enormous reputational cost.
Surely it makes sense to hand over as much control as possible to employees so that they can manage their own data and preferences in a way that feels natural to them?
Tony Gale is HR solutions expert at Access Group