Who Benefits Most From HCM Technology?

A human hand reaches toward a robotic hand.

Advances in HCM technology are exposing tension between employers and employees.

Can you take the human out of human resources? This has never been an option until recently, but advances in HCM technology are suddenly bringing this issue to the fore. The primary tension underlying the use of such technology is between employers and employees. Will HCM technology make life better for the latter while helping introduce efficiencies for the former? HR leaders are likely already grappling with at least some of those challenges.

The Human Touch: Look Past the Data

Many aspects of HR can be automated, including elements of recruiting, employee monitoring and interviewing. But it's not clear whether HCM technology can impact other functions, like mentorship. "If we expect junior employees to be more seasoned and more valuable, there still has to be a mentorship and a growth element that comes from coaching and instruction more so than some machine telling you that you're less productive than the guy next to you," says James Ford, chief strategic architect at ADP.

Most employees make an implicit deal with their employers: To stay on as long as the salary and benefits are adequate. But the top performers often want more. They want to learn new skills from people who have been at the job for a long period of time. Another human element is an understanding of complex situations. For instance, as Ford explains, a machine might see a six-month gap on an applicant's resume and possibly disqualify them because that type of data point is often a red flag for incompetence or unreliability. But that hiatus might have come about because the applicant took time off to help an ailing parent. "We have to look past the data to see the human behind it," Ford says. "I think that's always going to be the case as the technology advances."

Employee Benefits vs. Employer Benefits

Like any technology, HCM is neutral. But it could be used to further the goals of employers at the expense of employees' privacy and liberty. For instance, AI-based monitoring tools could piece together information to make a judgment. If an employee is out sick, for instance, a data system might be able to note that the same employee made a visit to the ER the previous night and then confirm that it's very likely that the employee is actually sick.

While that situation is of benefit to the employer, it also creates a workplace in which a Big Brother-like system is monitoring employees' actions. AI systems can take this further by even reading their faces to gauge their emotional states. Wearable technology could tell if a worker in the field isn't physically up to the task or is risk of heart attack, for instance.

Here we enter a gray area. While helping prevent an employee's heart attack has a strong benefit, there will also inevitably be cases in which healthy employees will be barred from doing their work because a monitoring system finds that they're statistically likely to have a negative health event. That could give machines unprecedented power over human activities.

As we move forward with new capabilities and technology, it will be important to keep in mind not only what these new tools can do to provide insight and new ways of working, but also how they affect the organization's culture, brand, and people.

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