The employee experience is now critical in HR technology — how can organizations build trust without compromising corporate strategy?

Organizations can't ignore the impact of technology. As noted by GSMA Intelligence, there are now more than 5 billion active mobile devices worldwide. Recent research from CompTIA found that more than half of businesses leverage cloud computing to run anywhere from 31 to 60 percent of their IT systems.

The challenge? While consumers enjoy technological choice, employees are compelled to use whatever HR technology their organization buys or builds. As a result, it's critical to design HR systems that both improve the employee experience and enhance user trust. We sat down with Jesse Zolna, Ph.D., Director of ADP User Experience Research, to discover how firms can address staff needs without compromising corporate strategy.

Trust Issues

Users have trust issues with technology. As noted by Scientific American, while consumers and employees alike now depend on technology there's increasing acknowledgment that private data may not be secure. This is especially problematic for HR users since, as Zolna notes, they're effectively a "captive audience." They didn't choose to buy or implement existing HR tools, but are compelled to use them even if they have concerns about functionality or security.

For Zolna, it's often a question of "losing focus on who we're trying to serve." Ideally, HR technology should help practitioners do their jobs, streamline user interaction and support long-term business strategy.

Three Keys to Better UX

According to Zolna, the current state of affairs creates a "golden opportunity to find ways to bridge trust gaps via the employee's experience with the HR technology" by changing the way staff encounter and interact with human resource tools and services.

But what does that look like in practice? For Zolna, it means addressing three key variables:

  • Familiarity — How comfortable are users with current systems? Are they easy to use? Straightforward? Is more training required? If staff aren't comfortable with HR tools, the best-case result is reluctant use at the prodding of HR managers. Worst case? Workarounds that may violate IT policy and could lead to the development of "Shadow IT" culture.
  • Credibility — According to Forbes, one of the top employee frustrations with technology is functionality. Are applications doing what they're supposed to, when and how they're supposed to be doing it? If not, this leads to a crisis of credibility. When staff can't trust that inputs meet outcomes, they're less likely to trust HR systems.
  • Language — It's easy for HR systems to get bogged down by language. Zolna points out that teams often "impose language onto the system" — this includes everything from technical terms to acronyms that are familiar to human resource professionals but effectively meaningless to typical end users. This leads to reduced engagement and trickles down to overall corporate productivity.

Making the Change

Tackling the issue of employee experience and HR technology means recognizing the inherent business value of better trust. Zolna offers a critical question: "Can trust become an advantage?" It's easy to equate building trust with spending money, but organizations are better served by flipping the script. What happens when staff inherently trust the tools they're working with? Rather than compelling use because there's no other choice, staff may use the services available and spend less time finding workarounds.

Specifically, organizations need to address three areas for better UX:

  1. Context — How do HR tools fit into everyday processes? What type of data are they using? Why? Transparency is key: users no longer accept the idea that information is inherently secure or used for noble purposes. Make intentions, processes and policies clear up-front to give users much-needed context.
  2. Relevance — Zolna references the "WIIFM" acronym: What's in it for me? By ignoring the needs of the market's biggest labor force — millennials, also known as "Generation Me" — organizations hamper their ability to create staff engagement and interest.
  3. Security — Firms understand the need for better security across departments, and HR is also onboard. As noted by HR Technologist, many enterprises are now leveraging blockchain to secure transactions. While this improves back-end impact, Zolna notes that many employees are caught in a paradox. They're "freaked out" by ever-present news stories about data breaches, yet simultaneously certain that cloud-based email services are secure.
  4. The result? Building trust into HR technology demands a focus on security. One way might be to start with two-factor authentication. According to Zolna's research, staff not only understand the need for another layer of security, but appreciate the effort and are willing to put up with minor inconvenience.

Quantity vs. Quality

Also critical in the quest for better employee experience? Measurement. According to Zolna, obtaining HR metrics are a "really hard thing to measure at scale." While surveys can help — for example, if you're measuring the likelihood of staff accessing HR tools using desktop versus mobile — organizations are better off doing "more qualitative than quantitative research." For Zolna, it's about answering the critical question: what's the right thing to build? This means obtaining data about what users think, how they feel and what they want tools to do

Getting this information requires talking to users at every step of the process. Ask users what they want in HR tools and then negotiate with developers to see what's possible. Create a narrative about HR technology that helps build empathy — explain why certain functions are immutable and others can be changed. Offer explanations rather than expectations and be open to making improvements.

Think of qualitative research as the foundation of the bridge Zolna described earlier. When users feel their opinions are heard and respected, they're more likely to compromise as needed and trust HR tools.

Bottom line? Staff are technology consumers when they're not at the office — and want HR technology to match outside expectations. While it's impossible to build the "perfect" employee experience, firms can build a better UX by recognizing inherent trust issues, addressing key concerns and implementing qualitative research practices.

Tags: Trends and Innovation Change Management HCM Technology Employee Engagement and Productivity Research & Insights Articles HR Technology