Is Tech Taking the Human Out of HR?

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Nov 28, 2016

Writing about new technologies in HR (or any other business function) usually ends up in one of two ways – you are either an overzealous techno-freak who would gladly replace every human being with a can of wires, or a half-troglodyte knuckles-to-the-ground savage who still does their paperwork with a hammer and a chisel.

Still, you cannot blame a guy for trying, right? Especially these days when new HR technologies are becoming ever more present even in small-to-medium sized companies, let alone big ones.

But, how far exactly can it go and when is the time we should probably think about slowing things down?

The need for tech

Depending on who you talk to, the reasons for the proliferation of HR tech will vary.

For instance, you might say it has to do with the fact that the technology has finally reached the tipping point where its benefits outweigh the cumbersome nature of many business-related software solutions. The “older” among us remember the days when it took far too much time to learn to use software that was, basically, MS Excel with a fancy paint job. Which also crashed all the time.

There are also people who think that everything that happens in the world of business happens because of millennials. Following this logic, the millennials are also to thank for the increase in HR tech. Since millennials can’t be bothered to deal with other humans (according to the popular view), companies simply have to start employing different kinds of software that automates the majority of HR tasks if they are to retain their younger employees.

Finally, there are people who are not too shy to be brutally honest and to identify certain additional reasons why so many people are calling for ever-expanding application of tech in HR, like Laurie Ruettimann in her great article.

The current state of things

Current methods of HR trackingAccording to the 2015 Human Resources Software Buyer Report from HR systems consulting website Software Advice, almost half of all companies still resort to spreadsheets and pen and paper to handle their HR.

half of companies still resort to spreadsheets and pen and paper to handle their HR. Those who are planning on purchasing and using HR software wish to improve their organization (44% of them) and automation (22%). According to this same report, personnel tracking and recruiting are two of the functionalities that people want to get from their HR software.

One thing is for sure, there is no shortage of HR software out there, with innumerable companies battling for their place under the sun and in HR departments around the world. However, modern HR tech goes well beyond just a wide choice of different HR software. For instance, there is the whole big data craze that is, it seems, here to stay. It is here to stay even though people still have very little idea about what to do with it when it comes to human resources.

Of course, we cannot forget to mention the fact that social media has become just another aspect of work life and that, as such, it has to be factored in when we’re talking HR.

Is the future going too far?

This is where things get really interesting and, for many people, outright scary. This is a future where HR departments and hiring managers are in possession of so much data about each and every one of their employees and potential employees that you feel as if you are coming in to work naked.

This is the future where employees are truly reduced to a string of data about their second-to-second performance, their perceived engagement levels and their list of positive and negative traits. Not to sound overly high-school-kid-who-read-a-few-books-on-the-alienation-of-the-modern-world, but this is a future where HR loses a huge deal of its human component.

Finally, this is the future where HR people become obsolete and where they are replaced by a cloud-based, all-integrated system which has reached a sufficient level of artificial intelligence.

The only chance we have is that this kind of AI turns out to be impossible for various logical, philosophical and metaphysical reasons.

If this sounds like a bit of panic-mongering, stop and ask yourself: If business owners were able to get the vast portion of their HR done automatically by a system that requires no pay or benefits, wouldn’t they do it?

They’d do it in a heartbeat.

And this is scary.

There will probably be very little that HR professionals can do, but being aware of this kind of future is a good first step.