Q&A: HR Technology Needs a Human Side to Succeed

HR Technology Tree

One of a trade show’s pleasures is you get to sit down and explore some of the more meaningful, but not often talked about areas of HR with someone who’s spent a lot of time thinking about them. That’s what happened at this year’s UNLEASH, when we met Eva Woo, global vice president of initiatives and industry solution marketing for SAP SuccessFactors.

Everyone knows that today’s workforce is in flux, and that flux is driving significant challenges in terms of both management and technology. That’s what we focused on with Woo, and here’s our conversation.

The task of managing today’s workforce has a lot of moving parts to it – things like diversity and financial wellness, physical wellness, mental wellness, not to mention benefits and compensation. You could argue a lot of this is because we’ve progressed in terms of what workers expect and what employers are willing to offer. But some might say managing today’s worker has become more complex than it needs to be. What’s your feeling?

Eva Woo of SAP SuccessFactors
Eva Woo
of SAP SuccessFactors

You know, we have five different generations in the workforce today and we have an aging population in certain industries and they’re trying to attract and retain talent. We also have a very interesting group of workers now that make up more of a gig economy. They’re not really attuned to staying with an organization and they’re not really attuned to having a typical eight-hour workday with one company.

I think the other thing we need to understand is that back in the day, when we first started working, there was this work-life balance, right? Today there’s no work-life. It’s all one continuum.

Here’s a case in point: I went to a course that was about keeping yourself organized. One of the first things we did was a mind meld of all the stuff that we had to do during the course of the day. When I first started in my career, it was always a list of things to do for work, a list of things to do for home, and they were always separate. What we learned was it’s all in here at the same time. It’s going to be the same. It’s going to distract you no matter what. So if you do a separate list, it’s not going to help. Just put it all together. Let’s just realize that it’s all one thing.

So as an employer, how do I support that and how do we support you when you’ve only had two hours of sleep because you have a newborn? Or that you have aging parents and they live 100 miles away and you’re trying to convince them that you need to figure out how to get them closer to you? These are stressors. These are real-life situations that an employer needs to understand and be able to support in order for them to have that reciprocating relationship with the employee so that the employee can deliver and stay engaged.

Now, you know we’re an HCM technology company and there’s technology that’s available, there’s technology that still could be developed. But there’s also, I think, an understanding that employers need to realize that work is not just 9 to 5. It’s way beyond that.You need to remember what happened to your employees before they came here and what’s going to happen to them when they leave, and if you can actually support them you have a much better relationship, and ultimately the loyalty trickles to culture.

But I think a lot of employers still need to understand that. It’s not something that everyone will readily get. And depending on what type of industry you’re in and where you’re geographically located, some employers may consider this a high priority.

It seems that there’s this conflict going on where companies are, on the one hand, talking about culture and engaging employees and providing a great employee experience, but on the other they’re increasing the number of contingent workers and the proportion of contingent workers in their workforce. So they have HR responsible for building the culture and pushing the culture, but at the same time Procurement’s handling the independent contractors.

And they’re totally different.

Right. Now, SAP is covering both sides with Fieldglass and SuccessFactors. How do you think that’s going to play out? Is HR going to have some influence over contingent workers? Right now, it doesn’t have anything to say about them except by setting broad policies.

Well, by setting broad policies you can actually affect their experiences. Of course, we have to follow the legal confines about what a contingent workforce is. I mean you can’t force them to do onboarding. There’s certain things that you cannot do legally in order to stay compliant. However, you still have a the ability to provide a good experience.

Case in point: Some of the people we’ve talked to that are contingent labor, they chose certain organizations to join as a contingent worker because they offered childcare. Now they’ve had to pay a little bit more for the childcare, but this was a benefit that was offered across the board and, you know, you can differentiate with that. So that is actually something that HR can do.

That’s really important, because the need to attract and retain talent is not just about full-time employment, it’s also about contingent employment, right? So if you’re a retail operation and your peak period is going to be Christmas and you’re trying to attract contingent workers who can go to many different places, you want to be attractive. You want them to want to come to you because culturally they understand this is the better organization to work with versus this other organization.

So as an HR organization, you do have an ability to affect that through different types of things, through offering different types of programs. You just have to figure out how to make it so that it’s equitable within the legal confines of contingent work.

But you still have situations where a company is so afraid of getting dinged that that their policies say contractors can’t be invited to company-sponsored social events or something like that. So there’s an inherent conflict where the Procurement and Legal sides are trying to protect the company, but on the HR side, they want to be inclusive. Then there’s the hiring manager, who just wants to keep their team happy whether they’re contingent workers or not. How much influence can technology have in resolving those kinds of issues?

Right. There are the benefits and perks that are available across the board, and then you’ve got to differentiate them for your contingent workforce versus your full timers. How can technology help you? Well, for a manager we have our contingent workforce management solution, which is embedded in Employee Central. It gives at least the manager an indicator of who the contingent workers are, which helps especially if you’re managing a lot of people. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had like 165 people. Technology enables you to at least see metrics and information that may not be sexy, but perhaps could be used to determine what the implications would be if you rolled out something when 75 percent of your population is contingent and they don’t even qualify to come to your picnic.

Now do you need technology to do that? If you have a huge organization, yes. But if you’re a small organization, you can probably figure it out yourself. But one thing technology can do is let you conduct live pulse surveys so you can quickly gauge the temperature of the individual in an organization. That’s what our Work-Life product does. We can do things like just check to see how an employee is engaging with his group. How does he feel about working with his manager? There’s all kinds of different types of things you could survey.

So I’m talking about technology that could actually sense where people are in terms of their climate and then be able to serve that information to the manager so he can proactively engage and do things like, for example, see trends and do something like allow no email for three hours during the day. Lock it out or block out calendars for people to have, say, no-meeting Thursdays. So that’s going to give people time back and let them reset and actually engage in certain activities. Those are some examples of what technology can do.

OK, last question. Millennials and Gen Z seem to get painted with a broad brush. They’re urban, they’re very technically attuned, they’re hip, they spend a lot of money at Starbucks and all that kind of thing.

I always hear that and think, yeah, well I’m not sure it quite fits. Think of someone who’s working in a distribution warehouse in Arkansas. They still fit the demographic definition of a Millennial, but they don’t line up with these generalizations. How does that impact your thinking about that kind of user, the younger user? How do you strike the balance between the widely accepted view of the tech-savvy young worker and the not-so-sophisticated, not-so-tech-dependent young person?

Yeah, the thing is let’s not generalize that population, but let’s just talk about what is it that enables people to grasp onto a technology. And it’s ease of use, right? That’s all it is. It’s not Millennial, it’s not Generation X or Generation Y, it’s ease of use.

We’ve come a long way from the days of “user experience.” Back in the day, do you remember how long it took us to get stuff done? Remember WYSIWYG?

“What you see is what you get.”

There you go. We’ve come a long way and we continue to have some amazing tools that are being developed by people in all these that makes things even easier. It’s not about Millennials. It’s about making things easy. So that person who’s working in a production line in Missouri or that young man who’s working in an art gallery in Berkeley—they just need to how to use it. That’s all. It’s as simple as that.

Feature Image Copyright: jirsak / 123RF Stock Photo
Eva Woo Photo: SAP SuccessFactors

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