When most people think of robotic process automation (RPA), they might imagine a modern factory full of multi-armed robots, or some other highly mechanized scenario. So it may come as a surprise that RPA can be an extremely efficient tool in even the most “human” of departments: human resources (HR).
Most HR professionals would balk at the idea that their jobs could be done by robots, but a better way to think about RPA is as a digital colleague trusted to take care of routine, transactional tasks faster than any person ever could, and error-free. This frees up HR workers to focus on more interesting, creative work and the things for which they never have time. In fact, automation can return 15-30% of people’s time, or nearly an hour each day.
Whether helping recruiters source and sort resumes, streamlining onboarding and offboarding processes to enhance employee experience, or improving reporting to provide valuable insights, RPA is an essential tool for HR departments of any size. Read on to learn about how it works and some common benefits and misconceptions.
Automation Helps HR Meet Today's Challenges
In the wake of the pandemic, the American job market is experiencing what everyone is calling a “Great Resignation” — but which is actually a “Great Migration”: people leaving their current work situations and seeking others. Against this unprecedented backdrop, HR departments are struggling both to catch up and to understand why people are leaving and what actions will encourage workers to stay.
A new era is here, and none of the Industrial Age models will work. Luckily, RPA is here to help.
Big-volume processes are some of the easiest to automate, such as sourcing and sorting resumes. These types of tasks are mostly drudgery for recruiters, whose time is freed up for what they do best: talking to people. Accelerating the hiring and onboarding process helps get the right people into jobs, and working more quickly and efficiently.
However, the most successful and popular bots are often based on human behavior. One example is a bot that reminds managers to accept invitations to their scheduled interviews. If managers don’t accept invites, the appointments won’t be added to their calendars, running the risk of leaving candidates waiting. The managers are grateful for the reminder, and the result is a much more positive experience for applicants.
RPA can also be very helpful in volume processes that require customization. As long as there is a stated process with rules — “if this, then that” — a bot can take over the function. A few examples of such tasks include writing offer letters and managing payroll, as well as handling taxes and withholding across different states and countries.
What People Get Wrong About Automation
Here are four common misconceptions surrounding how RPA works in an HR context:
- Humans do not remain in the process
The idea that automation is replacing HR workers is just false; in fact, RPA is like having an extra person in the department, freeing up everyone else to do more engaging and interesting work. People work together with bots to become more efficient, with the goal of automating only the tasks that humans don’t need to do.
- Training is not required
RPA is a digital colleague, and like any colleague, it needs to be trained. It might not get procedures right the first time. The humans teach, the bots learn, and then the humans in turn learn from observing the bot. This iterative process is what results in added value.
- Imperfect processes cannot be automated
There can be a pretty big psychological impediment to adopting a new enterprise solution. What if all the processes aren’t perfect yet? Many companies put off implementing automation solutions for this very reason. Fortunately, there’s no need to worry, as RPA does not require flawlessness to work well. If a human being is doing a task imperfectly, a bot can be taught to do it as well.
- Automation does not work across multiple systems
Companies are often already working with various systems that have their own built-in automation features. So why do they need RPA? Because each system is a walled-in garden and cannot automate anything beyond its walls. But an RPA bot can work across multiple systems and can cross boundaries, just like a human can.
RPA is not one-size-fits-all; it’s more like a protocol for speeding up human-systems integration. It can and will look different for every business and every HR department, depending on their needs, and many on-ramps exist. The best place to start is to figure out what is most annoying to people, or keep them up at night, and find a way to automate that process.
Dynamic Reporting Maximizes HR's Potential
RPA has many benefits for HR, but the most powerful one is helping people, and the department as a whole, do their job better. One important way is through reporting.
For example, companies can use automation to create personalized retention and development plans for every person working at the company, letting managers know what they are doing well and suggesting lists of actions to make employees more “sticky.” Companies can then tailor and individualize their approach and investment by person.
A bot can also be programmed to gather valuable information and intel. Perhaps getting some additional context about a company while talking to a client would be useful — earnings reports, revenues, latest news items, etc. Or in a meeting, knowing a little more about the other attendees might help enhance the conversation. RPA is a digital assistant that only launches when you need it.
Finally, RPA can help HR departments provide boards with up-to-the-minute insight into what is going on in the organization by removing all latency from reporting. With the world moving so quickly these days, circumstances can change dramatically even quarter to quarter. Automation allows for reporting on anything at any moment, helping boards react in real time to shifting events.
The world is increasingly becoming more automated, and HR must, and should, join the trend. RPA makes the most mundane work more efficient and accurate, while freeing up to an hour each day that HR can use to build the companies of the future: the ones that can best adapt, grow and attract and retain good talent.