People & Leadership

How HR teams are gaining an edge with automation

Just 44% of HR leaders are using automation today. Here’s the benefits you can expect, so your HR team can gain the edge.

Woman working on computer

HR leaders want to automate more. Eight in 10 believe additional tasks could be automated to drive efficiencies, while 63% of those who don’t use automation expect to in the next five years.

At the same time, HR leaders are hotly anticipating the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) within HR for saving time, job satisfaction, job creation, and implementing new ways of working.

However, HR leaders are conscious of knowledge and skills gaps that may hold them back from fully embracing these new technologies to the best of their abilities. 75% of HR leaders told us they lack ‘detailed knowledge’ of specific AI tools and their functionalities. 

These are just some of the findings from the new Sage annual research report,The changing face of HR’.

We spoke to more than 1,000 global HR leaders from small and medium organisations to find out their attitudes towards future technologies, if and how they’re using automation and AI, and how they feel about the future of HR. 

Let’s take a look to see what they said about how they’re getting ahead today to find out how you can, too.

Here’s what we cover in this article:

The changing face of HR

Our Sage People research report uncovers insights from 500+ HR leaders on the changing face of HR and how progressive People leaders are getting ahead.

Find out more

How HR teams using automation are getting ahead

Our research shows that HR leaders and their teams using automation today are getting ahead. They are streamlining processes, reducing manual tasks, and freeing up time to focus on strategic initiatives that drive organisational success.

In fact, 80% of HR teams in medium companies say over half of their HR processes are automated today. While the number is lower for HR teams in smaller businesses at 57%, HR leaders in all organisations firmly believe automation is the key to boosting efficiency.

According to David D’Souza, Membership Director at CIPD, the benefits of automation are so vast and can be used so widely in HR, that “we’re approaching a point where the question will be less about what can we automate and, instead, what will we decide not to automate”.

He adds that automation enables HR to spend more time on value-added tasks: “When we talk about HR expertise it is rarely in paperwork or processes, it’s about how we deliver real difference beyond those tasks.”

Perry Timms, Founder and Chief Energy Officer at PTHR, agrees that the real value in automation lies in the human opportunity it opens up. “It’s not about whether we should leverage automation [in itself], but the knock-on impacts along the value chain.”

Automating data is making HR feel unstoppable

We asked what made HR leaders feel unstoppable, and over half (51%) told us that increased data automation made them feel unstoppable. Meanwhile, 49% cited enhanced data analytics to improve decision-making as contributing to their unstoppable rating. 

However, we asked HR and people leaders what metrics they collect today and still only 56% collect basic metrics like headcount. Encouragingly, the third, fourth, and fifth most collected data points were labour cost per FTE, cost per employee, and employee productivity rates — demonstrating that many HR teams are increasingly aligning people metrics to business strategies and the bottom line.

“Data allows HR leaders to make better informed decisions and ensure that HR activities, initiatives and practices are robust, and evidence based,” says Gemma Dale, Senior HR Lecturer at Liverpool Business School. “Investing in data capabilities should be on the list of all HR leaders.”

What support HR want and need around new technologies

With HR leaders expecting continual heavy workloads over the next five years and greater emphasis on strategic planning, investment in the right technology with proper support is key. Those who feel unstoppable are notably more likely to say that investing in technology worked for them (48%), while 79% say they need more training and support from their HR software provider.

When it comes to new technologies like AI, 71% of HR leaders are concerned their company lacks the skills or guidance to effectively implement AI in HR tasks, but the message from the experts is for HR to immerse themselves in the tech.

“HR must get out of their comfort zone of formal education and start their own primary research and independent analysis of what’s happening in the market,” says Ben Brooks, Founder and CEO of PILOT. “Attend conferences, join webinars, engage in virtual HR communities on Slack, spend more time with technologists internally, and be curious.”

Why HR don’t have to wait for the perfect AI tool to reap the benefits now

Our research reveals the opportunities and power of AI in HR both today and in the future of HR. However, there’s plenty to be getting on with when it comes to technology that’s been available for a while, such as automation, analytics and self-service. 

These mature technologies have two huge advantages. First, they enable HR teams to be more strategic in their work and the insights they generate. Second, by freeing up time on a practical level, they enable HR to spend less time on processes and paperwork and more on the reason many got into HR in the first place: to build great people strategies that truly make a difference to people’s working lives.

“Some HR departments have shied away from large scale automation,” says Grant Weinberg, VP of HR Operations and Talent Acquisition at Eikon Therapeutics. “We need to embrace GenAI and look at automation to help HR professionals do the work that bots cannot. This will drive operational excellence and increase compliance as a result.”

Automation: The right tech for the problem at hand

HR leaders know that automation is absolutely vital to driving positive change, but less than half (44%) are using automation in their jobs today.

Seize the opportunity to leverage automation to enhance efficiency and effectiveness now. Test and experiment with automation and AI to find the right solutions to liberate you from admin and give you time back to focus on more strategic initiatives.

By utilizing these advanced tools, HR professionals can streamline processes, reduce manual input, and make data-driven decisions, so you and your HR team can feel truly unstoppable.