Electronic human resources management (eHR) focuses on the use of technology to maintain employee records and enhance human resources (HR) processes, including job analysis, recruitment, selection, training, performance management, and compensation. There has been an increased use of eHR systems in recent years because they are thought to (a) streamline HR processes, (b) reduce cycle times, (c) increase efficiency, (d) decrease costs, and (e) enhance the degree to which organizations can attract, motivate, and retain talented employees.
Impact of Technology On HR Processes
The use of technology has prompted a number of changes in HR processes. Selected examples are described in the following paragraphs.
Organizations can now access job descriptions online and collect data for job analysis from employees and supervisors via sophisticated online questionnaires (e.g., Common Metric Questionnaire). Data from these systems are automatically summarized, and standardized job descriptions are created. In addition, many of these systems convert the data to a job evaluation format and create job evaluation point scores for use in compensation systems.
To attract talented applicants, a large number of organizations now use Web-based systems, portals, or kiosks to post job openings and screen resumes. These e-recruiting systems are also used to track applicants, provide them with virtual job previews, and evaluate the cost and effectiveness of recruiting strategies. Research on e-recruiting systems has shown they do attract a larger number of applicants but may not always attract higher quality applicants than traditional sources. In addition, research suggests that the perceived ease of use and navigability of a Web site may affect applicants’ motivation to apply for jobs, but the attractiveness of the Web site may not always influence applicants’ attraction to organizations. Furthermore, research has indicated there are individual differences in the use of e-recruiting systems. For example, research has shown that online recruiting is more likely to be used by young, male, well-educated, computer-literate applicants than by those who are women, over age 55, or lack computer skills. In addition, research has revealed that White candidates may be more likely to use online systems than some ethnic minorities (e.g., Hispanic Americans). One reason for this is that there is a digital divide in society that precludes some ethnic minorities from gaining access to computers or receiving computer training. However, other studies have shown that African Americans may be receptive to online systems, especially when they perceive these systems to be objective or as providing them with information about the climate for minorities in the organization. Taken together, these findings suggest that the use of e-recruiting may affect the characteristics and diversity of an organization’s workforce.
Organizations are now using e-selection systems to assess job applicants’ knowledge, skills, and abilities; manage applicant flow; and evaluate the effectiveness of selection systems. For example, resume scanning systems often search resumes for keywords and provide candidates with immediate feedback about whether they are qualified for jobs. In addition, organizations now conduct interviews, personality assessments, and background checks online and use computerized testing to examine candidates’ cognitive ability levels. Furthermore, intelligent Web-based systems are used to generate profiles of applicants’ strengths and weaknesses, and can be used to generate a set of specific interview questions for managers. The data from these systems are then combined with results of drug tests and other assessments to help managers make final hiring decisions. Little research has been conducted on e-selection, but some critics have argued that online systems (e.g., cognitive ability testing, keyword systems) may not produce reliable and valid assessments because they are not always monitored or based onjob analysis. It merits noting that e-assessments are subject to the same professional standards as other selection procedures.
Organizations now use various forms of technology, including Web-based systems, CD-ROMs, audio- or videoconferencing, and audio- or videotapes, to design and enhance the delivery of education and training programs. The use of technology also means that education and training systems can be delivered to remote locations (i.e., distance learning), which may increase the flexibility and decrease the overall costs of training. Research on distance learning shows it can be a viable method for training in workplace skills but is best used to convey hard skills (i.e., explicit knowledge) rather than soft skills (e.g., interpersonal skills). Furthermore, some research shows that most employees prefer face-to-face instruction to distance learning. As a result, researchers have argued that organizations might use blended or combined face-to-face and e-learning techniques to meet employees’ needs. In addition, researchers contend that organizations should consider the following factors when designing e-learning systems: (a) human cognitive processes needed, (b) trainees’ degree of control, and (c) strategies for engaging trainees in the learning process.
Technology contributes to performance management in three primary ways. First, it can facilitate the measurement of performance through computer monitoring. For example, computerized systems can be used to count (a) the number of work units completed per time period, (b) the number of keystrokes, (c) time spent on various tasks, or (d) error rates. Second, technology may be used to facilitate the process of writing appraisals and for delivering feedback to employees (e.g., multirater appraisal systems). Third, technology can track unit performance, absenteeism, grievance rates, and turnover levels over time. Research on e-performance management has shown that these systems have both functional and dysfunctional con-sequences. For example, some research shows that computer-mediated feedback is often more accurate and honest than face-to-face feedback, and these systems may increase the frequency and timeliness of feedback. However, e-performance management systems may also create distance between supervisors and subordinates, which can decrease trust and negatively affect attitudes, productivity, and turnover rates. Similarly, these systems may result in a reductionist approach to management, which is analogous to computerized scientific management.
Web-based software tools are increasingly being used to help organizations administer compensation, benefits, and payroll systems. In particular, technology assists with the management of compensation systems by (a) providing managers with a tool to design and model the costs of compensations systems, (b) giving organizations access to critical labor market data that will help them maintain a competitive edge in the labor market, (c) providing employees with information about benefits, (d) providing self-service systems that allow employees to select or change benefits, (e) streamlining burdensome payroll processes, and (f) enabling organizations to comply with extant laws and union contracts. Although there has been little empirical research on e-compensation systems, researchers have argued that these systems have a number of benefits. For example, they can be used to ensure that compensation systems are equitable and may enhance employee motivation and retention levels. However, other researchers contend that these systems may decrease the service provided to employees and managers by the HR department and may actually shift work from the HR department to employees.
Functional and Dysfunctional Consequences of Using eHR
Given the increased use of technology in human resources management, it is important to consider the functional and dysfunctional consequences of using these systems to meet HR systems goals. First, eHR systems should be aligned with the organization’s mission and enable the organization to attract, select, and retain employees who have high levels of motivation and job-related skills and abilities. Second, although these systems may streamline processes and reduce cycle time in organizations, they may also decrease flexibility and depersonalize HR processes. Some research shows that online communication systems are viewed as less beneficial than face-to-face communication because they are less interactive and weaken personal relationships. As a result, organizations should consider the extent to which eHR systems provide service to employees and managers and affect their overall satisfaction levels. Third, in designing eHR systems, organizations should consider the degree to which individuals accept these systems. For example, it has been suggested that eHR systems are more likely to be accepted in Western cultures (e.g., Western Europe or the United States) than in Asian or Latin American cultures, because they are predicated on Western HR practices and cultural values. Fourth and finally, organizations should consider the degree to which eHR systems have the potential to invade personal privacy. In particular, it is important that organizations develop fair information policies that ensure employee data are accurate and place limits on the extent to which data about individuals can be disseminated to third parties.
- Gueutal, H. G., & Stone, D. L. (Eds.). The brave new world of eHR: Human resources management in the digital age. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.