Our day to day life has undergone tremendous change because of advent of technology. Be it our society, our culture or our values; they all have been impacted. Needless to say that the greatest impact had been on the economy and the way we do business. And when we talk about business, apart from its other aspects, technology has started playing an increasingly important role in the lives of people and its management.
Entrepreneurs, all across the globe, have acknowledged and accepted the power of technology or digitalization. It not only helps in driving and achieving business goals but also optimizing work processes. Advancement of technology leads to positive results in the way business is done, its various departments and functions including HR.
Digitalization and technology offer numerous tools to better manage and engage the talent (the digital employee or millennial) and help HR to shift focus to become partner in driving business and bottom line of the organization.
Though there has been enough debate and discussion among professionals, thought leaders and academia on impact of digitization on HRM functions such as workforce planning, talent search and acquisition, career development and employee training, performance management, employee compensation management, reward and recognition, employee data management, it has not generated the same level of intense discussion on its impact on employee relations or industrial relations (few use employee relations for white collared employees and industrial relations for blue collared workers).
The Employee Relations function (a subset of HR) refers to the relationships that arises at and out of workplace and includes the relationships between individual employees and between employees (individual or represented by their association) and the employer. It can broadly be defined as employment relationship. This relationship includes the processes of grievance management, wage negotiations and settlement, disciplinary procedures and also regulatory compliance. In the interest of the business and organization, the Employee Relations Manager has to ensure that the relationship remains cordial at all the times.
Now the Big Question is whether digitalization can help in creating, maintaining and sustaining a cordial, congenial and amicable employee relation. And the answer is “Yes” in more than many ways.
- A highly engaged employee is always willing to go an extra mile and most likely will not engage in any altercation or dispute. An employee feels engaged when he sees that he is learning, he is being recognized for his contribution, feels he is a valued member of the team and his views and opinions are counted. Technology offers solutions to increase the engagement level of employees.
- Training and learning opportunities can be created using digital platform. E-learning modules, video media and various interactive learning tools are widely used by the organisations these days. These tools are highly impactful and cost effective. Gamification of various work activities, digital tools and software can be used to track employee performance and he can be rewarded accordingly. Digital tools allow employees to work in collaboration. When engaging with each other, it’s natural that they will engage with their work too. Digital tools (as basic as an e-mail) are commonly used to communicate with employees and keeping them abreast with organizational information and minimizing the possibility of any potential discord because of misinformation.
Though the above mentioned usages of technology may not directly help in resolving any existing dispute, it certainly will help in minimizing such incidents.
- One very common ground for employee grievance at workplace, in the past, was accuracy in calculating attendance, working hours, leave and payroll. In today’s era of digitalization, there are tools available which does not only record them accurately but also gives accurate output thereby minimizing any potential cause for grievance. Mobile Applications can be designed and developed for any other resolution of grievance in a speedy way.
- The bone of contention during wage negotiation and settlement (collective bargaining) between management and employee association is mainly increase in productivity and increase in wages respectively. Today’s technology gives the Management/HR the power of Big Data. Combined with other technologies, Big Data provides tremendous amount of insight into current workforce, the future requirement, areas where productivity can be enhanced, the prevailing wage rate in the market and overall impact of any wage increase on financial health of the organization. Sharing such analytics with employee association with ease the process of negotiation and their buy-in can be obtained with ease.
- Regulatory compliance under various employment laws has long been the most repetitive and monotonous job of Industrial Relations Manager. Technology is now helping in tracking the timeline of various compliances and creating a dashboard on compliance/non-compliance thereby mitigating the risk.
To conclude, I feel that employee relations as an area in digital age, remains under-researched and hope that the readers of this article will identify further avenues and will continue forward to develop and expand the evidence base for digitalization of employee relations.
Author- MMH Beg, Head-Human Resources at Bharti Foundation. He has more than two decades of rich and varied experience at both strategic and operational level in the entire gamut of HR in result oriented, growth oriented and professionally managed organizations. His expertise includes managing HR Policies & Processes, Performance Management System, Training & Development, Talent Acquisition, Compensation Management, Reward, Recognition and Employee Engagement, Employee Relations and Statutory Compliance. Prior to Bharti Foundation, he has worked with companies like Su-Kam Power, Electrolux and Apollo Tyres.