Free HR briefing paper: From absence management to HRIT investment – Assessing HR’s priorities



This report analyses the findings of a survey of 100 HR directors and managers in the UK, carried out by Webster Buchanan Research. The survey examined a broad range of people management issues, from absence management to investment in software and services. Key findings include:

Shortcomings in managing absence

Respondents were comfortable with their ability to handle several operational aspects of absence management, such as running back-to-work interviews and managing the disciplinary issues, but poorer at more strategic issues. 35% admitted they were poor at intervening effectively in long-term absence, and 55% confessed they were poor at taking preventative steps to encourage well-being.
From a data management and analysis perspective, 42% conceded they were poor at promptly capturing data about absence episodes and storing it centrally, and almost half (49%) said they were poor at analysing and acting on the root causes of absence. This is reflected in separate findings that show many HR managers lack either the tools to manage and analyse data effectively, or the skills to do so.

Philosophies on recruitment

The majority of respondents (62%) agreed that “recruitment is a sales and marketing exercise, not purely an HR task” and that organisations need “a good corporate image, marketing skills to identify the best candidates, and sales skills” to encourage them to join their organisation.

Almost half of respondents (49%) agreed that “HR will start to lose out in the race for talent over the next twelve months if it fails to get involved with social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked-In to reach potential recruits”, while a third (34%) disagreed.

Drivers for investing in HR software or services

Despite relentless focus on cost, the top driver for investing in HR software or services was to improve the quality of service for employees and managers (ranked as important by 89% of respondents), followed by improving the quality of management information (76%). Reducing HR administration costs was third (73%), followed by reducing IT costs. Webster Buchanan suggests that in some cases, these priorities may need to be reordered to win business case approval.

One third of respondents (33%) conceded that expanding their personal experience and enhancing their CV was an important factor in determining whether to invest in HR software or services. While that attitude may be frowned upon in the boardroom, it indicates how critical software and services are to running today’s HR function.

Investment priorities

Learning and development topped the list of HRIT investment priorities, ranked a priority by 81% of respondents – suggesting that with headcount under close scrutiny, HR is working hard on improving the capability of its existing employee base.

Recruitment was the second biggest target for investment (69%),
reinforcing the fact that even if overall headcount is constrained, organisations continue to hire to redress natural attrition. The finding suggests that many HR managers see benefit in automating recruitment processes at a time of high unemployment – in fact, dealing with a high volume of applicants was cited by respondents as their biggest recruitment challenge, alongside lack of HR/recruiting resource.

Other priorities for investment were Performance Management (prioritised by 66% of respondents), Reporting and Analysis (also 66%) and Absence management (65%).

Maximising existing investments

Many organisations are not taking full advantage of their existing HRIT investment, with 39% aware that they’re not using all the useful functionality available to them, and almost two out of ten (18%) conceding they’ve implemented very little of their system’s potential capability. The survey suggests one reason is lack of training for existing and new staff.

Poor HR analytical skills

More than half of respondents (55%) agreed that the level of businessrelevant information provided by HR to line managers and the board needs to be significantly improved, with 44% disagreeing. Almost three out of five (58%) of respondents agreed that the difficulty of getting relevant data together undermines their reporting and analytical capability.

In addition, 44% of respondents agreed that they do not have the software tools they need to do anything beyond basic HR reporting – and 43% said that even if they had the right tools, they do not have sufficient analytical skills within the HR function to take advantage.

Perceptions of Software as a Service (SaaS)

The survey showed some continuing confusion among HR managers about the definition of software as a service (SaaS).

The potential benefit cited most often by respondents (61%) is that the initial investment tends to be lower and can limit capital expenditure, since SaaS services are usually provided on a subscription basis. A similar number (59%) pointed to the fact that because it’s internet-based, HR employees can access the system from multiple sites, including home.

A third of respondents (38%) said concerns about data security might be a barrier to adoption of SaaS, while a quarter (25%) cited concerns about privacy.

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