The current role of Automation in Human Resources

By itself the word ‘automation’ might conjure up images of futuristic, fantastical modes of work, but the reality for Human Resources leaders and professionals is that automation already has a place in your day to day working life. These can vary from the running of basic tasks to complicated processes. Let’s consider which processes in particular would benefit the most from automation – and which ones are least favourable towards it.

Automation and where it works

This is a hotly-debated topic. A report by KPMG, measuring complexity of tasks against value added, claimed that virtually all HR services could be automated. This report suggested that this was especially true of less complex tasks such as data entry, time and attendance, payroll and workflow/workflow administration, that arguably require less human creativity. This falls in line with the traditionally positive arguments that are put forward for automation in HR; that it reduces or outright eliminates repetitive, time-consuming tasks and cuts lengthy workflows. This can free up employees to carry out more specialised, valuable tasks and in doing so, reduce the time and cost dedicated towards administration. Research in the UK reported that 73% of HR professionals credited automation with improving the working lives of employees during the COVID pandemic.

However, KPMG claim that the greatest potential of automation lies in the running of highly-complex, high-value processes such as predictive modelling, planning and analytics & metrics. This is where the debate over automation in HR becomes a little murkier.

The limits of automation

While automation can be used as a tool to assess (and perhaps select or dismiss) certain profiles, HR is a discipline that, at its core, requires human interaction. It is very difficult for automation to replicate the assessment of a candidate that a HR manager may make. That isn’t to say that automation can’t help to create shortlists – applicant tracking systems are of course the bread and butter of many recruitment departments – but there are so many intangible factors about a candidate, and their attitude and personality, that is still better-left for human judgement.

It should be remembered that automation is often only as good as the employee who operates it. Companies must be wary of allowing tasks and processes to become automated without also training their employees. It’s essential that HR teams possess the skillsets to keep up the pace with the increasing digitalization of their roles. It can often be expensive and time-consuming to do this.

An industry leader’s perspective

Anders Jönsson, a founding partner of Continental Search Alliance with over twenty years of executive search experience, advises that automation is for the here and now, but has its limitations.

‘The future is already here. You should prepare your organisation if they are not already working towards automation. As for recruitment, I hope (and strongly believe) that not all processes could be automated.’

Jönsson’s experience in HR tells him that human interaction is fundamental. ‘There are so many feelings involved and person to person interaction when making a decision to change career. I still believe professional recruiters will be needed even in the year 2050.’

Final Thoughts

Ravin Jesuthasan, co-author of the book ‘Reinventing Jobs: A 4-Step Approach for Applying Automation to Work’ has said that the intelligent use of automation must never be applied to stifle the human element within HR, but rather be used as a tool to augment existing jobs. It is, he argues, the responsibility of the C-suite and HR leaders to work collaboratively to identify which processes can provide the highest return on value if switched to automation.

Naturally, there are some aspects of HR services more adaptable to automation than others, but in a discipline which is externally-facing and human-focused, there will be a continuing debate about the efficacy that automation brings – and where it should be applied.


Anders Jönsson / Tom Boughen for Continental Search Alliance.

Continental Search Alliance recruits for mid-level to C-suite executive positions from scalable startups to the world’s largest tech firms, combining tech and digital expertise with extensive reach across EMEA and APAC.