Marcello Sambartolo: Workforce management trends and challenges among UK employers

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The demand for effective workforce management solutions is growing. Yet, many organisations continue to struggle with finding technologies able to match their methods of recording hours worked, designing schedules and managing absences – among other top goals.

To gain a deeper understanding of process maturity and system usage in these critical areas, WorkForce Software surveyed HR professionals across the UK. More than 350 organisations participated, and what emerged is a clear view of the current trends and top workforce management challenges facing UK employers.

The most notable findings include:

Absence management is a top concern

Employee absences cost UK employers a massive £31.1bn per year, according to PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers). Consequently, it is no surprise that 47 percent of survey respondents indicated that they would prioritise absence and leave in evaluating a new workforce management solution.

Of the top absence management challenges cited, 55 percent of respondents indicated that a lack of real-time communication inhibits their ability to manage employee absences. Limited knowledge of absences makes it even harder for managers to find replacement workers in a timely and cost-efficient manner. While many organisations rely primarily on overtime to fill the gap, others call upon contingent workers or simply go without. The cumulative impact of these approaches often leads to excessive labour costs and diminished productivity.

In addition, UK employers have a duty of care to their employees. Yet, it can be difficult for employers to balance this responsibility against meeting business objectives, especially when they suspect that employees may be taking unearned time off – another trend evident in the survey results. In fact, nearly half (44%) of respondents cited absence abuse as a top concern.

The cumulative impact on HR

Both of these factors – lack of clear communication around absences and absence abuse – contribute to a third absence-related concern noted by 45 percent of survey respondents: Too much work for too few staff. Managing employee absences, and particularly long-term leaves, is time consuming. From verifying eligibility to take personal leave time to maintaining a well-documented audit trail of confidential medical approvals for longer health-related absences, HR professionals are inundated with paperwork and leave management tasks.

Consequently, employers are looking for ways to automate absence management, both as a way to streamline compliance and to begin reining in controllable absence-related costs. This can be accomplished through workforce management software, though buyers should seek a solution capable of handling all absence dimensions. For example, software designed to accommodate national and local absence regulations, in addition to organisational policies and union rules (where applicable), allows employers optimally manage time and resource constraints while also boosting productivity.

Manual processes continue to drain resources

Dependence on manual processes emerged as a consistent concern for survey respondents, and not only in the area of absence management. When asked to identify the most glaring shortcoming of their current workforce management system, nearly 70 percent cited “still too much manual work” as the biggest issue. In fact, only a meagre six percent indicated that they are “very satisfied” with their current mix of workforce management systems.

Taking a closer look at the functions left to paper and spreadsheets sheds light on the problem. Survey results indicate that the three workforce management functions most commonly done on paper are staff scheduling and rostering (52%), labour analytics (41%) and time and attendance (36%). In all of these areas, automation has the power to dramatically cut costs and increase efficiencies, organisation-wide. In fact, Infogencer notes that, “…it is not uncommon to see savings in the region of 10 percent of total workforce costs which can be achieved through greater resource utilisation, reduction in payroll costs, [and] the savings in administrative overhead for example [sic].” [1]

In short, the potential for cost savings is considerable. From accurately capturing time worked, consistently applying pay rules and eliminating time theft, to reducing unearned time off and unplanned overtime, organisations automating workforce management processes often realise savings far greater than the cost of implementing a new solution.

Priorities in choosing a new solution

Survey participants also weighed in on their biggest priorities for choosing a new workforce management solution. Respondents indicated that ease of use, at 64 percent, is the most critical quality they would seek in a new system. Yet, the second most glaring shortcoming of existing solutions (behind “still too much manual work”) is poor integration. This suggests that organisations in the market for a new solution should give careful consideration to the system’s ability to exchange data with other enterprise applications – both those in use today and those your business may be planning for the future.

Functionality and analytics were also cited as top priorities, at 52 percent and 36 percent respectively. To ensure a proper fit, buyers should ask to see the specific functionality that is most important to them, even if it requires some configuration work on the part of the vendor during the sales process. This is especially true for such intricate processes as time, attendance and absence management. Going beyond the standard demo and asking presenters to demonstrate sample workflows, including how users will access critical key performance indicator (KPI) data and reports, can help to ensure that the solution will meet your current and projected workforce management needs.

Summary

From absence management to the lingering presence of manual workforce processes, UK employers face numerous challenges in effectively managing their labour spend and utilisation. As a result, more employers are looking for technology solutions that can automate these functions at an enterprise level, with sufficient depth to capture hour, pay and absence information according to local rules. As employers seek to address their top workforce management concerns, they should carefully document the policies and rules that they need automated and extensively test market solutions to find a precise match.

[1] Infogencer. “Workforce Management Solutions – A Buyers Guide.” March 2014.

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