‘Fragmentation frustration’: Too many HR tools can hamper productivity

New research may just have punctured the illusion that more digital tools can only improve workflow and productivity. Adam McCulloch reports

It’s a common sensation. IT has come up with a workflow fix involving a new digital tool. “Well done” we all chime while loudly agreeing that our lives are about to be made easier.

Internally though there’s another feeling. A weariness that we will have to master another piece of software, another password and username format to forget, and a bit more time waiting for the computer to fire up; perhaps we’ll even have to explain to a temp – or at least an absent colleague – how to use it.

And who hasn’t missed an important message because they were monitoring their email, had forgotten to look at Teams, hadn’t fired up Google Chat, misheard the Zoom call, and didn’t have their Slack notifications switched on, having been distracted by a WhatsApp thread?

Now new research from HR tech firm Personio adds weight to these previously shameful feelings and finds that HR itself has been at the epicentre of an eruption of new tools designed to “help” practitioners during the pandemic.

It has found that over a third of employees (37%) report that there are too many different digital tools to use leading to what it calls “fragmentation frustration”.

We’ve all experienced at some point how fragmented data and processes across a multitude of tools can make even the simplest of tasks more time-consuming and distracting for employees” – Hanno Renner, CEO, Personio

But in HR, the situation is worse. Since the onset of the pandemic, 44% of HR decision-makers have seen an increase in the number of digital tools they use for people related tasks leading to a situation where, on average, organisations report using six different tools for people-related tasks and insights alone – rising to eight different tools in large businesses.

Furthermore, among HR decision makers who use multiple tools for people-related tasks and insights, a quarter (25%) recognise that this causes frustration amongst employees, and a further 24% observe that multiple tools slow down processes and cause unnecessary delays.

Personio concedes that “an overload of digital tools designed to boost efficiency could be hindering workers’ productivity” and says it’s time to streamline them, before productivity is hit.

Hanno Renner, CEO at Personio, says, in a curious twist on the usual techie spiel: “While digital tools have been a lifeline for many businesses throughout the pandemic, our research demonstrates that using too many of them risks hampering, rather than boosting, productivity.”

At last you may exclaim: “Here’s a techie who understands!”

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Renner adds: “We’ve all experienced at some point how fragmented data and processes across a multitude of tools can make even the simplest of tasks more time-consuming and distracting for employees. It is therefore vital that we streamline our tools and processes to become more productive as we continue on our path to recovery.”

Personio’s research was based on a survey of 500 HR decision makers and 2,002 workers across the UK and Ireland. As well as digital overload it also highlights the extent to which Covid-19 and the increase in remote working has caused a surge in the use of digital tools in the HR function, particularly.

Angelina Gentili, head of people operations at Personio, says we shouldn’t ditch tools altogether but whittle them down a bit: “With many businesses choosing to work remotely or in a hybrid model in future, it’s critical that they ensure they’re equipped with the digital tools that’ll best enable their people. At this decisive moment, employers and HR leaders need to work with their people to evaluate which tools add value, and where they can simplify systems to bolster productivity and business performance in the long run.”

Further conclusions in the report that may go against the grain in some boardrooms include that “employers aren’t just overestimating how well their organisation has handled the pandemic. They’re overestimating their team’s productivity too.”

It also warns that disloyalty was growing among employees because of a lack of awareness among employers of how their company’s handling of the pandemic has been perceived


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