talent management HRIS (human resource information system)

HR automation

What is HR automation?

Human resources automation (HR automation) is a method of using software to automate and streamline repetitive and laborious HR tasks. Automation enables HR departments to save time and improve the way they manage personnel. As a result of these efficiency gains, HR teams can increase their productivity and add value by dedicating their efforts to more complex tasks, such as planning, strategizing, employee engagement and retention, and decision-making.

Can HR be automated?

HR departments and personnel are crucial to the ongoing operations of organizations in every country and industry. However, many everyday HR tasks and activities -- such as timekeeping or onboarding -- involve a lot of manual and repetitive processing, paperwork and administration.

These manual tasks take up a lot of time and effort, preventing HR personnel from making more meaningful contributions to the organization using their specialized skills and expertise. Automating these time-intensive, lower-skill activities can help them use their time more productively. This is where HR automation software comes in.

Modern HR automation products enable HR personnel to streamline many repetitive tasks, thus freeing up their time to focus on improving the HR processes that require human intervention, such as employee engagement and performance review discussions.

Common examples of automated HR processes

HR automation is about digitizing repetitive and time-consuming HR tasks to eliminate or minimize the need for manual work and human input. The HR management tasks that can be automated to some (or maximum) extent include the following activities:

  • Day-to-day HR administration, such as paperwork and standardized forms.
  • Payroll, including paychecks, salary changes and tasks related to employee pay.
  • Benefits administration and management, including benefits that can be accessed by employees with self-service tools.
  • Email reminders, including any notifications and memos sent to employees.
  • Talent acquisition and new employee recruitment, which involves attracting candidates and filtering resumes.
  • Internal candidate recruitment, including referral programs and promotions.
  • New employee onboarding, including setting up access to IT resources and conducting orientation training.
  • Employee offboarding, including removing access to IT resources and scheduling exit interviews.
  • Training and development, such as tracking employee training and skillset management.
  • Timekeeping, including hours worked, sick days, vacation and personal time off.
  • Preparing and processing tax forms, contracts, confidentiality agreements and nondisclosure agreements.
  • Creating and maintaining employee records.
  • Ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements, such as annual safety training, and sharing compliance guidelines with employees.
  • Job title classification and organizational structuring.
  • Employee performance tracking, including bonuses, disciplinary actions and terminations.

HR automation and compliance

In addition to the efficiency and productivity gains of HR automation, it also helps companies stay compliant with many employment laws and industry-specific regulations.

  • Labor laws and regulations. These tools can be used to automatically distribute required annual notices, process government-protected leave requests, send reminders about expiring credentials and securely maintain employee information.
  • Workplace safety. From automating background checks to environmental safety training, HR automation systems can help ensure recurring processes are always completed.
  • U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity laws and similar anti-discrimination laws worldwide. Automation software can mitigate human bias in candidate evaluation and hiring decisions.
  • Wages and benefits. Technology can help automate benefits enrollment and management, as well as compliance with regulations surrounding minimum wages and overtime pay.
  • Immigration. HR automation systems can better manage and track international employees' immigration and work authorization documentation.

HR automation software can simplify activities such as compliance audits and, more broadly, make it easier for the company to comply with employee safety, privacy, health or other regulations that apply to a specific industry or country.

Benefits of HR automation

Automating HR tasks can save time by freeing up HR professionals to take on more valuable or complex tasks for the organization. It can also improve their efficiency, reduce the possibilities of human error and help strengthen the organization's regulatory compliance posture.

There are other benefits of HR automation:

  • Less waste. Switching to automation enables HR departments to decrease paperwork, which reduces the costs of materials and manual workflows.
  • Data-driven decision-making. Automation software can collect and track HR-relevant data across the organization, allowing decision-makers to analyze existing processes, assess their effectiveness and determine what, if any, changes are required to optimize the processes and benefit the organization.
  • Create best practices. Leadership can use the collected data from automation software to run reports, measure actionable items, analyze employee experience and find patterns within the data that might indicate opportunities or risks. This information can be used to create policies and best practices.
  • Transparency and consistency. Automating HR workflows might improve transparency and accountability in the HR department. For multi-location businesses, automation can create consistent HR practices and ensure that those practices are implemented equitably throughout the organization.
  • Improved employee experiences. Automation makes self-service possible. Employees can log into a self-service portal to easily make changes to their benefits, submit expense reports, apply for leave or sign up for new training courses. By allowing employees to self-manage these aspects of their employment, instead of having to rely on HR personnel or complex HR workflows (send an email, fill out a form, etc.), HR automation can improve the employee experience.
  • Higher employee retention and lower churn. Enhanced employee experiences directly correlate to workplace satisfaction and foster a culture where employees feel empowered to do their best. Employees who feel supported and valued are less likely to leave the organization.
  • Increased productivity and better resource allocation. By automating simple but tedious processes, HR departments can better use their time on more complex tasks. For example, they can work closely with top leaders to create employee engagement strategies or design new training and development programs. Additionally, employees can spend less time on HR processes, such as requesting time off or choosing benefits, and focus more on the task at hand.
  • Better security and compliance practices. Some HR automation software provides tools to enhance physical security, such as automatically deactivating badge access with offboarding, as well as regulatory compliance, such as auto-sending reminder emails to staff whose credentials must be renewed soon.
diagram of HR automation pluses and minuses
HR automation has its benefits and challenges.

What are the challenges of HR automation?

Although automation of HR tasks provides several benefits for an organization, there are also challenges and limits to automation. Notably, many HR tasks involve sensitive matters and require emotional intelligence and soft skills. These types of complex, human interactions cannot be automated in a satisfactory way.

For example, an employee who is requesting bereavement leave after the death of a spouse or child might interpret an automated response as cold and uncaring. On a more organizational level, more activities that require more creativity and personalization -- culture setting, performance review discussions, exit interviews, and change management -- require human intervention and are not amenable to automation.

There are other, more technical challenges of adopting HR automation:

  • Integration into current processes and architectures. Some HR automation software is specialized, with features focused on specific processes. As a result, it can be difficult to integrate the products into the organization's IT infrastructure. That said, many products are also available that can be easily integrated with the organization's tech stack and work seamlessly with other standalone enterprise solutions, including identity and access management, learning management systems, payroll and more.
  • Security and privacy concerns. HR software collects a significant amount of sensitive data. Organizations might not have clarity on how the data is stored, leaving them vulnerable to data breaches and regulatory fines. To mitigate these concerns, companies should select HR automation software that incorporates robust data security and privacy features.
  • Funding automation initiatives. Any new IT initiative comes with a price tag, and HR automation is no exception. Implementing these tools requires the buy-in of senior leadership, particularly from a budget perspective. HR leaders must be able to demonstrate the benefits and savings to executives to obtain funding to buy and implement the right software.
  • Overcoming resistance to change. As with most digital transformation projects, HR automation can garner significant resistance from HR and other teams. Before making costly software investments, decision-makers must clearly communicate the benefits of HR automation.

Important automation features in HR software

When investing in HR technology, specifically HR automation software, organizations should look out for these key features:

  • Recruitment and hiring tools. The tool must automatically collect and analyze employee data, including new recruits or applicants. It should include features to determine salary structures, organize the details of job applicants, and automatically accept or reject applicants based on certain criteria. The best software also includes applicant tracking systems to simplify talent acquisition and recruitment.
  • Employee self-service tools. Accessible and user-friendly self-service portals allow staff to access important information and features. Through the portal, they can request time off, submit expense reports, enroll in new training courses, update their personal information and so on. The software should also provide staff and managers with real-time access to any important employee records and forms.
  • Payroll and benefits tools. The software should include pay and benefits calculators, in addition to features to enable and adjust direct deposit, download pay stubs and access tax forms so HR staff don't have to manage or track these tasks manually. These tools should also include ways to automate benefits eligibility, selection and updates.
  • Efficient workflow tools. Workflow tools include updates that can be pushed automatically to organized recipient lists. They can also collect feedback and manage process steps, again helping HR personnel save time and minimize administrative hassles.
  • Time and leave tracking tools. Tools for automated shift scheduling and management, time allocation, leave entitlement and balance, and overtime calculations improve transparency throughout the organization, minimize conflicts (e.g., between staff and HR), and enable HR staff to focus on other more important tasks.
  • Performance evaluation tools. Performance evaluation tools include feedback tracking, performance review organization and data collection. Features to catch turnover trends and low performance issues might also be included in the software.
  • Employee training tools. Built-in training tools allow HR teams to easily manage employees' training and development plans, track employee competencies, monitor each employee's learning progress and identify gaps that need to be addressed.
  • Talent management and retention tools. Talent management tools can gather feedback about employee experiences and workplace satisfaction and predict improvement areas. Retention features can also spot common behaviors that might lead to resignations, such as an employee leaving early or taking too many unplanned leaves, and enable leadership to take action to address those issues and boost that person's engagement.
  • Data analytics tools. With HR analytics features, the tool can analyze data and find patterns or trends to aid in decision-making. The best tools also provide detailed reports, visualizations, insights and alerts to help management identify problems and implement fixes to improve workforce engagement, performance and retention.
  • Integrations. The tool must integrate and synchronize data with all other enterprise systems to enable more informed, data-driven decision-making.

Well-known providers of HR automation software

As more and more organizations understand the value of HR automation, many software vendors have started offering HR automation products:

  • ADP.
  • APS.
  • BambooHR.
  • Cezanne.
  • Checkbox.
  • ClearCompany.
  • Deputy.
  • Gusto.
  • IBM.
  • Oracle.
  • People HR.
  • Namely.
  • SAP SuccessFactors.
  • Workday.
  • Workable.
  • Zenefits.
  • Zoho.

HR can use robotic process automation (RPA) to automate manual processes, standardize common tasks, quickly complete existing tasks and free workers to spend more time on complex projects. Explore what robotic process automation means for HR operations.

This was last updated in March 2024

Continue Reading About HR automation

Dig Deeper on Core HR administration technology

Business Analytics
Content Management
and ESG