Combatting employee resistance to workforce management tools

Lauren Gibbons Paul, Contributor

Any software implementation can disrupt an organization. People affected by a rollout must learn a new way of doing their jobs, which can cause stress. This well-understood dynamic has given rise to an entire industry of consultants who help organizations manage change. But when it comes to workforce management tools, which cover all aspects of human capital, the change management challenges can be even greater, according to industry observers.

After all, workforce management (WFM) tools are used to exert tighter control over the workforce, which can lead to that uncomfortable feeling of being watched. Greater oversight of employees’ daily work can lead to distrust, resistance and even flat-out rejection of the new workforce management system. So, it is important to get ahead of the change management issues, experts say.

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For example, if you are employing a workforce management system with biometric authentication to deal with a “buddy punch” situation in which employees punch in and out for each other, you should forthrightly explain the problem and how you’re dealing with it. “You should say, ‘We’re having this problem, so this is how you’re going to punch in now,’” said Jim Holincheck, vice president, human capital management, for Gartner Inc., a research company based in Stamford, Conn. In an environment where much of the employee population is unionized, managers will have to have that conversation before implementing the software.

As another example, let’s assume overtime costs are out of control. The organization can employ a workforce management tool to set thresholds so that an employee and his manager receive alerts if the employee is about to get into an overtime situation. Here, the company should communicate with all of its hourly employees and let them know why it is taking that step, said Holincheck.

“How you bring it to the organization depends on the problem you’re trying to solve and what you are implementing to solve the problem,” he said. Start by explaining the business problem -- the need to control costs, the need to ensure efficiency by having the right people on the job -- so employees can better understand why the company is adopting a new procedure.

But the benefits are not all one-sided: Employees stand to gain, too. For example, most workforce management tools now offer a mobile component so employees can interact with the system via smartphone, said Holincheck. This makes it much more convenient for them to make changes to their accounts, for example.

Some vendors are even giving their mobile applications game-like interfaces so employees want to use them, said Josh Bersin, president and CEO of Bersin & Associates, a human capital management research and consulting firm in Oakland, Calif. “Many [workforce management] systems are becoming more game-like every year in the hopes of attracting the younger workers.”

Avoiding common workforce management tool mistakes

The new crop of Software as a Service-based (SaaS) workforce management tools are cheaper and faster to implement than their on-premises predecessors. Unfortunately, experts say, many companies take harmful shortcuts when using SaaS workforce management. For instance, most companies rolling out workforce management tools don’t spend nearly enough time helping employees -- especially hourly ones -- prepare for changing business processes and learning how to use the tool, said Bersin.

“Often, the HR department starts rolling it out tactically, often without involving IT -- without spending enough time on how their jobs will change,” he said. A better way to go is for the organization to make a decision to implement workforce management tools -- backed by an executive sponsor -- and then create a WFM change management program before the software is deployed.

Generally, WFM software rollouts include significant process-redesign work, said Bersin, so preparing the organization for those changes is key. It is a cliché, he added, but it is critically important to communicate to all levels of the organization what you are doing and why. “The message may change according to whom you’re talking [to],” he said.

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