How to stop managers relying on HR for simple tasks

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The simple tasks that employees and managers often come to HR for can often be easily completed using self-service HR software. The fact they don’t indicates that employees either have a lack of understanding of HR processes, or are resistant to use it.

Both of these circumstances are indicative of failure demand. As employees don’t understand the HR processes in place in an organisation, ie: how to find out how much holiday they have left, it generates more work for HR as they have to effectively retrain employees on how to find the answers they need independently.

So, what can we do about it?

Matthew Blair, Business Change Specialist at HRCubed, spoke about this in our recent Webinar, ‘Failure Demand: How HR can stop wasting time on work it doesn’t want’.

Here are some tips from Matthew Blair and the XCD team about how to stop managers using HR as a crutch.


What is failure demand?

Demand is the driving force of business processes, but there are multiple types of demand in HR and businesses more widely.

In our webinar, Matthew Blair spoke about failure demand and what it means in the workplace. Failure demand, also called ‘demand we don’t want’ is a concept introduced in the 1992 book ‘I Want You to Cheat’ by John Seddon. Failure demand is when something goes wrong in a process and causes greater hassle for you later down the line.

For example, in a sales context, it can mean a request from a customer that arises because of a failure earlier in the buying process. This failure could be anything from not explaining the product features effectively or not explaining to the customer how to use their product. Failure demands from customers can sound like:

  • ‘The product isn’t working’
  • ‘This feature doesn’t work as I expected’
  • ‘I can’t use this feature’

In contrast, value demand is a normal part of business. The customer/ client demands a service from the business, but this is a part of the linear business operations, for example a customer wanting to place an order or speak to a representative. Failure demand arises when something has been done wrong for the customer, and it leads to knock-on problems.

How does failure demand apply to Human Resources?

Failure demand in HR occurs when there are systemic issues: people haven’t been taught and encouraged to use HR software, or maybe the software itself is complex and difficult to use. Or, maybe the management style of the organisation doesn’t encourage employees toward self-service.

The knock-on effect of failure demand can comprise as much as 70% of HR’s administrative workload. Managing failure demand is a key issue for HR as it becomes increasingly difficult for HR managers and professionals to manage their own workload when they are dealing with queries (or demands) from their employees.

As failure demand is caused by systemic issues, Human Resources can address these directly.

The first step is to identify where this failure demand is coming from, and try to resolve the systemic problem that is causing it. It might be a result of employees and managers not knowing about the self-service capabilities of your HR management software, not understanding how to use them, finding them frustrating or difficult to use, or not wanting to spend time learning how.

To figure this out, HR might find it useful to create a survey or ask employees and managers for feedback about why they’re relying on HR for help with simple tasks.

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Consider manager and employee perspectives

It can be useful to look at the user experience to figure out the root cause for failure demand in HR.

Do employees and management find it difficult to access their employee profiles? Are they uncertain which forms can be accessed and submitted online and don’t know how to search for them? Looking at these HR processes from the perspective of the line manager or employee can be an effective way to figure out where the pain points are.

You might find it useful to walk through common tasks from the perspective of managers and employees to figure out where exactly the demand failure originates from within your HR software.

Alternatively, managers and employees might just think they hate completing HR tasks. In fact, one survey found that one in three employees reported that they’d prefer to do the dishes or sit in traffic instead of completing HR tasks.

This reluctance to perform HR-related processes is likely a hangover from the days of stacks of paperwork and endless back-and-forth emails. Today, with the availability of self-service HRMS that can be accessed from anywhere on desktop or mobile, there’s no reason to hate HR processes!

Demonstrating the simplicity and benefits of HR software is a good approach for HR to get buy-in from everyone in the organisation.

How to reduce management’s reliance on HR

If you’re receiving a lot of these requests that could easily be handled by your HR software, it might be the case that managers and employees haven’t understood how to use their HRMS in the first place. To improve adoption of self-service HR solution, there are a few things you can do.

Lunchtime sessions

An effective strategy to improve employee understanding of HR tasks is to run training sessions for managers and employees when you first implement HR software, and provide additional ongoing support.

HR teams can set up additional training sessions to remind employees which tasks the HR management software can help them with and give them the skills to use it. In these sessions, employees can be set the goals of implementing these practices within a given time frame, or passing these skills onto a co-worker.

People don’t like change, so it’s important to remind them that this will make their lives easier, too. Showing employees the attractive benefits of self-service HR, such as booking holidays without needing to wait for manual time-off approval could improve adoption. Using an all-in-one automated software tool that checks schedules and leave allowances for them can streamline the whole process, giving them time to focus on what to pack rather than if they can go!

Tutorials and guides

As an alternative to voluntary training sessions which managers may be reluctant to attend, it can be useful for HR to create tutorials, guides, and charts that help show employees when they can use HR software for their requests.

These can be online and linked at the end of company-wide HR emails, or they can be physical posters in the workplace with how-to charts that show people when and how to use the HR system. These visual, informative guides are an effective method to improve employee engagement with HR self-service.

By making sure that everyone in the company can always access information about how to use the software, you can reduce the pressure on HR leaders to help with these requests.

Enlist software adopters within teams

If there’s someone within a team who can act as a champion for HR software, this can help encourage employees and line managers to use it too. We’re social creatures, after all – we’re more likely to do something if we see others already doing it. Therefore, if you can ensure there’s someone in each team that everyone knows is competent and confident with the HR software, this can help encourage others to use it, too.

Software champions could encourage their co-workers to use the HRMS for small tasks such as updating their employee data as a good start to familiarise themselves with the platform and how to navigate the software.

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Use conversational reminders

If additional training and guides still don’t encourage managers and employees to use self-service, there’s another tip that might help. In the Webinar, Matthew Blair shared one useful strategy for encouraging managers and employees to help themselves rather than demanding assistance from HR.

When an employee calls or emails Human Resources with a simple question that they could easily resolve themselves, HR teams can reply in a way that encourages them to help themselves:

‘Have you looked at the system?’ ‘Have you checked our HR software?’ ‘Have you searched for the form on the system?’

Rather than completing the task for the employee, HR leaders can ask them what steps they’ve done so far to resolve the issue or query. It’s a simple approach that’s easy to implement but it can have a big difference. Reminding employees that they have the capability to check their information, download forms, or see reminders and records in the company’s self-service HR management software will motivate them to do these HR processes themselves.

Check out the webinar clip below where Matthew Blair explains how this conversational hint can encourage employees to complete tasks themselves.

Top-down and bottom-up management approaches

Another way to encourage managers not to rely so much on HR for simple tasks is to reconsider the management approach within the company and how it impacts HR. There are two main management approaches that organisations can promote.

Top-Down approach

A top-down approach is the traditional form of management, with directives delivered from the employers, leadership and management teams. This approach is often a hierarchical system where tasks are delegated from leadership teams to the workforce and requests are made to ‘higher-ups’ to make decisions. In the context of HR, forms and tasks might need to be submitted for approval from managers who then pass the task on to HR.

A top-down approach can make HR processes slower and more complicated than they need to be because they are passing through multiple people in the hierarchy and involve unnecessary correspondence. Therefore, it can be useful to try a bottom-up management approach for HR processes.

Bottom up approach

Generally, a bottom-up approach is a management model which gives employees more autonomy and influence over decision-making. In the context of managing the number of simple requests that HR is asked to deal with, therefore, a bottom-up approach means empowering employees to submit their own forms, update their employee information, and complete other simple HR processes without having to go through line managers and HR.

A bottom-up style of management tends to be good for employee engagement. With a bottom-up management style, employees and managers are less likely to rely on HR for help with simple tasks because they will be able to do these themselves.

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Final thoughts

It can be difficult to convince line managers and employees to stop relying on HR for simple tasks, but once they feel comfortable using self-service for these tasks, this can lead to improved productivity and more effective time management for HR.

Download our white paper Failure Demand in HR to learn more about how dealing with failure demand can cut your HR department’s admin by up to 70%.

Not yet using HR software to optimise your HR department’s functioning?

Book a demo of our HR and Payroll software today or check out our guide to writing a business case for HR software for your organisation.