The Impact of Automation on HR departments’ processes in Lebanese Small to Medium Family Businesses post Covid-19 pandemic
The Impact of Automation on HR departments’ processes in Lebanese Small to Medium Family Businesses post Covid-19 pandemic
تأثير الأتمتة على عمليات أقسام الموارد البشرية في الشركات العائلية اللبنانية الصغيرة والمتوسطة الحجم بعد جائحة كوفيد ١٩
()Jessy Rahal جسّي رحال
The aim of this article is to review the impact of Automation on HR departments’ processes in Lebanese Small to Medium Family-owned Businesses post Covid-19 pandemic. Automation has become a very familiar aspect in every organization. Fortune 500, Multinationals and countless companies around the world adopt automation in their daily operations. This paper will shed the lights on the Lebanese market view on automation but in particular the Small to Medium Enterprises owned by families from one generation to another. This article will examine the HR departments processes in these family-owned businesses. This topic hasn’t been addressed yet in the Lebanese arena. Findings from this article were based on a qualitative approach done through structured interviews with 10 representatives from 6 different types of Lebanese SMEs. The results showed that not all SMEs have automated fully their HR departments processes despite of having the will and the budget to proceed with it. The majority are aware of the various benefits of automating their processes and are willing to invest money into automating the processes and procedures in the HR department. The results show that Covid-19 has changed the mentality of Business owners and HR representatives across these businesses. This paper will contribute to other research papers in the field of automation.
Keywords: Automation, HR Department, Processes, Small to Medium, Lebanese Family Businesses, Covid-19.
الهدف من هذا المقال هو مراجعة تأثير الأتمتة على عمليّات أقسام الموارد البشريّة في الشركات اللبنانيّة العائليّة الصغيرة والمتوسّطة الحجم بعد انتشار جائحة كوفيد ١٩. إنّ اعتماد الأتمتة أصبح موضوعًا رائجًا في أيّامنا هذه. تعتمد شركات فرتشن 500 والشركات العالميّة الأتمتة في عمليّاتها اليوميّة. هذا المقال سيلقي الضوء على وجهات نظر الشركات والأسواق اللبنانيّة حول هذا الموضوع، ولكن بشكل خاصّ الشركات الصغيرة والمتوسّطة الحجم التي تملكها وتوارثتها عائلات لبنانيّة من جيل إلى آخر. سيبحث هذا المقال في مدى أتمتة الأجراءات ضمن أقسام الموارد البشريّة في هذه الشركات، وهو موضوع لم يتمّ تناوله بعد في إطار السوق اللبنانيّ. استند هذا المقال على دراسة نوعيّة تمّ إجراؤها من خلال مقابلات منظّمة مع عشرة مسؤولين من ستّ شركات لبنانيّة متعدّدة. أظهرت النتائج أنّ هذه الشركات لم تطبّق جميعها أتمتة كاملة لعمليّات أقسام الموارد البشريّة على الرغم من امتلاك الإرادة والميزانيّة للمضي قدمًا في ذلك. إنّ أغلب المسؤولين في هذه الشركات على دراية بالفوائد العديدة للأتمتة في عمليّاتهم وهم مستعدّون لاستثمار الأموال اللازمة لذلك. تظهر النتائج أيضاࣧ أنّ جائحة كوفيد – ١٩ قد غيّرت ذهنيّة أصحاب الأعمال وممثّلي الموارد البشريّة في هذه الشركات. سيساهم هذا البحث مع الأبحاث الأخرى في إظهار أهمّيّة دور الأتمتة في الشركات اللبنانيّة.
الكلمات المفاتيح: الأتمتة، قسم الموارد البشريّة، العمليّات، الشركات العائليّة اللبنانيّة، الصغيرة والمتوسّطة، كوفيد – ١٩.
Automation has become part of every organization life cycle and operations. Organizations worldwide are integrating automation in their daily processes and operations from manufacturing to transportation, utilities and others. Automation is the technique or the application of technology that allows any system to work and operate automatically and involves various processes and functions such as design, management, sales, operations among others (ISA, n.d.). Automation allows doing tasks and duties with minimal human intervention. It is one of the top 9 radical technologies that are changing the economy and our lives (Greenfield, 2018). Automation can be defined under 3 main categories (IBM, 2021). The first one refers to basic automation which is taking a very simple routine task and working on automating it in order to be faster and perform with less errors. The second type is process automation which is taking a multi-step task or transaction and automating it in order to increase overall process efficiency. The third type of automation is intelligent automation which is more complex and advanced. It uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to automate processes such as in client service, the adoption of the virtual assistants which increases efficiency, productivity and customer satisfaction. Automation today is affecting how business perform their operations and how they service their clients (Verma, 2023).
In the recent 2-3 years, the world witnessed the covid-19 pandemic. The majority of the companies opted for remote work to continue with their daily operations. This has pushed companies to accelerate the adoption of new technologies into their operations (Nunes, 2021). Companies had to adopt technologies and automation in their operations to maintain a good service and to overcome challenges from the pandemic. Business owners worldwide understood the importance of automating their processes and the reward it brings to the business such as increased productivity, customer service and better allocation of resources (Mercer, 2021). All corporations are being affected by technology and automation. Even small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are impacted by the acceleration of technological developments. SMEs are the majority of companies that operate in the world. Some countries consider SMEs as employing at most 250 employees, in the United States and Canada, SMEs employ less than 500 employees (CFI, 2022). SMEs are more flexible and innovative than large global companies. They represent a big part of the world’s economy and offer a competitive advantage to the economy versus large businesses (CFI, 2022). In the European Union, SMEs represents 99% of all businesses, micro businesses employing less than 10 employees, small enterprises employing less than 50 and medium enterprises employing less than 250 employees (Europa, 2003).
In the Lebanese context of this research paper, there are more than 225,000 micro, small and medium enterprises. Two third of these are in the regions of Beirut and Mount Lebanon. They represent an important wheel in the Lebanese economy (IRC, 2016). They constitute 95% of the businesses and 50% of employment in the Lebanese market. Micro enterprises represent 73% of the businesses while Small and Medium Enterprises accounts for around 23%. They represent various industries including: Construction, Finance, Transportation, Hotels & restaurants, Real Estate, Manufacturing, Wholesales and others. They are lagging behind in terms of infrastructure, advanced Research and Development and innovative environments and rank 81/127 in the Global Innovation Index. In comparison to other countries in the MENA region, they are leaders in terms of creativity, knowledge and technology outputs. The Ministry of Economy and Trade suggested the introduction of many initiatives to support SMEs among which the development of a digital platform to act as a main interactive hub for all Lebanese SMEs (Matta, 2018). SMEs play an important role during and after a crisis. They offer economy growth despite all challenges and the unstable economy by providing employment opportunities and revenue. The pandemic has imposed a long lockdown and raised instability for these Lebanese SMEs with a difficulty to retain talents due to the difficult economic situation (Joseph, 2020). These businesses can become sustainable by having the right corporate governance. In addition, many of these SMEs are family-owned and in many of these cases, executive management was assigned to younger family members with no executive training affecting strategic decision making in the companies (Salameh, 2019). In addition, 53% of the first generation of family members are still involved in the businesses and 67% of the business have family members working in them. In addition, 10% of companies plan to invest in internal restructuring of their units and operations (Whalan & Beer, 2017).
In a study undertaken with 3,000 Lebanese Micro to Small enterprises by 2004, a 3% increase from the previous year was witnessed in regards to using the latest technological tools (Hamdan, 2005). Furthermore, in another study undertaken in 2018 (Jibai, 2018), the Lebanese family-owned SMEs are not working extensively on the development of their HR functions which remained operational departments rather than strategic. Not all of these companies have developed all their HR functions. HR functions are mainly segregated into 5 (Pearson, 2014): Staffing, Human Resources Development, Compensation, Safety and Health, Employee and Labor Relations.
Staffing encompasses the job analysis aiming at reviewing the needed skills, knowledge and abilities required for jobs in organization. It also includes HR planning to review and match the internal and external supply with the company vacancies. The last step would be the recruitment and selection process to acquire the right people with the right skills at the right time. The second function is the Human Resources Development which includes training and developing employees and also career development and succession planning. It also includes performance management, which aims to review the performance of employees versus assigned tasks and competencies. The third function is compensation and benefits which includes processing payroll, reviewing employee benefits schemes, from direct pay such as salaries, commissions and bonuses and indirect pay such as paid vacations, sick leaves and holidays. In addition to non-financial rewards such as psychological support and physical environment among others. The fourth function is safety and health which aims to protect staff from work-related injuries and physical and emotional illness. The fifth function is employee and labor relations which includes industrial relations and employee movement within the organization.
Many of the above functions are being automated worldwide using the latest HR technological tools. HR automation uses technology tools to automate routine, time consuming, repetitive tasks and to increase productivity. It allows HR team to have more time for strategic duties and decisions and improves overall error rates. It also provides a better experience and service for candidates and employees. HR processes can be automated in many ways (Dilmegani, 2023). In recruitment, screening using AI and applicant tracking systems, helps business select suitable candidates for positions. On-boarding and training can become more paperless with learning management systems. Attendance can be done by reviewing staff attendance automatically, the same for payroll management. Performance management can be automated and allows for the input of various assessors. HR can collect data faster and provide better insights for overall department strategy and decision making. It will help HR teams in increasing processes consistency, and better workflow management. It also saves on time and cost and decrease routine administrative duties and tasks by 30% for HR professionals. It allows HR to focus on analytics which help reduce time to hire, employee turnover and engagement. Data is also stored securely and allows for instant back-up. It will also increase communication and teamwork across the organization (Peterson, 2021).
Moreover, Robotic process automation (RPA) is used widely now in HR to automate processes in recruitment (offer letters), on-boarding, benefit plans management, trainings and others. This impacts the nature of tasks. Jobs don’t usually go away or are replaced, it is the HR tasks that go away with RPA and it allows staff to spend more time on emotional connections and have more-fulfilling work (Zielinski, 2020).
According to a SHRM survey in 2022 with 1688 members in SHRM in the Unites States (The Society for Human Resources Management), 25% of companies use automation in their HR departments. 2 out of 3 companies advised that their time to fill is 16% better due to the use of automation. In addition, 85% of companies using automation advised that it saves time and improves efficiency (SHRM, 2022). Companies use automation in HR for communication, employee engagement, performance management, benefits management and safety trainings (Grensing-Pophal, 2022). However, some organizations will face the challenge of funding these technologies and integrating them into their internal in-house infrastructure.
In the Lebanese context, a survey was conducted among HR professionals and seniors in 35 companies, the majority of them have talent management strategies revolving around workforce planning, talent acquisition, talent development, performance management and succession planning (Hejase H., Hejase A., Mikdashi G., Farhat Z., 2016). In another quantitative survey conducted among 96 participants among 61 Lebanese hospitals, the results showed challenges in HR practices in employee retention, qualified personnel, performance evaluation systems and financial constraints among others. 6.2% of participants responded of the lack of HR strategic plan being a challenge for them (El-Jardali F., Tchaghchagian V., Jamal D., 2009). Furthermore, in a quantitative survey conducted in 2017 among 120 Lebanese HR professionals to review their satisfaction of the HR information systems, the initial results showed that it has no impact on satisfaction nor creativity among HR professionals. The survey was then followed by interviews with 20 HR managers. The results showed that they believe technology will help them in their roles especially if the system is outsourced to foreign vendors (Jneid C., Nakhle S., 2017).
In this research paper, 3 main questions and 3 main hypotheses will be addressed aiming to review what Lebanese family-owned Small and Medium Enterprises are currently doing in terms of automating their HR departments post-covid-19 pandemic.
Question 1: Are Lebanese Family-owned SMEs investing and working on automating their HR processes and are equipped to handle this project.
The purpose of this question is to understand if they are investing from their capital in order to implement automation in HR and if they have the right resources in HR to handle it.
Question 2: How did covid-19 pandemic affect the mentality of owners and HR managers in Lebanese family-owned businesses via automation?
The aim of this question is to be able to assess if covid-19 pandemic affected the shift in mentality of business owners and HR professionals in these industries towards the importance of HR automation.
Question 3: To what extent owners and HR managers believe that automating the main HR functions will aid them in focusing on more strategic planning, and have better data analytics?
In this question, the purpose is to examine if business owners and HR managers know the benefits of automating their HR services both for them and for line managers in terms of strategic planning, and decision making and better data analytics.
The three hypothesis that were raised by this paper are:
Hypotheses 1: Owners and HR Managers are working on automating processes in the HR department.
Hypotheses 2: Owners and HR Managers know the benefits of automation and that it will allow them to focus on strategic decisions and have better data analytics.
Hypothesis 3: Covid-19 has shifted the mentality of Owners and HR Managers and increased the need of automating their HR processes.
The method used in this research paper is the qualitative approach. The purpose of a qualitative research is to be able to tap into the topic from the eye of those being interviewed. Interviewers allows the researcher to understand more about the topic. Structured questions were asked to interviewees which allows the researcher to be able to probe more about the subject and ask for needed clarifications. In this paper, the researcher interviewed 10 representatives (General Managers, HR Managers/Senior team) from 6 Lebanese Family-owned Small to Medium enterprises employing an average of 170 employees.
The family-owned industries selected are pioneers in the following industries: Healthcare, Financial Institutions, Construction, Security, Retail and Manufacturing.
To able to address the paper questions and hypothesis and to understand more about the topic, selected interviewees were asked 14 questions in total. Questions were depicted based on the reviews from literature. Structured interviews were done via face-to-face meetings, zoom and WhatsApp. The average interviewing time was 30 minutes.
The 14 questions that were asked are the following:
- Did you start automating your HR processes, which ones?
- Is top management supportive of automation?
- Which HR processes can be automated?
- Which HR processes cannot be automated?
- What are the benefits of automating the HR processes?
- Do you have a budget in 2023-2024 for automation projects?
- What are your next plans for HR automation?
- Which data analytics do you do in HR?
- Is HR team equipped with the knowledge to embrace the automation?
- What hinders the automation of the HR processes?
- How will HR functions be impacted due to automation?
- How will automation help HR managers?
- How will automation help line managers?
- Did covid-19 change your perception on automation?
III. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
The results of the interviews were analyzed. The surveyed industries all pertain to the family-business of small and medium enterprises in Lebanon. It is a small representative sample from 6 industries. The results provide insights on the impact of HR departments’ processes in Lebanese Small to Medium Family Businesses post Covid-19 pandemic.
From the companies surveyed, in terms of automation, all had their payroll function automated, whereby they rely on a system to generate payroll. Some features on the system needs to be inputted by HR professionals like the rules of working hours, attendance, and pay but for all organizations surveyed, processing and generating payroll is done automatically via a software. This relates to the second type of process automation as defined by IBM (IBM, 2021) which takes multistep tasks and automates them. From these companies, only 1 of the company survey has outsourced its payroll and recruitment application/screening to a local consultancy for better service and less cost as reported. In the study undertaken with 20 HR Managers, the results showed that technology will help them if the system is outsourced (Jneid C., Nakhle S., 2017).
Also, 60% of companies have automated partially their recruitment application and screening. Applicants can go on the recruitment portal, fill an application online and/or attach their Curriculum Vitaes. HR can then filter and screen these applicants using the tools available on their system. In addition, 40% have automated their attendance and leave management whereby managers and staff can fill their leaves online and attendance reports can be generated on weekly basis or when needed. These refers to the first type of basic automation taking a simple routine task and automating it (IBM, 2021). In terms of performance management, 20% have automated their processes whereby managers and employee can use the electronic appraisal tools to assess their goals and competencies. As for the remaining 10%, they have on-boarding and e-learning tools where all of the trainings can be found electronically and employees can access these systems and use the platform to learn and develop needed skills.
In terms of support from top management, in regards to investing in technologies to automate HR processes, 90% of the surveyed companies advised that top management is supportive of HR processes automation and only 1 company advised that the lack of support was due mainly to high cost of acquiring an appropriate software. This company had already invested in HR automation but the software acquired was not efficient.
Moreover, to answer the research question, on whether Lebanese family-owned SMEs are investing in automating their HR processes, from the interviewed companies, 50% have allocated a budget in 2023-2024 for automating HR processes, the remaining half did not, mainly due to financial restraints regarding the cost allocated to these technologies. Among those 50% who have allocated budgets, 45% will invest in automating their attendance/leave management and performance management, 45% in their recruitment and training activities and 10% are planning to invest in introducing the recent Artificial Intelligence tools and features. This will add to existing research which indicated that 10% of companies plan to invest in internal restructuring (Whalan & Beer, 2017). A 3% increase from the previous year was witnessed in regards using the latest technological tools (Hamdan, 2005).
The surveyed participants were also asked which HR processes can be automated and which cannot be.
– 50% of participants advised that all functions processes have the potential to be mostly automated.
– 20% advised that repetitive routine and simple tasks that doesn’t require communication can be automated.
– 20% advised all processes can be automated except interviews and face-to face trainings.
– 10% advised that only payroll data, leave management and records can be automated.
The results also helped in understanding the readiness of these companies, when asked if the HR team is equipped with the knowledge to embrace the automation, 80% advised they have the right resources. The remaining advised that their teams will need be trained and proper communication with them needs be established in order to embrace the changes that will occur in their work.
Furthermore, most of these companies realize the elements that could hinder the implementation of any HR effort in their organizations. Among these blockers are the resistance to change and fear of using technology. If staff are afraid that they would fail at using the new technology, they will become resistant to it. In addition, HR members who are in their comfort zone and cannot see the benefits of the automation will likely resist the change. If HR team is unable to see the “what is in it for me” as reported by 1 company, they will not be interested to make the automation initiatives succeed. The last barrier to successfully implement any automation project, that was raised by 1 company HR representative was the lack of teamwork between the project members which usually includes HR and IT.
In terms of data analytics and reporting, and in light of the growing importance of the use of data analytics to enhance reporting and decision making, 80% of companies currently run some basic analysis on payroll, salaries and benefits, using system features and excel, especially lately given the economic situation in the Lebanese Market and in an effort to retain staff who are travelling abroad for better jobs. In the same light, 30% of the interviewees, run analysis on recruitment and turnover of staff on yearly basis using excel. 30% of the interviewees continuously analyze data pertaining to attendance and performance management. Finally, 20% of the companies run various types of HR analytics areas using the software available and reporting tools.
Another important dimension this research paper is shedding the light on, is the benefits of automating HR processes in Lebanese family-owned small and medium enterprises. All participants reported that automating their HR processes has many benefits and adds value on several levels for their companies and HR departments.
Below are the main reported benefits as reported:
– Less paperwork, better data & record management, less errors – 7 responses
– Better data analytics & reporting, more time for HR – 6 responses
– Focusing on strategy, better decision making – 5 responses
– Cost decrease, higher HR service (lower turnaround time) and access from anywhere – 3 responses
– Less manpower – 2 responses
In addition, when asked about the benefits of HR automation to HR professionals, among the top answers were that database management will become easier and they will have less paperwork and more time to focus on other duties such as strategy, decision making, reporting and data analysis. The HR services will be more accurate and staff engagement will be higher given they can rely on HR services and have better access to it from anywhere. Some of these benefits were highlighted by Dilmegani (2023) & Peterson (2021).
As for the benefits of HR automation for line managers, the interviewees reported similar results as above. Managers are able to focus on managing their teams and working on their training and development needs. Managers are also to complete all HR tasks online from leave management to recruitment and performance appraisals using self-service portals.
Given the above feedback pertaining the both the benefits of automation of HR processes to both HR and Line managers, the third research question was addressed and the results mentioned it helps HR managers focus on strategy and data analytics. As highlighted in a survey by (El-Jardali F., Tchaghchagian V., Jamal D., 2009) 6.2% of participants responded that the lack of HR strategic plan is a challenge for them.
Furthermore, in terms of assessing potential change on the HR job functions due to the implementation of automation in HR processes, 50% of interviewees advised that their HR team members will have some free time to focus on other deliverables but not necessarily affecting their full time manpower equivalences. 30% of interviewees advised that they will actually require less full-time manpower when automating all of their HR processes. The remaining 20% advised that functions will not change and manpower will remain the same since instead of using manual work, the same work needs to be done also on the system. Jobs don’t usually go away or are replaced, it is the HR tasks that go away (Zielinski, 2020).
Finally, in order to review if covid-19 had an impact on the mentality of the interviewees in regards to whether the pandemic has shifted their mindset into accepting automation and realizing the importance of the adoption of technology tools in their workplace and particularly in the HR department, 70% of interviewees advised that their mentality has changed, and 30% advised that they were already ready for automation projects. Business owners are interested to invest now in automation and allocate a budget to it where possible. They realize the benefits automation brings to HR, Managers, employees and the business. Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of technologies (Nunes, 2021). Covid-19 affected these managers given they had to work without intervention of humans and under pressure. Some of the respondents advised that covid-19 has made them more ready and adaptable to change and they have become more agile in their work and operations.
To conclude, the results of these interviews shows that most of the family-owned SMEs are ready to embrace automation. The interviews results provide general guidelines on the impact of automation on their HR departments. All of the interviewed organizations advised that management is supportive of automation projects and in particularly HR process automation. As the research highlights, Post covid-19, the majority had their mindset shifted around the importance of automation given they had to work remotely and independently for several months using technologies available in their work and in their personal lives. It also allowed some to be more adaptive to change and become more agile in their work. 80% of the companies advised that their teams have the potential and are equipped to embrace HR process automation projects.
The research also adds to existing literature by highlighting some blockers to implementing automation in HR departments in Lebanese SMEs among which the resistance to change and fear of using technology in HR as well as the lack of awareness on the individual benefits of using automation.
In addition, Half of the interviewed companies believe that HR functions have the potential to be automated. 20% advised that repetitive tasks can be automated. All had payroll software. More than half had their recruitment applications and screening partially automated. The remaining also invested in attendance, leave management, performance management and on-boarding tools. All of the companies interviewed have started with automation projects and half of the participants have budget allocated for investing in new technologies in HR in the coming 2 years.
The paper also highlighted that these family-owned SMEs are still behind on data analytics, as 80% of them run only basic analysis on payroll and benefits.
Finally, among the reported benefits to HR and line managers on the use of HR automation were better data and record management, less paperwork & errors, better decision making & data analytics and reporting, more focus and strategy, less cost and more time for training of employees.
On another dimension, the future of the automation will affect the recruitment decisions in HR. Recruiters will need to recruit people who are able to manage automation and have strong decision making skills (Bergeron, 2021). It would be interesting to research about the upskilling required for HR and managers.
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 – PHD Candidate at Universite Saint Joseph – Faculte des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines – Ecole Doctorale Sciences de l’homme et de la societeJessy_rahal@hotmail.com – 03-715354 Under the supervision of Dr. Edmond Chidiac Edmond.firstname.lastname@example.org – 03-764151
طالبة دكتوراه في جامعة القدّيس يوسف – كلّيّة الآداب والعلوم الإنسانيّة – مدرسة الدكتوراه في العلوم الإنسانيّة والاجتماعيّة تحت إشراف الأستاذ إدمون شدياق.