Glenn Hoormann, of eAlliance Corporation, Discusses Improving Employee Morale with Automation

Glenn Hoormann

September 28, 2021

Glenn J Hoormann (30)

A Harvard Business Review survey confirmed the single most important factor in determining employee satisfaction is not compensation, benefits or security, as one might think, explained Glenn J. Hoormann. The survey found the most important factor in employee satisfaction is the ability to contribute as a team member on a meaningful project that is adding value to the organization. The average employee wants to be adding value to the company they work for, giving them satisfaction, fulfillment, and self-esteem, while also challenging them and utilizing their strengths.


“Employee disengagement has been shown to cost US businesses in the range of $300 billion annually, with another study showing a strong positive correlation between profits and employees’ feelings about their organizations.”


The future of work is changing, in large part due to automation. In year 2015 McKinsey & Company claimed the average business has 900+ business processes, and that 85% of those processes can be automated. Organizations today realize automation has many benefits and plays a large role in remaining competitive and thriving. 


Automation technologies such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Machine Learning and Chatbots (virtual assistants) are experiencing rapid acceptance in the marketplace. According to Gartner in a 2019 survey, 87% of organizations are implementing or have already implemented RPA.

Automation is enabling companies to repurpose employees for higher value tasks, the type of work they signed up for, by eliminating time consuming data entry tasks. Examples of repurposing is more time for interacting with customers, suppliers and teammates, and more time for innovation and analysis. Glenn Hoormann explains that these higher-value tasks have a dramatic impact on employee morale, improving morale by 43% according to one study. 


The intent of this article is to explain how and why employee morale improves with automation.


Reason one – “I knew there was a better way.” 


Automating a business process requires working with the front-line business people, users who are currently performing these tasks manually. These users are referred to as subject matter experts (SME), because they are the true experts regarding the how the business process is currently performed. 


“…automation, to the surprise of many, actually has a positive effect on employee morale.”


A common response from SMEs after seeing their solution automated is, “I knew there was a better way.” They were not concerned for their job, as was the case five or six years ago when automation of office work was first emerging and ominous articles were stating that software robots will be replacing humans. They were relieved and excited that a task that took them one to four hours daily was now being semi-automated or completely automated, being completed faster with less data entry errors, as software robots type faster and more accurately than us humans. 


Process improvement frequently takes place when automating a business process. During the scope, requirements and design stages of automation, the manual business process is examined closely, and inevitably a better way to perform the business process presents itself, Glenn J. Hoormann explains


Example: An AR invoice automation use case consisted of users submitting an AR invoice into the customer portal. The invoice sometimes had errors, causing kickout from the customer portal, required touches with the customer, and additional time and effort by the user. The automated process consists of the software robot validating the AR invoice BEFORE it is submitted to the customer portal, eliminating time and effort by the user and customer, improving the customer experience.  


“…almost half of the millennials agree that outdated technologies and rigid work environments hold them back from reaching their full potential.”


Conclusion: Most employees are now welcoming automation as opposed to resisting it. They knew there was a better way to get the job done. They appreciate and understand that it is better for them and the organization that these business processes can now be completed in substantially less time with less errors and less human intervention.


Reason two – Work-life balance  


Two of the most common factors causing a poor work-life balance are increased responsibilities at work and working longer hours, causing an adverse impact on employee morale. Automation addresses these factors. 


Example: A month-end Trial Balance consolidated report was manually performed by an AP manager, requiring 12 hours of work. She retired, and the company could not find a qualified replacement for her. The company automated this process to plug the workforce gap and this process now takes a half-hour, shortening the month-end close process. Seeing the efficiency of this automation, the VP of IT reached out to all employees, asking, “Tell us what causes you to work late at night or on the weekends.” This focus on the employee’s work-life balance immediately boosted morale and created a positive attitude as the employees began identifying and automating business processes which caused long working hours. 


Example two: The pandemic caused workforce reduction in some industries. The affected businesses ended up with the remaining employees facing increased responsibilities and additional working hours. These same companies are now using automation to handle the tasks performed by laid-off employees, preventing the additional workload from being assigned to the remaining employees 


“…of all U.S. workers 18 or older, 24.7 million, or 19%, are what we call actively disengaged.” In addition, 55% are simply “not engaged.”


Conclusion: Automation can play a key role in addressing overworked employees by identifying tasks being performed by the overworked employee and automating the tasks well suited for automation. This creates a healthier work-life balance, benefiting the employee and the company.


Reason three – Growth & creativity 


The future of work and business, in general, is changing at an accelerated pace. The pandemic, climate change, and increased global competition, combined with big data, analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, and intelligent automation are facilitating this change, Glenn Hoormann explained. Research points out that companies that adapt to this change and harness the new technologies will not just survive, they will thrive. Conversely, organizations and industries that cannot or will not harness the new technologies will struggle to remain competitive and survive.  


This forces companies and workforces to analyze and innovate more than ever. Repurposing the workforce for analysis and innovation will be a crucial next step for businesses. This stimulating, fulfilling, and challenging work is what the workforce wants to be doing, what they signed up for, and it directly impacts employee morale.


“…when an inordinate amount of time needs to be spent with manual, rote tasks that seem light-years from the job they are qualified for, morale takes a hit, and you hear comments like “This is not what I’m here for.”


Surveys show that employees see automation as an opportunity to free up their time to make meaningful contributions, which they find more rewarding. 72% of survey respondents say they would use the time saved through automation to perform higher-value work. Similarly, 78% say that automating manual, repetitive tasks would allow them to focus on the more interesting and rewarding aspects of their jobs.


Conclusion: The majority of the workforce wants to perform the more interesting, challenging, and rewarding higher-value work, such as innovation and analysis. This benefits the company and impacts employee morale. 


Reason four – The human touch 


Some people were born with communication and listening skills. Businesses need these people representing them for interaction with customers, suppliers, team members, and other organizations, as these individuals convey the organizational vision and message well and create positive perception of the company, sometimes the first impression. 


These same people get energized and motivated by this human interaction. It is fulfilling and satisfying for them, providing a sense of accomplishment and reinforcing self-esteem. Glenn J. Hoormann explained that some of these individuals are not currently interacting with others, because they are too busy working on high volume, manually intensive tasks which could possibly be automated.


As some transactions between customers, suppliers, and team members become more automated, there are times when someone simply wants to speak to a human being, and not dig through FAQs for a solution, and not answer questions electronically before they get to a human being that can help them in a subjective manner.


Companies are becoming increasingly aware of this and addressing this issue by the repurposing of their skilled communicators to communication tasks and responsibilities, which benefits the employee, employer, and the organization needing that human touch. 


Some of the more successful companies today consider providing access to a human being as a differentiator for the customer and employee experience.


“By implementing automation for tasks like approvals and data entry, companies can improve employee satisfaction. In fact, 89% of employees believe that automation has made them more efficient at work.”


Conclusion: Repurposing people to the type of work they excel at improves that person’s morale and self-worth. Human interaction is a key component of business and repurposing individuals with communication skills to maximize this skillset is possible through automation, benefiting the employees, employers, customers, and suppliers.


Reason five – Improving the resume and skillset 


In a typical automation project, the managers, SMEs, and technology team work closely with experienced partners on all steps required to automate the business process. 


These individuals inevitably learn valuable automation skills and best practices during the project lifecycle. For this reason, those involved in automation projects are now highlighting their experience on their resumes as one of their skillsets, possessing valuable knowledge and experience regarding automation, Glenn Hoormann explained.


In addition to this, concept of the Citizen Developer has emerged. Software development tools for automation are now being designed to enable the non-technical resources to create their own automations, without help from IT. 


This “low code, no code” technology and tools enable development without requiring programming language skills. SMEs and other non-technical resources can now automate low complexity business processes.  


“…an opportunity to “elevate rather than eliminate” employees. This was discovered recently by Accenture, when the Company automated 17,000 back-office jobs without laying off employees.”


Conclusion: Employees working on automations become familiar with what is required to automate a business process, increasing that employee’s knowledge and experience with automation and making the employee more versatile and valuable. The Citizen Developer concept is a valuable skill set to add to a resume.  

This article was recently featured in the IMA Second Quarter Magazine.