Financial Wellness

HR Tech Conference 2021 recap: Key takeaways from 5 sessions

The 2021 HR Technology Conference’s major themes ranged from employee experience to the creator economy in sessions led by leaders from PayPal, UKG, and more.

It’s hard to imagine HR and benefits professionals needing the HR Technology Conference & Exposition more than they did in 2021. And yet, the reason why many needed the conference is the same reason why many couldn’t attend: COVID-19.

The pandemic continues spurring explosive growth in HR, benefits, and payroll technology, as evidenced by more than 250 exhibitors that included startups pitching new products. At the same time, leaders had plenty of questions about how to navigate the present and future. Major themes from sessions included:

  • New HR technology presents as much excitement as uncertainty. How do HR leaders advise their companies on which tools and systems to adopt? How will all this new technology reshape roles and infrastructure? Rapidly advancing technology, combined with a labor crunch that could be witnessed throughout Las Vegas, creates a sense of urgency for HR professionals at a time when questions seem to outweigh the answers.
  • Employee experience (EX) matters as much (or more) than the technology. Speaking of the labor crunch, HR leaders have multiple fronts demanding their attention. Finding solutions that please the C-suite and drive EX isn’t straightforward. For example, there’s lots of excitement about what tasks HR technology can automate, but also concern about what should be automated, especially when employees want more human interaction.
  • Technology can help HR leaders enable diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). What if a dashboard could make sure compensation budgets are equitably distributed across teams? Or what if a recruiting platform’s AI could find candidates who’s nontraditional experience makes them easy to miss? As the war for talent continues, HR leaders don’t want just an edge in recruiting, but also making DEI foundational throughout the employment lifecycle.
  • Employee well-being needs to be seen through a holistic lens. Mental and physical health have only become more important in the wake of COVID-19. But it’s also become clear that employee well-being is bigger than that. Financial health and social health matter, too. So does acknowledging employees have unique wellness needs. Take caregiving employees faced with social stress versus hourly employees who need relief from financial stress. Or the women leaving the workforce because employers aren’t creating clear boundaries between work and life. These are connected problems, not separate ones, that need holistic wellness solutions.
  • The creator economy is just as much for employers as employees. This goes far beyond finding the TikTok creators among your employees. HR technology is helping employers be creators, too. Take iCIMS’ Video Studio, which won a Top HR Products award. Elsewhere on the exhibitor floor, attendees toured products like Level, a learning management system (LMS) employers can use to create and launch consumer-grade training courses.

Five sessions in particular delved into these themes. Each one added broader context to help HR professionals understand what to expect from technology today and on the horizon.

The HR Jobs of the Future Are Happening Now

Does your company have a Work From Home (WFH) Facilitator who looks out for your remote workers? How about a Human-machine Teaming Manager? The mega session “The HR Jobs of the Future Are Happening Now” presented how rapid technology changes are reshaping not just HR roles, but who HR collaborates with and how.

Key takeaways

It’s not just technology, but also a rapidly changing world that’s reshaping HR responsibilities. What happens if wildfires knock out the infrastructure your employees depend on? Robert Brown, Vice President, Center for the Future of Work at Cognizant and one of the authors of 21 HR Jobs of the Future, cited data from SHRM when he pointed out that 34% of employers didn’t have an emergency preparedness plant prior to COVID-19. He anticipates businesses will look to a new role, Strategic HR Business Continuity Director, to future-proof their HR functions.

HR jobs of the future demand higher technical expertise and stronger people skills. Presenter Willis Jensen of W.L. Gore & Associates already has an HR job of the future: HR Data Detective. As Jensen put it, HR is becoming increasingly responsible for pulling large, disparate data sources together to spot potential flash floods like rising attrition, increasing overload, and burnout before they happen. To pull all the systems together, HR data detection has to be a team sport. Data detectives will have to work with people like engineers and business analysts who may not traditionally be thought of as HR resources.

We have a strong picture of what HR jobs of the future look like. Megan Leasher, Chief Solutions Strategist at Talent Plus and part of the faculty for Future Workplace’s 21 HR Jobs of the Future online course, laid out a continuum for tomorrow’s HR roles. They’ll exist along two axes, tech centricity and leadership complexity. But Leasher said that no matter where HR professionals fall along the spectrum, all roles will require five key traits: positivity, adaptability, caring, individualizing, and learning.

HR Technology Reinvented: The Big Shift Toward Work Tech

Exactly how fast is HR technology advancing? Josh Bersin, Global Industry Analyst and Founder/Dean of the Josh Bersin Academy, presented some compelling math. The massive investment in HR technology over 2021 adds up to a space worth nearly $12B across more than 21,000 vendors.

Drawing on his report 10 New Truths About the HR Technology Market, Bersin showed it's an exciting time for HR, but one where the roadmap is still unclear. That’s especially true for leaders now faced with integrating HR and work technology.

Key takeaways

COVID-19 accelerated not just HR technology, but also the war for talent. Citing sources such as McKinsey & Company, Bersin pointed out some sobering statistics, like 40% of healthcare workers leaving the profession. Overall, 2.7% of the American workforce is quitting each month, putting the U.S. on pace for nearly a third of its workers on the sidelines by the end of 2021.

HR must lead the integration of work and life. It won’t be easy either, as much of the technology hitting the market needs time to mature. Bersin mentioned it takes a good software company 3-5 years to reengineer a platform well. In the meantime, employees are drowning in tools. The average company, Bersin said, has 70 employee applications.

Employee experience (EX) matters above all. Speaking of all those employee applications, businesses have to be mindful about what technology they adopt and the pace they roll it out. Those who focus on technology and ignore employee experience will do so at their peril. Technology must empower employees, not disempower them.

How PayPal Is Leveraging HR Data to Improve Employee Financial Well-being

More and more, companies are realizing that employees’ financial health matters as much as their physical and mental health. Traci Memmott, Global Payroll Lead, shared how PayPal built a financially resilient workforce by understanding the realities its hourly and entry-level employees were up against. Then it created an employee financial health program to raise net disposable income (NDI) across its workforce.

Key takeaways

The financial system isn’t built for hourly workers. Despite paying above-market wages, PayPal saw a large percentage of its hourly and entry-level employees had trouble making ends meet. The company learned wages are one piece of the puzzle. Employees also need help in the form of better access to health care and other benefits that build resilience over the long term. They also need a suite of budgeting, planning, and saving tools that help them manage their cash flow. That way, they climb the financial ladder instead of staying on the same rung.

Understanding your employees’ financial stress takes having hard conversations. PayPal surveyed its global customer operations function, but it didn’t stop there. The company also analyzed requests from its Emergency Relief Fund, had roundtables with employees, and even conducted industry studies. This uncovered realities like employees getting derailed by small emergencies between checks, like unexpected car or home repairs. This led to solutions like earned wage access, also known as EWA or on-demand pay, so employees could cover gaps between paychecks.

You can’t solve employees’ financial stress without identifying the problem and setting a measurable target. For PayPal, that meant raising net disposable income, or NDI, which refers to how much money employees have left after taxes and living expenses. PayPal raised NDI from as low as 4–6% at some U.S. locations to at least 18% (the goal is 20% NDI). On top of that, PayPal’s hourly and entry-level employees who engage with the full Even platform average more than $700 in savings within their first six months.

The HR Xperience Score From ADP Research Institute

With HR leaders taking on a greater critical roles at their businesses, they need to understand employees’ experience with HR — and how that experience ties back to business goals. Enter the HR Xperience Score, or HRXPS, a new measurement defined by Marcus Buckingham, Head of Research, People & Performance at the ADP Research Institute.

Key takeaways

HR is an inherently emotional and personal experience for employees. That means HR can drive value other departments can’t. Employees may go to IT when they need technical help, but they go to HR when they need help understanding how their taxes and benefits change when something unexpected happens in their family. When employees feel their HR experience is value-promoting, they’re 8X more like to recommend their employer to family and friends as a place to work.

Talking to a human means a lot. Employees with a single point of contact for HR are 2X as likely to say their HR experience is value-promoting. This means businesses need to carefully consider what HR interactions they want to automate with technology, and which they want to happen through personal, face-to-face conversations. Automating too much can feel dehumanizing, leading to poor employee experience.

Benefits adoption is an important piece to HR experience. Those who receive health care benefits and use them are 3.5X more likely to see HR as value-promoting. Of course, that means HR and Benefits leaders have to ensure benefits get adopted, which is a consistent pain point at many businesses. But Buckingham’s research showed that ROI justifies the effort.

The Big Shift: Moving From Employee Wellness to Holistic Health

Are you getting the results you hoped for from your employee wellness program? Most companies aren’t. A big reason according to Jarik Conrad, Vice President of Human Insights and HCM Advisory at UKG, is we’re facing dual epidemics. COVID-19 has made businesses face the crisis that already existed: American employees’ struggle with mental and physical health.

In other words, wellness programs have focused too much on isolated areas of employee health, rather than considering all dimensions — mental, physical, social, financial — as connected to and dependent on each other.

Key takeaways

Work stress is taking a huge toll on American workers’ quality of life. Citing data from sources such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Center for Disease Control (CDC), and Cigna, Conrad reported that:

  • 60% of Americans feel some degree of loneliness;
  • 81% say job stress affects relationships with friends and family;
  • 63% cope with frustration or stress from work in an unhealthy way, such as regularly crying or drinking.

The pandemic may have intensified employees’ mental and physical health struggles, especially feelings of loneliness. But it didn’t cause them, it intensified what was already there.

One-size-fits-all wellness programs don’t work. Citing data from Harvard Medical School, Conrad made the case that wellness programs need to approach employees’ well-being holistically so they have support no matter where they are. The upside for companies who take the time to create such programs? Conrad shared data from WHO that reported employees with strong well-being:

  • Have 41% lower health costs;
  • Turn over 35% less;
  • Are 31% more productive.

Financial health needs to be considered along with employees’ physical and mental health. Wellness can be thought of as a continuous, interconnected cycle. Each dimension of employee health either strengthens or weakens the other. For instance, employees stressed about money are more likely to experience disturbed sleep, heightening their risk of chronic health problems. Those health problems degrade their quality of life, which takes a toll on employees’ mental health. The more HR leaders approach employee well-being holistically, the more likely they'll create wellness programs that help employees and drive progress toward business goals.

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