In many enterprises, HR works exceptionally closely with the management to determine how to make employees more productive. The management always believes that getting a bang that is bigger for each buck would increase their profit margin. However, if you purchase or rely on technology for employee productivity, your business could fall into the Paradox.

When are you sucked into this Paradox? It is when enterprises invest a lot in automation, thinking they will increase the productivity of employees, but their productivity keeps declining instead. When an investment is made in new technology, then it is a caveat- employees need time to learn how to use it, and productivity can take a slump. But there can be a higher wave of productivity post the initial slump.

The term ‘productivity paradox’ was coined by American economists and analysts in the early 1990s. It was created to understand the slump in productivity that the American marketplaces were experiencing, despite massive investments being made in the IT infrastructure. In essence, to decode this, though unprecedented investments were being made in the said sector by providing world-class facilities and opportunities, the overall productivity of the workforce weren’t making the rise.

Investments made on the IT infrastructure are still on the rise, and business process automation is a phenomenon that gained a cult following due to its popularity in modern times. Well, if the concept of ‘productivity paradox’ holds, it could backfire and lead to an immense downfall of productivity.


Do you measure the immeasurable?

Are you sure that the productivity paradox is due to increased investments in automation and IT? Or is there more to it:

Ambiguous goals

There are two schools of thought to measure productivity and efficiency. Let us take the example of e-commerce websites. They are lauded to make the users stay on them for a more extended period, therefore believing that it proves beneficial in the long run as it prompts users to purchase more. On the other hand, there is another argument that a good UX will encourage the user to obtain his/her product and exit the website faster as it reflects the seamlessness of the website.

It is the same process with HR automation. When there is an investment made in the HRMS, it is assumed that it is the successful ones that spend time with it. However, a better system will facilitate the process without demanding much time from the user.

Impact of productivity can be multifactor

The most obvious fact in the ‘cause-effect’ measurement is about how insulated is the experiment from multiple external factors that can or may impact the outcome. Therefore, the analysis of productivity is not one of them as it is co-dependent on a lot of factors and not on an isolated one.

Measurement of output

Are we mismeasuring outputs? The mere complexity that goes into calculating productivity leads to the error of mismeasurement. Is reduced training time or improvement in the quality of the current production being considered in the definition that plays a significant role as a deciding factor of productivity?

Heads & tails- two sides of the same coin?

There is always a counter-argument for everything; for example, we don’t engage in mental math anymore because we have a calculator inbuilt on our smartphones. Likewise, many enterprises have shifted from manual recording and eliminated the scope of human error under practice because we always have a computer or a laptop on our desk. This may have rendered us less productive than what we could have been in the absence of technology.

Pause and think. Isn’t it like the same thing as saying we refuse to walk a mile because we have easy access to automobiles nowadays?

The simplifying process is one thing, and aiding the human mind to do much more is the purpose of technology.

The big question

In one of the recent articles, Josh Bersin wrote that messaging will disrupt HR Tech. He said, “Let me assure you that this year is the time to go see your IT department and talk with them about messaging systems. Whether itʼs Microsoft Office 365, Slack, G-Suite, or Workplace by Facebook—these are new employee productivity platforms, and we need to use them to deliver our HR solutions in the future.” I think he is correct, but referring to these platforms as mere ‘messaging systems’ is only undermining their performance and powerful capabilities. When a lot of enterprises embrace the production systems, they become a unified entry point for the employees, and so what is the role of these ‘Employee Experience Platforms’? But the bigger question, why a new platform?

Why introduce a new platform experience when employees are moving toward the corporate workspace? If you want to make an employee’s life more comfortable by solving the productivity issue, the employee productivity platform is the employee experience platform. HR and other support functions should cease thinking in terms of functions and must start thinking about how do they help employees to get things done at lightning speed and on time. This would also include supporting them even when not asked for.


Do you consider your employees’ expectations?

In today’s digital age, the workforce must adapt rapidly to the introduction of new technologies at their workplace. This could also mean how they stay productive while performing the same tasks, and it could also mean employees must learn numerous new jobs per year as per their employer’s technology to adapt to the marketplace. Employees may not get adequate time to be adept at the latest software, but it is time to learn the next phase of technology updates.

How is HR tech relevant to the debate?

HR tech is like an umbrella term to describe software and solutions that enable digitization and automation of processes about Human Resources. By allowing knowledge, HR tech has helped boost business than just merely letting employees struggle with the necessary cumbersome process. HR Tech is one such tech that is relevant across all sectors due to the omnipresence of HR.

In addition to this, the impact of HR tech is beyond impacting just efficiency, and HR tech has made it easier for employees to voice themselves on issues that matter to them, boosting employee engagement and interaction as a by-product, bringing more clarity and transparency to the entire operations.

The ‘productivity paradox’ is an observation pattern since the early 90s (the term was coined then, the observation goes beyond) and may have been quite relevant to the market scenarios back then. But we have come a long way since then, with emerging technology and consumption of patterns of people, including employees, that has changed ever since. Hence the pertinence of the Paradox to the present-day workforce can lead to other schools of thought, some accepting it, and some denying it.

So, my question is, is this Paradox, if it still exists, a setback to the enterprises’ automation strategies? Or is it another hoax blown out of proportion by the hyper-skeptical watchkeepers of development?


In conclusion

Is it time to reimagine HR and HR tech in 2020 and capitalize on the advantages that modern, consumer-grade technologies enable? This brings me back to my original question- how can the ever loop of the 2Ps not end up in the last ‘P’ that is the Paradox or the productivity paradox, if you want to call it. If we can get to integrate HR into the workforces seamlessly, then we can make HR invisible and not in a negative way. Is HR tech making a way to make the function of HR redundant eventually?