So what is workforce management anyway, and how has it changed?

Looking at watch workforce management time and attendance concept

Do you remember your first job out of high school? I sure do – I was a cashier and bagger at a regional grocery chain popular in New England. I remember clocking in through the timeclock device and checking my schedule on a piece of paper held by a clipboard. My manager at the time was always in the office rebuilding schedules because there were always unplanned requests that threw a wrench into her plan. Back then, it was tough building a schedule when you had to take into account different rules like ensuring minors are off work by 9pm or overtime is kept at a minimum. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was my very first interaction with a workforce management process.

So what is workforce management? Nearly all of us are part of or play a role in workforce management. Chances are you’re probably thinking about employees punching in and out, building out a schedule, or attendance tracking. Maybe you were part of the business figuring out how to minimize labor costs or forecast labor needs.  Workforce management is the jelly to human capital management’s peanut butter – they’re better together. A big part of the human capital management (HCM) umbrella, it’s the practice of maximizing employee productivity by implementing tools and processes that help achieve the business’s core goals. But the truth is it's also become a lot more than that.

I’ve worked with many customers and have seen many businesses separate their workforce management and human capital management solutions when really, both should be united as part of the employee lifecycle strategy. Nowadays, more and more organizations realize this connection and see the value this powerful combination brings to them. As part of a larger employee strategy, businesses gain insight into their labor costs and talent. Let’s take a step back for a moment and break down the three fundamental things you need to know about workforce management and why it’s become a key part of HCM:

1. There are some foundational building blocks you should recognize

Time and attendance tracking are the first things that usually come to mind when workforce management software is brought up. There’s a lot more information within timecards than just who’s clocked in and out or had meal breaks, though. The information here provides businesses with context around things like “who’s showing up for work?” and “who has too many unexcused absences?” When aggregated, this data can even be an indicator of economic health. The bottom line is as we strive towards the perfect paycheck, it all starts with an accurate timecard since the rules we use to capture those different time types should automatically inform what our payroll looks like.

Scheduling is another major component of a workforce management system. You'd think it’s an easy task, but scheduling can get very time consuming and messy fast, which ends up taking valuable time away from your managers that could be used to motivate and support their teams instead. Automating and streamlining a lot of these manual processes like taking time off, swapping shifts, requesting additional hours, and other similar activities provides employees and managers the time to focus more on the business.

Adding employee self-service options here is another way to keep employees engaged by enabling them to have input into their schedule, especially considering the modern, mobile workforce expects this kind of access in real time on any device. This brings you much closer to your perfect schedule by having the flexibility to put the right people in the right place at the right time with less administrative effort.

Finally, forecasting and analytics provide proactive insight into trends and patterns that impact your people. They’re the means by which you get ahead of potential issues that can impact the bottom line and employee engagement. Employee burnout is a hot topic, especially during these times, and balancing employees’ hours and schedules is key to addressing it. How do you prevent burnout? Better yet, how can you get this information into the hands of your managers, so they can be proactive and act today?

A lot of wider HCM insights are driven by WFM data. The world has moved beyond reports, which are just historical snapshots in time. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still very important for understanding what has happened at your organization, but they don’t allow action in the moment. Managers make decisions every day that impact the bottom line and influence employees on a direct level.

2. Having the right technology is a key factor for success

The right HCM system should have workforce management solutions as a key part of it, and can make or break your employee experience. It’ll allow your business to take on new, progressive strategies that put you on the competitive edge. Below are some quick questions to ask yourself about your current solution:

  • Does our solution keep up with both the demands of the business and our employees?
  • How does the business provide a better experience for managers and employees?
  • Can our HCM solution scale along with the business and be flexible when we need it?

So with those in mind, what does the recipe for a modern HCM solution that includes workforce management look like?

  • It needs to be intelligent. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have also become fixtures in modern HCM solutions for the benefits they bring, such as streamlining productivity by removing repetitive tasks, providing suggestions for workforce optimization, and more. AI can also potentially take away natural biases people have that could be misconstrued as favoritism especially when it comes to scheduling and workforce management processes in general. It’s more than just clever code –  AI and machine learning can provide different perspectives you may not have thought about, transforming your HCM solution into an intelligent HCM solution.
  • It needs to be flexible and extensible, so it’ll play well with other systems in case there’s more than one application providing critical business information to your organization's different departments. It should be able to scale with the business while also getting more out of it. Cloud based HCM and workforce management systems are ideal for this, as they require less maintenance and usually have flexible connection protocols that let them interface with many other systems of record.
  • It needs to be transparent, because different levels of the business need different pieces of information. Whether you’re a C-level executive seeking a company overview or an employee looking for past days off, information should be readily available through employee self-service and personalized so it’s easier to understand at the level it’s being accessed.

This recipe enables the business to focus on its strategic goals while allowing managers and employees to focus less on their administrative tasks so they have more time to accomplish business goals, drive success within their teams, and have more meaningful interactions that nurture a more engaged and productive workforce.

3. The future of workforce management goes beyond operational efficiency

Workforce management historically has been an operational practice to manage employees and is often viewed separately from human capital management. In the past few years, it’s transformed tremendously. While minimizing labor costs will always be a business goal, today’s smarter businesses look at how they’re setting up the business and their people for success with their workforce management strategy.

The war for talent has played a huge role in further cementing the bond between workforce and human capital management. Not only does your business need to attract top talent so your competitors don't hire them, but you’ve also got to make it attractive to join your industry. When you boil it down, the workforce management part of an HCM solution can be viewed in three phases:

  1. Manage: An intelligent workforce management solution goes beyond just managing employees and providing management tools. It can suggest ways to prevent employee burnout, find out which employees are on the verge of leaving, and even help recognize and reward your top performers both at the individual contributor and manager levels.
  2. Empower: More than ever, employees want to feel empowered and be able to take meaningful action. This way, employees can feel engaged and truly part of your organization’s culture. The shifts in the recruiting atmosphere have signaled to businesses that the average employee today is looking for more than just a paycheck – they’re looking employers who provide meaningful work, offer them work life balance, and invest in the employee experience and performance management.
  3. Grow: Do you know what else plays a huge role in how engaged employees are? Professional growth. According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, “94 percent of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn.” Workforce management data can help here by showing you things like how long an employee has worked in the same role, how many hours they’ve put in around certain tasks, and where there might be upskilling or reskilling opportunities that would allow them to take the next step in their careers. The point is this information has impacts on things like performance management, payroll, and compensation beyond its traditional areas of application.

Conclusion: Time to turn this newfound workforce management knowledge into action

Now that you’ve learned about workforce management and its crucial role as part of human capital management, I highly recommend you check out the Human Capital Management Buyer’s Guide to learn more about finding the best-fit solution for your organization and the questions you should be asking to get there.

Download the HCM Buyer's Guide