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Electronic Revolution: How It Has Changed Human Resources

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Issue Date:Sunday, November 05, 2006

By: Sarah B. Hood

 

WE LIVE IN AN AGE OF REVOLUTION. Humanity has seen great technological changes in its past: there was the Neolithic Revolution (when we moved from a nomadic existence to settled farming life) and the Industrial Revolution (when machines made factory production and travel much faster, cheaper and more efficient than ever before). But these changes took place over very long periods; there has never before been a time when innovation moved so fast.

In fact, one effect of the electronic revolution seems to have been an essential change in our ideas about technology in the workplace. Once, a young person might have enrolled in a secretarial college, expecting to pick up skills that would last a lifetime. Now, workers at all levels and in all fields know that any electronic tool will be upgraded or replaced in a matter of months, and that the rate of change is continually speeding up.

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“I’ve been in the field for over 30 years, and I was on the ground floor when the Internet started to be used,” says Al Doran, president of Phenix Management International in Toronto. “I was at York University as director of HR Management Systems and Payroll, and we implemented PeopleSoft before it was a web-based system. In the university community we were very early adopters.”

“I took early retirement in 1996 and ever since then, I’ve worked with companies that were trying to find the best software systems,” Doran continues. “When I started, HRMS [Human Resources Management Systems] was a bit of a black box, and only a few people would get into it. Now HRMA tools are mainly Internet-based, and they’re accessed by people right through the length and breadth of the entire company, especially managers.”

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“E-recruitment is one of the areas that have grown the most and the fastest,” says Doran. One of its advantages is that it opens every company to international applicants. Whereas some of Doran’s clients fear they may be swamped with applicants whose qualifications do not meet North American standards, he says, others embrace it—like a medical facility that has filled many nursing jobs with excellent candidates from the Philippines.



“You will always have 20 or 25% who don’t feel comfortable or don’t know how, and who just want to talk to somebody in person,” says Reilly. “The Internet isn’t going to replace talking to someone when you have any kind of employee relations issue. The danger is reducing head count so far that you don’t have the people there. Ideally, it will allow you to spend more time with employees on issues where you need to give your time.”



“It’s good for employers, now that the little guy has a tool to protect themselves,” says Doran.

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Has the Internet created a new discipline problem, with a significant amount of company time being hijacked for frivolous web surfing? “If you’ve got a trusted employee, this should not be an issue, but if you’ve got a new employee, you’ve got to let them know what your policies are,” says Doran. “You should have a written policy, and it should be communicated to employees, and re-communicated.” To enforce it, “You can screen the web sites they visit, the amount of time they spend on the Internet and the content of e-mails that they’re sending and receiving.” (But check your provincial privacy laws first.)

Doran cites a famous case, in which the New York Times fired dozens of people for receiving dirty jokes via e-mail: “That’s going too far. You can’t help what you’re receiving,” he says. “Until you send one, you aren’t really responsible, but if you’re sending big attachments, that’s plugging up the pipeline.”



Overall, benefits abound. “It’s an amazing field,” says Doran. “One of the battles I had when I started was that I couldn’t get HR managers to listen to me when I said they needed to know about technology. That problem doesn’t exist now. Things have really changed for the better, because HR people are educated in what technology can do for them.”  


“Overuse of the Internet is essentially the same problem as the employee using the phone for too many calls,” says Turnbull. “You can legislate against it, but I think every employer has recognized that employees need to use communications devices for personal reasons. The question is: is it excessive?”
Although employers have the right to prohibit any use of the Internet that’s not work-related, Doran and several of his colleagues say they believe it’s more productive to allow a certain amount of freedom, because employees can access so much valuable information from their work station. Barring obvious prohibitions, such as pornographic and racist material, says Rousseau, “You have to trust your employees. If there are abuses, this trust has to be reconsidered. I am aware of some cases of abuse, but I would say I see less of these problems today compared to when it was first introduced.”
Whether or not they find help on the company web site, employees have learned that the Internet is a quick source of information and even personal support in every possible problem area, from family difficulties to addictions to workplace bullying.
Doran says that the biggest mistake is failing to automate the process to the point of differentiating good candidates from poor ones. “The poorer way is just to have people submit their resume,” he says, mentioning MedHunters.com as a model of good e-recruiting practice. “One of the areas that really understands how to hire using core competencies is the medical profession. If they’re looking for an operating room nurse, they can fill out point by point all the things they’re looking for. I saw them once fill 19 new job requests in one hour, and 17 of the 19 agreed to fly to Corpus Cristi, Texas in the next week to be interviewed.”

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“It’s not really a technical issue. It’s a question of how much information one person can take in,” says Doran. “On the plus side, the communications is so much better that the employee who needs help now is able to search for it in their own home or during a quiet time at their desk. Of course, they’ll still have to step out of their office and meet with someone. You don’t want to say ‘Okay, from now on anyone who’s experiencing abuse at home or who has a drug problem will have to fill out a form online.’”

snip

Has the Internet created a new discipline problem, with a significant amount of company time being hijacked for frivolous web surfing? “If you’ve got a trusted employee, this should not be an issue, but if you’ve got a new employee, you’ve got to let them know what your policies are,” says Doran. “You should have a written policy, and it should be communicated to employees, and re-communicated.” To enforce it, “You can screen the web sites they visit, the amount of time they spend on the Internet and the content of e-mails that they’re sending and receiving.” (But check your provincial privacy laws first.)

Doran cites a famous case, in which the New York Times fired dozens of people for receiving dirty jokes via e-mail: “That’s going too far. You can’t help what you’re receiving,” he says. “Until you send one, you aren’t really responsible, but if you’re sending big attachments, that’s plugging up the pipeline.”


snip




Overall, benefits abound. “It’s an amazing field,” says Doran. “One of the battles I had when I started was that I couldn’t get HR managers to listen to me when I said they needed to know about technology. That problem doesn’t exist now. Things have really changed for the better, because HR people are educated in what technology can do for them.”  
Although employers have the right to prohibit any use of the Internet that’s not work-related, Doran and several of his colleagues say they believe it’s more productive to allow a certain amount of freedom, because employees can access so much valuable information from their work station. Barring obvious prohibitions, such as pornographic and racist material, says Rousseau, “You have to trust your employees. If there are abuses, this trust has to be reconsidered. I am aware of some cases of abuse, but I would say I see less of these problems today compared to when it was first introduced.”



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