Workforce management comprises several distinct areas

© 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 7 Published online in Wiley Online Library ( DOI 10.1002/ert.21428
By its simplest definition, workforce management refers to all of the processes
and activities needed to maintain a productive workforce. As a business discipline,
workforce management comprises several
distinct areas, including time and attendance
tracking, staff scheduling, absence and leave
tracking and compliance, employment-law
compliance, and the emerging area of fatigue
risk management. Although workforcemanagement transactions have been automated
for decades—dating back to the onceubiquitous punch-clock—the discipline has
evolved dramatically in recent years and is
now used in savvy organizations and HR
functions to measure and improve labor
effectiveness and efficiency.
As workforce-management technology
becomes more advanced, it enables organizations to automate a larger portion of critical
labor activities, freeing up time for other
strategic initiatives. In addition, the detailed
information provided by these software solutions gives employers much greater visibility
and insight into their workforce processes,
which enables them to operate more nimbly and make better-informed decisions
based on actual data. The employers that
move beyond the long-standing “punch-in/
punch-out” approach to workforce management and implement the tools and processes
that enable them to better align employee
schedules, activities, and costs with business
objectives are the most likely to see measurable gains.
In light of factors such as an increasingly aggressive regulatory environment and
increased global competition, organizations
have been forced to reevaluate their workforce-management systems and strategies
with an eye toward more robust automation
and greater coverage for compliance requirements. One notable regulatory expansion is
the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has
already been a catalyst for some workforcemanagement process redesign and system
Several trends define the ways in which
organizations are shifting their approach
to these pressing issues. To identify and
explore these trends, WorkForce Software
and Workforce conducted an extensive survey of HR professionals in organizations of
all sizes, industries, and geographic distributions. Released on October 7, 2013, some of
the significant findings from the “Workforce
Management Trend Survey 2013–2014” are
summarized here.
One of the biggest shifts in workforce management today revolves around who actually owns the discipline. Although workforce
management touches nearly every department within an organization, a growing
Key Trends in Workforce Management and New Challenges
for HR
Marc Moschetto
Employment Relations Today
8 Marc Moschetto
Employment Relations Today DOI 10.1002/ert
Another emerging challenge for those
responsible for workforce management is
the constantly growing workload associated
with ensuring compliance. Continuing an
upward trajectory noted in last year’s findings, respondents were 13 times more likely
to report an increase in compliance-related
work than a reduction. The study found two
main reasons for this increase: (1) the rapidly
changing laws and regulations and (2) the
task of demonstrating compliance that is so
crucial to reinforcing employee trust, confidence, and morale.
When asked about the most significant
concern regarding their ability to handle the
burgeoning compliance workload, 71 percent of respondents cited keeping pace with
changing laws and regulations as their biggest
challenge. Not only must HR adhere to these
numerous and intricate policies, but they must
also make sure employees are made aware of
them, which can be particularly challenging
for an employer operating in multiple countries with distinct compliance demands.
In addition, more than a quarter of respondents (28 percent) indicated that labor-law
compliance is primarily an employee morale
and engagement concern, as responses to
labor laws directly influence employee attitudes. For instance, the reclassification of
employees in regard to the ACA employee
mandate has created anxiety about total
hours, wages, and perceived value among
employees, as well as skepticism about the
reasons behind employer policy changes. This
raises legitimate concerns for companies and
their ability to maintain employee engagement. Lean compliance staffing has also
number of companies are consolidating their
workforce-management strategies under HR.
According to WorkForce Software’s research,
68 percent of organizations surveyed house
workforce management in HR, representing
an increase of 12 points from 2012. Not only
does this increase illustrate that organizations
are taking a more holistic view of employee
activities, but it also highlights the growing
awareness of using workforce management
to support employee morale, retention, and
In addition to common talent-related topics, HR teams are also increasingly tasked
with ensuring their companies operate in full
compliance with the many different wage,
hour, and leave regulations at the local and
national levels. A plurality of survey respondents (40 percent) indicated that the task
of managing labor compliance has become
much more difficult over the last year.
Despite the growing challenges associated with ensuring compliance, doing so has
emerged as one of the most significant business priorities for today’s employers. The
risks of noncompliance are numerous and
can generate substantial costs as well as a
drag on performance. Although the dollar
expenses of the fines and penalties resulting from noncompliance are a top concern,
as ranked by 53 percent of respondents, an
almost equal number (52 percent) suggested
the impact of noncompliance with labor
regulations can impair the company. This
highlights the close relationship between
workforce management and employee morale
and retention. A positive corporate brand is
a key feature in a company’s ability to continually attract new talent and retain its best
employees, further emphasizing why workforce management is increasingly handled
by HR.
Winter 2014
Key Trends in Workforce Management and New Challenges for HR 9
Employment Relations Today DOI 10.1002/ert
general, and the high-volume and low-duration
nature of intermittent leave is even more
difficult to track. Moreover, in environments
in which the HR department lacks a formal
mechanism for being alerted to a new leave
case, requests may be received at the last
minute with inadequate time to review eligibility, provide supporting forms, or otherwise
ensure the proper steps have been followed.
Considered to be the most significant piece
of domestic legislation in decades, the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will
have a significant impact on a large number
of employers with operations in the United
States, including 65 percent of survey participants who will be affected by the employer
mandate. In a positive sign, most organizations
are taking a proactive approach to managing
their upcoming ACA obligations. Overall, 60
percent of respondents claim to have a good
understanding of the Act, while only 13
percent indicated that they do not have a
strong understanding of how the ACA will
affect their workforce-management processes.
The sense of active preparation is further
supported by the number of organizations
reporting that they are committed to executing on the ACA strategy they had in place
before the delay on the employer mandate.
Although organizations now have until 2015
prompted fears that employees will receive
fewer communications and be left in the dark
about why policy changes are taking place
and how they will be affected.
While the emergence of new laws, changes
to existing laws, and employees who may not
be clear on the purpose of these changes are
challenging enough, specific changes to leave
entitlements have raised additional concern.
The sheer number and variety of leave entitlements available to employees has grown
at a historic pace in recent years. As a result,
employers operating in the United States can
now be responsible for adhering to more than
300 state regulations from coast to coast, as
well as mandatory sick-time ordinances in
certain major cities and the leave policies
specific to the organization. Companies with
global employee bases face even larger hurdles as they must also maintain compliance
with those international policies.
Among the numerous difficulties in administering leave, one of the most common
challenges is the gaps in the communications
process. In fact, informing HR about leave
in a timely fashion is a top concern, with
nearly half of all respondents (45 percent)
ranking last-minute communication between
managers and HR as a significant challenge.
Another major factor was that leave-related
workloads are often too large for available
staff, as cited by 43 percent of respondents.
Further difficulties include tracking intermittent and reduced-schedule leave.
Taken together, the top challenges affecting leave management reinforce each other.
Overburdened HR professionals may have
limited time to dedicate to managing leave in
Employers operating in the United States can
now be responsible for adhering to more than
300 state regulations from coast to coast, as
well as mandatory sick-time ordinances in certain major cities and the leave policies specific
to the organization.
Employment Relations Today
Marc Moschetto
Employment Relations Today DOI 10.1002/ert
Time and attendance management is the
function most likely to have some degree of
automation, with 40 percent of respondents
using in-house systems, 33 percent relying on
commercial systems, and only 18 percent still
tracking employee time manually. Although
in-house systems tend to be the method of
choice and can be custom-built to meet the
unique needs of the organization, they do
present some limitations. For instance, they
do not always integrate well with other systems or receive updates as commercial systems do, and they are typically less ready for
rapid shifts in functionality to accommodate
new regulatory pressures or changing business models.
The study also showed a significant and
growing correlation between overall user
satisfaction with the various systems and
approaches being used. Unsurprisingly, manual administration and a mix of disparate systems proved to be the two least satisfactory
approaches to workforce management. Commercial and outsourced approaches received
the best reviews, while in-house systems for
staff scheduling were rated highly as well.
This suggests that scheduling practices are
more fundamentally distinct by industry and
company than other workforce-management
The study found that one of the biggest factors contributing to dissatisfaction
with workforce-management systems is the
amount of manual work still required, with
more than half of all respondents (52
percent) saying there is still too much manual
work involved. The other major concern
was poor integration with other systems,
as noted by 40 percent of respondents. As
workforce-management functions continue
to be brought under HR’s leadership, more
attention is being paid to how a unified view
to ensure ACA compliance, 63 percent of
respondents suggested they are pressing on
with their plans.
The survey also revealed that most organizations with US operations are concerned
with how the ACA will affect their business, particularly in terms of their part-time
or contingent workforces. The biggest fears
regard how complications affecting the hours
of part-time workers can damage employee
satisfaction and retention. This is especially
important for organizations in which contingent workers make up a large portion of their
workforces. Some respondents noted that the
ability to offer flexible work schedules is a
central recruiting tool, and as such, compliance with the ACA’s employer mandate will
have a deep impact on their contingent-labor
practices. Regardless of the extent to which
organizations are affected by the ACA, it is
clear that most employers are ready to make
the investments in more capable workforcemanagement solutions to address the labor
regulations they currently face.
Although workforce management continues
to be consolidated under the HR function,
and is increasingly viewed as a pillar in
achieving employee engagement and operational efficiency, organizations still report
lackluster results against those goals. A primary reason for the delta between ambition
and achievement in these areas is a lack of
sophisticated workforce-management tools
in place at most organizations. Despite the
rapid evolution of workforce management
and the growing number of tools available to
automate those key processes, the majority
of organizations rely primarily on in-house
systems or manual processes.
Key Trends in Workforce Management and New Challenges for HR 11
Employment Relations Today DOI 10.1002/ert
Winter 2014
of labor data can support effective decisions. This is confirmed by the number of
large organizations indicating that the biggest
shortcoming of their workforce-management
systems was not manual labor but poor integration. And, as many organizations continue
to use distinct, internally developed systems,
integration continues to be a serious obstacle.
The study also explored the causes, impacts,
and business responses to employee fatigue.
As overworked and overtired employees are
more prone to accidents, employee fatigue
is and continues to be a major concern for
safety-intensive organizations. However,
research shows that fatigued workers are less
productive and more prone to make mistakes
in any setting, not just those environments
and industries where personal and coworker
safety are at risk. The survey confirms the
growing concern for employee fatigue, with
more than half of all respondents indicating
that workers are more fatigued than in previous years. In addition, 71 percent of organizations reported fatigue as having a moderate to
major impact on employee performance.
When asked about the specific risks posed
by employee fatigue, the answers varied by
industry type. Those in the manufacturing,
energy, and health-care fields cited safety
concerns as their top fatigue-related issue,
but business and professional services organizations cited negative business outcomes and
poor performance.
There are several concerns regarding
employee fatigue consistent across different
industries as well. Leading the pack among
the top concerns for both safety-focused and
performance-focused industries is employee
morale. This can be explained by the link
between employees being overworked or
inadequately rested and feeling less enthusiastic about their jobs. One potential result is
unplanned turnover, and the resulting costs
and impacts can cause major deterioration of
business performance.
Given the significant repercussions and
costs associated with fatigue, the survey
aimed to reveal the biggest barriers to successful fatigue management. The most commonly cited obstacle was budget constraints,
which indicates that organizations recognize
the problems posed by employee fatigue but
lack the adequate resources to comprehensively address it.
Still, for many organizations, the challenge
is in understanding how fatigue affects the
business, as they do not realize that if left
unchecked, fatigue can lead to additional
time off due to sickness, accident, injury,
or attrition due to overwork or stress. This
correlation emphasizes the interconnected
nature of workforce-management functions,
as the areas of scheduling, attendance policies, and absences each contribute to and are
affected by employee fatigue.
Strategies for Mitigating Fatigue
Although many organizations report insufficient
resources to address fatigue holistically, a large
portion of survey respondents report at least
some level of prevention strategy at work today.
As workforce-management functions continue to
be brought under HR’s leadership, more attention is being paid to how a unified view of
labor data can support effective decisions.
12 Marc Moschetto
Employment Relations Today DOI 10.1002/ert
Employment Relations Today
work-life balance training, schedule balancing, and office-relaxation programs and
activities, with health and wellness programs
receiving the greatest number of mentions.
The survey also found differences in the
use of fatigue-management practices based
on an organization’s size and geographic
footprint. For instance, globally distributed
companies tend to favor adjusting schedules
(52 percent) rather than using flextime. This
difference indicates some challenges organizations may have with implementing flextime
on a larger scale, or perhaps the regulatory
or cultural obstacles regarding flextime in
certain regions. In addition, highly distributed organizations are more likely to utilize
telecommuting (32 percent) as a strategy for
addressing employee fatigue. As communication and collaboration technologies continue to improve, telecommuting will likely
become a more popular option for mitigating employee fatigue risk and increasing
employee engagement.
The survey points toward a maturation of
workforce-management infrastructure under
way among employers of all sizes, with large
organizations more apt to be ahead of the
curve. One catalyst for this evolution is the
need for increased visibility into, and analytics about, an organization’s workforce due to
new market and regulatory conditions. This is
especially important given the uncertainty and
confusion faced by many organizations and
their employees in light of the ACA implementation. However, the greatest takeaway may
be the increasingly strong linkage between
workforce management and employee engagement, satisfaction, and morale.
Among the numerous methods of addressing
employee fatigue, the most widely used strategy
is flextime, with more than a third of participants (35 percent) indicating the use of this
practice. Another effective strategy for mitigating fatigue risks is schedule adjustments, which
are used by 34 percent of respondents.
It is important to note that these two practices are not mutually exclusive, as they share
a common dimension: added complexity for
the scheduler. This highlights again the elevation of advanced workforce-management
techniques, as both flextime and scheduling
adjustments are rooted in an understanding
of hours worked, essential skills, and available personnel. The use of these strategies
also underscores the need for sophisticated
scheduling systems to make fatigue-related
adjustments easier for managers to administer in real time. Despite the fact that more
organizations aim to mitigate employee
fatigue, almost a third (32 percent) reported
that they currently do not have a strategy
in place, further indicating how many organizations still lack the resources to address
fatigue appropriately.
In addition to flextime and schedule
adjustments, participants indicated that they
use a wide range of strategies to mitigate
fatigue, including the implementation of telecommuting policies, providing stressmanagement training, and relying on contingent labor. Less-utilized methods are the
provision of health and wellness programs,
As communication and collaboration technologies continue to improve, telecommuting will
likely become a more popular option for mitigating employee fatigue risk and increasing
employee engagement.
Key Trends in Workforce Management and New Challenges for HR 13
Employment Relations Today DOI 10.1002/ert
Winter 2014
Although the processes that comprise
workforce management, such as scheduling, timekeeping, and leave management, are
geared toward saving time, reducing errors,
and boosting profitability, the operational
gains are only part of the story. Each of these
activities touches on matters that are sensitive and deeply personal for employees:
when they work, how they work, and their
rights when they take leaves. As such, more
organizations have recognized the importance
of workforce-management functions, process
refinements, and new-solution purchases and
their role in making the organization a more
desirable place to work.
The other major takeaway from the survey
is the growing interest in analytics platforms
and leave-management automation that can
deliver new workforce-based efficiencies
to mitigate lost productivity. Still, the need to
increase operational efficiencies and raise
employee engagement is not in conflict;
they just highlight the growing demand for
workforce-management programs that are
transparent and fair, while delivering more
timely, reliable, and actionable data for centralized analysis. Increased expectations
about what workforce management can and
should deliver have led to higher rates of dissatisfaction with manual processes. As such,
a workforce-management strategy shaped by
people but built on the right tools can mean
the difference between measurable improvements and breakthrough results.
Marc Moschetto brings more than two decades of technology marketing experience
to his role as the vice president of marketing at WorkForce Software. He has delivered
his insights on technology and business needs, outsourced employee-benefits administration, and workforce management in articles in various publications, webcast
presentations, blogs, and social-networking sites, as well as traditional seminars and
presentations. Previously, he was the director of industry marketing and corporate
communications at Workscape and has held senior marketing roles at human capital
management providers Infor/Workbrain and SmartTime as well as General Electric. He
may be contacted at [email protected]
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