e-HRM aims and impact

According to the literature, organizations invest in e-HRM based on three aims: increase efficiency, increase effectiveness, and transform the HRM function, freeing it from administrative tasks and making it a business strategic partner (Bondarouk, Ruel, & van der Heijden, 2009; Lepak & Snell, 1998; Marler, 2009; R^l et al., 2004). To these three aims, Ruel et al. (2004) add a fourth, which seems to motivate, particularly, large international organizations: improve the organization's global orientation through HR policies and practice standardization and harmonization. Nevertheless, some authors also suggest that organizations do not always clearly define their aims to implement e-HRM; in a majority of situations, its efforts are directed essentially toward efficiency increase and cost reduction (Bondarouk & R^l, 2013; Parry & Tyson, 2011; R^l et al., 2004).

The challenge is to understand what the real e-HRM results or consequences are in organizations. Although the investment initially needs to be done in e-HRM systems (in financial terms and time for people to adapt to them), did they become compensatory in the short and medium term? Will it be possible to verify effective cost reduction? Will HR processes be superior in quality? Will the HR manager get a more strategic function, or instead, being replaced by machines, will his job cease to exist? Many authors have been looking to answer these and other questions about e-HRM impact using different methodologies, levels of analysis, and operationalization concepts.

In what concerns e-HRM impact at the efficiency level, although the studies that have been carried out do point to positive results, they are not always conclusive. So some studies have been suggesting an efficiency increase resultant from other diverse e-HRM intermediate consequences, which are also interrelated, such as HRM people reduction, direct cost reduction or the higher speed of processes resulting from its automation, and the involvement of other organizational actors in its implementation (Dery, Grant & Wiblen, 2009; Parry & Tyson, 2011; Ruel et al., 2004; Ruta, 2005; Strohmeier, 2007).

We cannot ignore that some of these advantages result from HRM responsibility changes for line managers and top management (Strohmeier, 2007), the reason why it will be necessary to evaluate if the additional time spent by these organizational actors in the performance of these tasks compensates for the time reduction for HR managers.

The results of these studies should, therefore, be interpreted with some caution, considering that in some of them, the e-HRM impact was evaluated based on the perceptions of the inquired organizational actors (e.g., top management) and not on data and real number consultation and analysis (Parry & Tyson, 2011; Ruel et al., 2004). Although this perception can be seen as an extremely relevant indicator so that organizations, in general, understand the importance in evolving to an e-HRM, it is critical that this kind of data be complemented in the future with more concrete and palpable results.

Another relevant question is related to the additional time that HR managers may need to adapt to e-HRM. Indeed, if, on one hand, these professionals spend less time with administrative and routine tasks, on the other hand, they need more time to develop the necessary competencies to work with HRM systems (Gardner, Lepak, & Bartol, 2003; Strohmeier, 2007). These changes justify an in-depth study about its impact in a medium term.

Many authors have also tried to study the specific impact of some areas of e-HRM, e-recruitment/e-selection being the most frequently studied. At this level, many studies suggest a considerable reduction of global costs due to the efficiency increase in recruitment and selection and to the (consequent) reduction of employee turnover and costs with personnel management processes (Buckley, Minette, Joy, & Michaels, 2004).

About e-HRM impact at the effectiveness level (namely, the quality of HR services), nevertheless the positive tendency, results are also hybrid and limited. Research shows that, generally, e-HRM helps enhance the capability of responding, in terms of information supply, to other organizational actors as well as improve technician autonomy in the management of this same information, allowing, at the same time, a great connection to specialist networks (Gardner et al., 2003).

Nevertheless, when e-recruitment results are specified, for instance, conclusions highlight advantages and disadvantages. Some studies suggest that although e-recruitment increases the number of vacancies, frequently, their quality is smaller (Chapman & Webster, 2003). Other studies suggest that online recruitment is globally more effective than any formal recruitment source (McManus & Ferguson, 2003). Others still call attention to some moderate variables of the relation between online job vacancies and recruitment process quality (i.e., candidate qualification and its alignment or fit with the function open), namely, the type of job portal where the vacancy is announced, since specialized portals seem to guarantee better results (Jattuso & Sinar, 2003).

In what concerns the potential segregationist or discriminatory effect of online recruitment (supposedly a limitation to job offers access to some minorities), some studies show that when compared with other formal recruitment sources, e-recruitment seems to reach a large number of candidates belonging to minority groups (Chapman & Webster, 2003; McManus & Ferguson, 2003).

In sum, studies suggest an e-HRM positive impact at the level of the efficiency and effectiveness of HR processes, making more studies necessary, and with better quality, in order to defintely corroborate this relation.

Related to the e-HRM impact in HR policies and practice standardization and harmonization—and although it is understandable that the approach, through e-HRM, of geographically distant actors makes this task easy (Ruel et al., 2004)—what is true is that this subject has been neglected in scientific research (Strohmeier, 2007).

Last, empirical evidence about e-HRM transformational role has been scarce and inconclusive. Indeed, in 2007, Strohmeier proceeded to conduct a literature review about the subject, selecting 57 high-quality researches that had been conducted since 1995 and concluded that despite e-HRM transformational potential suggested by the studies, their results were not sufficiently robust and conclusive. Later, in 2013, Marler and Fisher analyzed 40 quality studies published between 1999 and 2011. From this analysis, they concluded that the empirical support to this e-HRM result is indeed small and limited. So from the 40 studies considered, only six specifically have tested this result, and none of them have used a research methodology that permits to derive the cause-effect relations between e-HRM implementation and HRM role transformation. But out of the six studies, only three were conducted at the organizational level, and only two of them found a positive relation between both variables. The remaining three studies were conducted at the individual level (i.e., they have analyzed the perception of the organizational actors about e-HRM) and have ascertained the different results to be inconclusive.

Nevertheless, it should be stressed that this does not mean that e-HRM does not have this transformational potential, but only that it is not yet promoted in most organizations. Releasing HR managers from administrative tasks (through process automation and the devolvement of some of these tasks), e-HRM established conditions for them in order to have more time to support strategic management decisions. Besides, as seen earlier, e-HRM allows HR professionals to easily communicate with all internal stakeholders and quickly produce detailed reports about relevant indicators at the HR level, which is indeed a very important source of information for top management and the decisions that they need to make. The only problem is that organizations have not yet taken advantage of this potentiality, despite the HRM strategic role being defended for decades by all authors of this research area.

Finally, considering that the aim of HRM will always be to contribute to organizational performance improvement, it will be relevant to understand in what way e-HRM makes it easier, or not, to obtain this aim. Nevertheless, and according to Marler and Fisher (2013), any research had studied, until today, the relationship between e-HRM implementation and organizational performance measures (namely, competitive advantage). Probably it is due to the difficulty not only in having access to the necessary information to this type of studies due to barriers put by organizations themselves (Marler & Fisher, 2013) but also in operationalizing variables involved in this relation, considering that many other factors besides HRM influence organizational performance, making it difficult to discriminate their independent effects.

In conclusion, we can consider that the e-HRM potential in HR process improvement is indeed undeniable; however, more studies with better quality are necessary in order to reach robust conclusions at this level and to define what moderate variables can influence results obtained with e-HRM, in order to derive an implementation model of e-HRM systems.

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