· Features

HR tech travels: What can the UK learn from overseas?

Despite a certain reluctance to adopt HR tech in the UK, our global peers have no such qualms and provide inspiration for HR tech adoption back home

All employees might well be equal, but it seems not all companies (or all countries) are the same when it comes to their investment in or attitude to HR technology.

So could HRDs here learn from their foreign counterparts? We take a whistle-stop tour to see how different countries’ unique circumstances affect their use of technology, and what UK HRDs might learn.


HR essentials: It has a population of barely 10 million people but is often dubbed the startup hotspot of Europe, being home to brands including Skype and Spotify.

Although it’s the fourth most gender-equal country in the world, and has the fourth happiest staff in the world, the country is heavily unionised and effectively run by works councils who dictate all terms and conditions. Paralysis can be caused by firms that flout agreed rules.

Research says: According to IDC/Cornerstone OnDemand’s latest HR technology report, Sweden tops Europe for access to employee administration tools (85%). It is also best at offering HR information portals, with 87% of organisations offering employees access to admin/ holiday/benefits tools.

What technology is solving: “Sweden is massively preoccupied with compliance, especially adhering to audit trails – it has had gender reporting since 2008 – so everything is geared this way,” says Steve Elcock, founder of HR technology firm Succeed.

Who’s doing it? McDonald’s Sweden: “McDonald’s wanted an iPad-style way of enabling stores to tick off compliance rules, including ensuring staff know food preparation techniques, cleanliness, and have watched videos testing this,” says Elcock. “But the technology does more than just this; behaviours are logged and fed back to the overall HR system, to weight restaurants according to which demonstrate the best L&D results, but also to determine who can provide compliance-ready cover if needed at short notice.” The technology was deployed two years ago, and the savings already run into many £100,000s.

“The UK is definitely more risk averse,” says Elcock, who developed the solution. “The UK tends to be more of the ‘it’s interesting but we’re not ready for it yet’ end of the scale. By comparison, McDonald’s agreed and had the technology in place in just six weeks. HRDs could be far more dynamic with their decision-making.”


HR essentials: Turkey’s population might be 80 million, but its average age is 31 – the youngest of all European countries.

Research says: Deloitte’s 2017 Millennial Survey reveals Turkey’s Millennials believe the next generation (Generation Z; those under 18) are extremely pro-business, with 86% believing businesses have a positive impact on wider society. Most (54%) Millennials say they prefer full-time rather than part-time employment.

What technology is solving: The need to engage, attract and retain young people. According to Universum’s Student Ideal Employee Survey, social media comes a close second place in Turkish students’ employer brand perception (40%, after TV advertising at 43%).

Who’s doing it? Turkey’s fifth-largest private bank, and joint winner of Most innovative deployment of HR technology at the HR Excellence Awards 2017, DenizBank.

Aleksandra Fomina, the bank’s head of employer branding and talent management, was set a huge task in 2015 – to grow the business by 50%. “We’re getting around 10,000 applications a year, which is great,” she says. “But this means we need to use technology to ensure we match the right people to the right roles, and ensure we get people likely to stay.” (A further complication is that for around 70% of new hires, the bank will be the first experience they’ll have had of the workplace.) Fomina says: “We therefore have to make sure we recruit right – to enthuse them, but ensure we get the right standard too.”

Its solution has been to use social media to attract applicants (social media applications are up 20% since 2015), then use Facebook to ask sample questions before video interviews, and finally online tests to whittle down applicants to 3,000, 40% of whom will pass the test.

To ensure the brand remains strong those that fail are still surveyed, while those that are hired are surveyed after three and six months to ensure the onboarding process turns them into brand advocates. “We measure the perception of candidates before and after hire, to ensure we come across as a ‘sincere bank’,” she says. “Facebook features our ‘Game of Bankers’ to enthuse people about our brand, and we know that of the 6,000 players in 2016, 168 have since become branch managers.

“Thanks to Chatbox, followers can contact DenizBank’s HR department through Facebook Messenger and get feedback, normally within the hour,” she adds. “As well as the technology ensuring huge savings are made, time to hire has been reduced from around four weeks to 20 days. Retention is also much better too. Those who join us move to an onboarding platform that prompts tasks, and then feeds data back to determine positions they might want to pursue. Our latest online satisfaction survey revealed satisfaction from new hires was up 15% compared to last year.”


HR essentials: It may well have seen a million migrants enter in the last year, but Germany’s problem is not too many people but too few. The population is set to fall from its 2002 peak of 82 million to 74.5 million by 2050. With 500,000 people set to retire every year, labour shortages across all sectors are now common.

What technology is solving: German businesses are well-known for systems and structure, and tech solutions are increasingly servicing the recruitment side of this – emerging solution providers include SaaS platform Personio, an HR management and recruitment platform that raised €2.1 million in seed funding last year.

Who’s doing it? German railway firm Deutsche Bahn. For Kerstin Wagner, its global head of talent acquisition, recruitment is her biggest concern. “We have 200,000 staff in Germany alone, but need to find 13,000 new staff each year to combat where people are retiring. Our talent acquisition team is 250-strong in its own right.” Innovative use of technology is the answer. “Talent acquisition has to be driven by tech; one of our secondary aims is to be a top employer and I feel HR technology has a role to play in appealing to potential staff.”

She adds: “We have a digital and social thinktank where no idea is too crazy to suggest. Projects from this have included creating virtual reality videos of key jobs – like train technicians – to tour recruitment fairs, but also be in our reception for applicants to experience prior to interview. They show exactly what the role is in a way Millennials want to see.”

She says: “Normally this would require a big budget and lots of time, but we decided to give ourselves three months to test the concept. Our recruitment team is quite tech-savvy anyway, and they partnered with a local video company and did the whole thing for about €20,000. For us the value is getting quality people who have a better idea of what the role entails; but the tech is also a lever for showcasing we are a modern, exciting company.”

The firm isn’t stopping here. Data on all potential talent – however it touches the business – is kept and candidates could be matched several months later. “It never stops,” Wagner says. “We’re looking at using holograms for talent acquisition, and we’re also planning on building a Chatbox messenger-style tool to have better interaction with applicants, and use this for doing more accurate candidate profiling data analytics.”


HR essentials: Thailand has a population of 70 million, but spends just 3.9% of its GDP on health (compared to 10.1% in Japan and 17.9% in America). Thanks to gradual Westernisation it has growing incidences of cancer, heart disease and strokes – these are now the top three causes of death.

What technology is solving: Creating platforms through which health and wellbeing programmes can achieve success.

Who’s doing it? Thailand’s top mobile phone provider, AIS. “Employee wellness is critical to ensuring we meet our business and employees’ needs,” says Kantima Lerlertyuttitham, chief HR officer at AIS. “We began a wellness programme in 2016 by integrating technology from Vitality into our own HR system, which enabled staff to monitor their everyday activity but also allowed us to get a picture of the overall health of our workforce.”

To enable comparisons to be made, a huge data exercise took place where AIS looked at Thailand’s overall population statistics and compared them with the business’s sickness levels to help create a campaign with specific generational advice around suggested activities. Health screenings were supplemented with an app staff downloaded to their phones to record activity.

“In Thailand it’s health benefits rather than pay, holiday, or other aspects of their job that people tend to be really interested in,” says Lerlertyuttitham. “The app enables staff to get rewarded according to levels of activity they have achieved. We now have a hugely rich body of data that we hope can be used to reduce our health insurance costs, and that we know can affect staff engagement. We already know that between 2015-16 we eliminated 780 days’ worth of sick leave, and our average sick leave has fallen by 4.4 days per employee per year. It’s not been possible without taking a technology-based approach to wellbeing.”


According to Motivii CEO Eamon Tuhami (the digital platform that presents managers with summary details from their direct reports about how they are feeling, how their workload is going, and work completed), HRDs in the UK generally lag behind their US counterparts when it comes to HR tech.

“Second-phase HR technology is placing HR at the heart of the business, moving away from admin tasks to more value-add activity,” he says. “But even though this is what I call ‘no excuses technology’ – tech there to do a job – there’s still resistance in the UK. The US is all about performance management, hard data. It needs tech to demonstrate how managers are improving this. It’s a cultural thing that seems to be missing in the UK.”

Benefex CEO Matt Macri-Waller adds: “Hyper-personalisation is the next big trend – it’s why we’ve created our OneHub solution. We provide solutions that enable employees to access HR systems (their holiday, pensions, benefits), but also their work systems, by thinking about employees from a customer-centric point of view. The result is a centralised hub showing staff what they need to do, that has personalised content, recognition, and suggestions based on how they use it.

“While we have 100 clients in 36 markets, the area really leading the way is Singapore and Asia where demand for talent is fierce, and mobility means people want to do work wherever they are.”

Location-based variations or sector specific ones?

It’s the age-old question – is HR tech adoption driven most by geographic region or by sector? Matthew Gregson, SVP of data and analytics at Thomsons Online Benefits, says: “There are significant sector differences: banking and finance tend to lead the way in reward and benefits HR technology – mainly because they employ high-worth people – while technology companies, because they have an outlook that tech can solve problems, always lead in big data, performance management, and people analytics.” That said, he argues this does then cause country-based variation: “US firms differ from European ones in that attitudes to data protection are more at the corporate rather than personal level. So US firms are much more likely to share employee data, which creates a tendency for better HR system integration – where the whole business is seen as a universe of data. In Europe firms will do a great single tech project but won’t be prepared to share it with their operations in other countries.”