Social security institutions are the face of government in times of need, whether arising from a loss of income or health or the need to take care of children, family or dependent persons. The benefits and quality of social security services are key barometers of public opinion on a country’s political leadership, which makes the job of social security administrators uniquely challenging.
The increasing use of digital technologies is driving public appetite for 24/7, fast and dependable services that are easily accessible even in periods of highly disruptive and extreme events, as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the goals of social security remain constant, namely, to provide income support in times of life contingencies and to serve as instruments of inclusion and social cohesion, digital technologies are uniquely able to respond to the demands of the public for “speed” as a new, core deliverable of social security services. Since, by their very nature, digital technologies are synonymous with speed, the journey of social security to the digital world has become imperative if not inevitable.
Leadership should establish the strategic goals and added value of the institution’s digital transformation. A phased, change management agenda that allows adjustments as the transformation progresses will ensure a successful journey. The undertaking will involve huge investments in time as well as human and technology resources; and the support of managers and employees will be fundamental to its effective implementation.
There can be no exaggeration of the important role of human resources (HR) and human resource management (HRM) in the institution’s digital journey. While technologies define the art of the possible in business operations and services, it is human insight that ideates and drives the choice and application of technologies. The digital maturity of an institution is not embodied solely in the sophistication of its technologies but jointly with the digital literacy and fluency of a workforce that capably applies technologies to augment human skills and amplify institutional capacities.
The ISSA Guidelines on Human Resource Management in Social Security Administration builds on the principles of the ISSA Guidelines on Good Governance. It extends the latter’s guidelines on staff policies on development, retention and succession by elaborating a policy environment and supporting guidelines for HR and HRM that, on the one hand, take advantage of opportunities and, on the other hand, safeguard against risks arising from the evolving digital environment, some of which are the following:
- Meeting public expectations and public trust – Digital technologies deliver speed as a new, core deliverable, and provide 24/7 customer-centric, do-it-yourself social security services. The scalability of digital technologies enables the institution to meet dramatic increases in demand for social security services occasioned by extreme events, population ageing, globalization and migration. Responsive social security services can only increase client satisfaction, which ultimately leads to increased public trust in the institution and the government at large.
- Enhancing staff capacities – The institution’s transformation requires a simultaneous and corresponding upgrade of HR skills to complement the new technologies and, no less important, to develop technical and non-technical skills that respond to new ways of working and the hybrid workplace of the digital world. The upskilling of HR is critical especially for institutions with ageing personnel – the overlap of their service with staff thathave profiles more suitable and/or adaptable to the new forms of work, working methods and work environment will minimize the loss of institutional knowledge.
- Pivoting the HRM function to a more strategic role – Automating repetitive, routine and manual HR processes pivots the HRM function to a more employee-centric approach. Apps can enable data-driven insights on personnel skill gaps, training and development needs, managerial and leadership aptitudes, potential career paths and performance feedback to support strategic HR planning and staff deployment. Artificial intelligence can analyse staff satisfaction with the HR unit’s efforts to promote staff growth and development, gender equality, equal pay for equal work, respect for diversity and non-discrimination.
- Nurturing loyalty and an employer brand of excellent public service – Investing in people promotes professional growth and development. It is one of the highest forms of respect and recognition accorded to staff, which are intangible rewards that can nurture loyalty and minimize turnover rates especially of top performers. Technology-based performance management systems can clearly link staff productivity and performance with the institution’s corporate values, service excellence and positive public image. This reinforces job satisfaction, which is another critical retention factor.
- Proactive reduction of the carbon footprint of social security – Dematerializing processes, saving commuting hours through online services and teleworking, hosting virtual or hybrid meetings and events to minimize the necessity of travel and using apps and social media to communicate are reducing the carbon footprint of social security administration. These need to be proactively tracked and managed against the higher levels of electricity consumption required by digital services, the use of resources to produce devices and infrastructure and the disposal of electronic waste, to ensure a net contribution to sustainable operations.