The holiday season is upon us, but it isn’t necessarily the most wonderful time of the year for human resources professionals. Open enrollment makes this a really stressful time for HR staffers who are being flooded with questions about benefits, requirements and deadlines. It can be especially overwhelming for small and midsized companies with limited HR staff.

Technology solutions can make open enrollment and a variety of other tasks more manageable for HR. In particular, chatbots and virtual digital assistants (VDAs) that leverage conversational artificial intelligence (AI) can help automate many human resources processes.

Conversational AI systems use a voice interface to enable natural and seamless conversations between humans and computers. Chatbots can handle a variety of routine questions about benefits and policies, thus improving employee engagement and freeing up HR staff to focus on more strategic assignments.

Studies suggest that HR employees spend up to 50 percent of their workday answering repetitive questions from employees about insurance plans, deductibles, vacation accrual, holiday schedules and more. According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 38 percent of HR professionals say these repetitive engagements represent their single biggest management challenge.

Using chatbots for such tasks not only reduces the burden on HR staff but can improve the overall employee experience. Employees don’t have to waste time trying to reach the right HR representative with multiple phone calls or emails — they can engage with a chatbot or VDA at any time from either a desktop computer or a mobile device.

In a recent ServiceNow survey of HR professionals, 92 percent said they believe chatbots can be an important tool in helping employees find information and solve their problems. As such, 75 percent said they plan to deploy some form of chatbot technology within the next two years.

In addition to offloading routine inquiries, chatbots can be used to automate and various other tasks in order to enhance HR operations, improve processes and reduce costs.

The recruiting process is one area where chatbots are proving to be valuable. Screening applicants is notoriously time-consuming, with multiple studies indicating that roughly three-quarters of all job applicants aren’t actually qualified for the job. Chatbots use advanced language processing and machine learning capabilities to quickly assess large numbers of potential candidates for specific skillsets and rapidly identify the most qualified candidates. The bots can even initiative communications with applicants to clarify or confirm application information.

Once a hiring decision is made, bots can be used to improve onboarding and training processes by serving as an always-available advisor. They can provide guidance about tax forms, payroll forms, non-disclosure agreements, employee handbooks and other new-hire paperwork. They also provide answers to policy and procedural questions and can walk new employees through training on core software. Some research suggests that the interactive nature of bot-led training makes it more effective than standard training videos or PowerPoint presentations.

Bots can also help HR identify advancement opportunities for employees. Typically, such conversations only occur during the annual performance review, but some enterprise organizations are now using chatbots to perform continuous reviews and query employees about their interests and skills in order to identify potential career shifts.

Chatbots and digital assistants obviously have their limitations. Conversational AI is still a work in progress, and it takes time for bots to learn and adapt to the nuances of human language. Nevertheless, they can reduce workloads through increased automation. For overworked HR staff, that could make open enrollment a season to be jolly.