How HR is leading the way in AI-empowered workplaces

by Maritsa Grewe: HOD: School of Commerce, Milpark Education
A recent study by the Pew Research Centre shows that just 10 percent of the US population find artificial intelligence (AI) more exciting than concerning. This shines a light on perceptions in workplaces in all sectors of industry, across the world. Fortunately, in the realm of human resources (HR), there is a different mindset. In many instances, they are the ones showing employees the possibilities of using these time-saving tools.

Forty years ago, when computers were introduced to people around the world, many were scared. They didn’t know how to use these strange, new machines; they thought that computers would take their jobs. And in some cases, they did: around 3 million jobs were lost in the United States. However, 19 million were created, and many existing jobs were improved.

Fast forward to the present day, and you’ll see the same concerns expressed about artificial intelligence (AI). According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Centre, just 10 percent of the American population find AI more exciting than concerning, while 52% find it more concerning than exciting. Again, many people are afraid that they’ll be replaced.

But in human resources department, this isn’t the case. Here, AI is incredibly popular: 81% of HR leaders report using artificial intelligence at work. This is an interesting phenomenon that deserves some unpacking. What are they doing – hand what have they found?

HR in the pre-AI era

A day in the life of HR personnel has traditionally involved tasks such as screening job applicants, processing staff leave, and developing training programmes. Much of the work is administrative and requires sifting through dozens, if not hundreds, of CVs and LinkedIn profiles.

Where HR excels, of course, is when it gets the chance to improve, maintain, and support an organisation’s people, finding ways to upskill and train staff, to maximise potential and productivity. In the so-called learning and development space, employees are informed about courses and training programmes. Depending on a certain workplace, an innovative HR manager might be able to spot the potential for employees to learn more about new techniques in machine learning to expand on their existing skills in the workplace.

Then there’s also policy: it’s up to HR to develop the policies that shape a workplace, from creating a sustainable, inclusive workplace, to ensuring that an organisation’s strategies are in line with regulations and the law.

AI is changing HR – and HR personnel are here for it

Some parts of the HR official’s job can be handled by AI, but these tasks are primarily administrative. While AI can be a part of the hiring process – it cannot conduct interviews. It cannot lead the questioning process, changing direction mid-conversation in response to a particular comment, or reformulating questions to obtain clearer answers to particularly important questions.

AI’s role in the hiring process mirrors its role in other aspects of the human resources field: it is an information aggregator and content producer – and most importantly, a quick one. In a world where burnout is not only common, but on the rise, having AI handle extraneous tasks can relieve the everyday pressures of work; in turn, this can improve employee health, satisfaction, and productivity.

In other words, it allows us to focus on the tasks that only we can do those innovative, creative, empathetic and relationship-building tasks that make work worthwhile. Even so, many people remain on the fence, if not downright fearful, about the technology.

Just 31% of people say they’d let AI choose whether they get hired, citing hardwired discrimination as a major reason. And they’re not off the mark: AI has, historically, discriminated against minorities, particularly in cases where it was is built using non-diverse information. But that’s changing according to Forbes, AI is now being used to identify bias and exclusion within workplaces, and in so doing, it is showing companies where they can improve inclusivity and diversity.

Quelling the fear

Until we spend time using AI, we’ll remain fearful of it. Within an organisation, the HR department needs to take initiative and begin educating other employees about the uses, benefits, challenges and dangers of these tools.

It’s up to HR to introduce new processes around AI, facilitate their operations, and follow up on employee wellbeing thereafter. Additionally, for the sake of its employees and customers, an organisation needs to be transparent about where and how it is using artificial intelligence – especially if it is being used in any situation where human empathy is a key component.

With a culture of transparency, education, and improvement regarding AI processes, an organisation can begin to reap the benefits that artificial intelligence promises. That key benefit, as AI proponents will say, is time: more time for thinking and innovation, time for ourselves and what we enjoy at our work. These outcomes are not somewhere in the distance – for many, they’re already here.

Final thoughts

As these tools are introduced and integrated into an organisation’s everyday workings, we need to remain conscious of people’s very real fears of what they are confronting. We must ensure that by spending mediated, educative time with artificial intelligence, our teams become aware that this technology will not replace them but will improve their output. In this way, we ensure that what the World Economic Forum says will become true: that AI is “transforming good work into great work”.

Useful resources:
Milpark Education
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