The Future of Work is… Human! Let’s Talk About Artificial Intelligence in HR

By Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady, on August 15, 2019

A few weeks ago, I flew into London’s Gatwick airport. US citizens could go through the automatic passport control—stick your passport in, smile at the camera, and go through! Time-saving and perfect! My daughter went through without a hitch. I, on the other hand, was stuck. Nothing I could do would make the machine grant me entrance into the United Kingdom. Artificial intelligence in HR should be limited and in support of your human employees’ talents to be effective.

The solution, of course, was human. A border agent looked at me, looked at my passport, and waved me on through.

On the other hand, while coming home from the UK, the body scanner said there was something wrong with my bare calves. The security guard patted down my bare skin. I asked her why, and she said that the ties on my capri pants set off the machine.

What I didn’t ask her (but wanted to) was why she didn’t use her own judgment to see that, indeed, bare skin does not need to be patted down to ascertain that I was not hiding any weapons, or heaven forbid, liquid, inside my calves.

When people talk about the future of work, there is often an immediate turn toward robots and artificial intelligence. One day, we will all sit on the beach, sipping cool drinks while robots do everything. Or, we will live in a dark dystopian world where the robots control everything. Take your pick.

Emphasizing the Human in Human Resources

Computers do make life more comfortable and will eliminate a lot of basic tasks, but the solutions will always come from humans.

In my travel adventures, the first human solved the problem the computer couldn’t solve, but in the second, the human blindly accepted the computer’s determination. And that’s where we have issues.

We use computers to assist us in Employee Relations cases. Some companies even allow you to report harassment or other troubling behavior via a chatbot. Some employees find it easier to describe what happened to a series of AI questions than to sit down face-to-face with an employee relations manager.

Ultimately, decisions need to be made by humans for the benefit of humans. Here’s what the future of work looks like in terms of artificial intelligence in HR.

A Necessary, Compassionate Human Element

All of us in HR say “our people are our most important asset!” and that doesn’t change in the future. We need to support, develop, train, promote and praise our people if we want our businesses to succeed.

Every employee needs a listening ear and a helpful hand. This won’t change.

Unfortunately, harassment and discrimination problems aren’t likely to go away either. There will always be the need for a respectful employee relations professional to sit and listen to someone’s story and then conduct a proper investigation.

We can use technology to help us with this. The chatbots can take a report, but they can’t make a decision. They also can’t comfort an employee who is crying and upset over what happened. They can’t decide that this person should receive some slack on production standards because his or her mother just died. (Well, I suppose you could program that in, but let’s be serious here.)

In other words, human employees will still need human resources to help them through the day to day of work-life.

Recruiting and Keeping the Best Talent Happy

Additionally, your current employees become more critical. Technology will take many entry-level or easily automated jobs (hundreds of people went through those automatic passport readers without a hitch!), leaving the available positions as either technically or physically complex. Both types of jobs can be hard to fill.

This means you need to focus on keeping your employees happy, productive and engaged to work for your company. That won’t happen without employee-focused policies and practices. Some people may argue that, in the future, we’ll have far more people than we have jobs. And that may or may not be accurate (somehow, all the candle-makers and horseshoers of days past managed to change their careers), but what will be true is that employees will need skills to succeed.

Once you have those skilled people on-board, you won’t want to lose them. It may also mean you’ll have to invest more in training and development. It may mean partnering with universities and trade schools to help them develop the people you need.

The future of work is human, which makes human resources all the more important. No technology will change that, but it can support you. Contact us to learn more about how technology and data in the HR world can be beneficial.

Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady
Suzanne Lucas, The Evil HR Lady

Suzanne Lucas is a freelance writer who spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. She's sure not evil. She's super nice! Learn more about her at www.evilhrlady.org and email her directly for decidedly unevil advice.

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