4 reasons why HR leaders need to be ready for AI in their workplaces

Artificial intelligence (AI) is disrupting traditional HR practices in many ways according to Purnima Nandy, who explains that  there are four reasons why HR leaders need to be ready for AI disruption at their workplaces

One of the biggest change agents in organisations today is technology. Technology has changed and continues to change the way organisations are structured, through the likes of virtual teams, remote workplaces and outsourcing of departments to other countries. Ways in which organisations work are also changing, through the likes of online meeting rooms; e-learning, online performance appraisals, video recruiting, virtual customer service platforms, chatbots and e-financial platforms. There are a range of technologies disrupting organisations and HR, but the one that can be considered the biggest is AI.

AI in the form of chatbots, learning platforms, machine learning systems, voice recognition systems as well as virtual assistants, are becoming more commonplace in the workplace. Many researchers claim that it is not too far away till humans and AI work together as colleagues.

The role of HR leaders is critical in this process, as HR needs to manage and navigate this change in their organisations effectively and without upsetting their human capital. But the biggest question is, whether HR leaders are ready for this change? Many leaders today do not understand AI technology, and hence are either unaware of its consequence or dependent on technical experts to lead the way – which can be detrimental as the risk is that the human side of change will be neglected. Other leaders still believe that AI is a thing of the future and no actions need to be taken at present.

“Many people understand AI based on what is depicted in movies and the media, which in reality, is far from the truth”

However, there is every reason to believe that the time to understand and welcome AI is now. Here are four reasons why HR leaders need to be ready for AI disruption in the workplace:

1. AI is already here. Whether one accepts it or not, AI is already here in our workplace in some form or another. As HR leaders, we need to understand how it works but also introduce it to the teams in a positive way. The most common AI systems today are chatbots in customer service systems or in the form of machine learning for employees. Both employees and customers need to be made comfortable in using these systems by having sound ethical and privacy policies in place. It thus becomes the role of HR to put these policies into place and train relevant personnel in them. If leaders feel that their organisation is not yet ready for AI but is falling behind in competition because of a lack of AI systems, education and communication are required to help become more competitive in the market.

2. Employees fear AI. Excluding Gen Z, who welcome technology-driven workplaces, employees (especially baby boomers) who are in leadership positions and Gen Xs are – generally speaking – not very welcoming of technology disruptions. In fact, industry researchers have revealed that employees are afraid of AI and believe that AI in the workplace will cost them their jobs. Although it is true that artificial intelligence systems will replace a lot of mundane, repetitive administrative roles, the human element and human-driven skills cannot be replaced. Many people understand AI based on what is depicted in movies and the media, which in reality, is far from the truth. It thus becomes the primary responsibility of HR leaders to mitigate this fear through clear communication strategies, upskilling and role revisions in the workplace to help get employees ready for this change.

“Other leaders still believe that AI is a thing of the future and no actions need to be taken at present”

3. AI is expensive. Putting AI systems in place requires considerable financial investment. The cost of managing the systems, fixing issues, user training, system security all collectively add up when it comes budgeting – not to mention restructuring certain roles and keeping customers aware of changes. As HR leaders, the responsibility of making this investment sustainable through working with employees is crucial. If employees reject the change, then investments will not deliver optimal ROI.

4. AI is not human exclusive. Despite common misconceptions, AI is not here to replace humans. This is possibly the most important message HR leaders should communicate. AI will replace certain roles and kinds of work, but cannot take away the human element from organisations. It is often a forgotten fact that AI is created, managed and programmed by humans; so humans who need to be on the right side of things and leaders of an organisation can help with checking this.

The future of organisations and future work structures cannot be exclusive of AI and AI-driven systems. The benefits of AI systems can already be seen in the medical field with accurate analysis of symptoms, in aged care with better and tireless 24/7 surveillance of patients, in customer care with chatbots screening initial queries and more effective sorting of questions, and in businesses with increased productivity by reducing human error in monotonous tasks as well as improved trend analysis by sorting through massive volumes of data.

It is the ethics of using AI that need to be handled responsibly, and whose governance can and should be under the HR leaders of an organisation, so that these systems are all aligned to the overarching goal and vision of the organisation.

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