Over that past few years, HR leaders have paid more and more attention to the potential benefits of using artificial intelligence (AI), analytics and technology in the practice of human resources. Often, such systems are touted for their ability to enable more data-driven decisions, streamline systems and save costs. But some are concerned that increased use of AI and technology will make the practice of HR less “human” or that the systems may be used unethically.
During the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) 2019 Conference in Las Vegas, many sessions focused on the use of AI and tech in HR. Presenters addressed the concerns raised by the changes and disruption caused by increased use of analytics and technology, and discussed how harnessing the technology’s potential can improve workplaces for employees and make HR more human.
On a recent XpertHR podcast, “How Artificial Intelligence Is Revolutionizing the Workplace,” Garry Mathiason, co-chair of Littler Mendelson’s Robotics, AI and Automation Industry Practice Group, said AI plays an essential role in augmenting and improving processes, but added, “There still are many factors that humans bring into bear which AI can’t simulate.”
Tech and AI in HR
Most organizations already are using some HR technology. Tim Sackett, president of HRU Technical Resources, explained that the modern HR technical stack (a collection of different technologies that work together for some purpose) drives engagement throughout the employee lifecycle, from applicant tracking to payroll systems and HR record systems.
Today, Sackett said, more HR technologies are making use of artificial intelligence (techniques that allow computers to mimic human behaviors) and machine learning (the subset of AI that uses statistical methods to enable machines to improve performance through their experience).
Ira S. Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions, noted that technology impacts HR in many areas, including:
- Defining and organizing work;
- Allowing for personalization;
- Creating new and emerging data sources;
- Analyzing data in new ways;
- Democratizing data; and
- Ethics, privacy and trust.
Technology and AI enable greater use of analytics that can help businesses uncover trends and identify potential problems before they even happen, said Wolfe. For example, people analytics can help employers gain insight about how to spot and keep the talent they have.
Concerns about AI and Tech in HR
But the use – or possible misuse – of technology has also been the cause of a lot of debate. For example, the use of video face analysis, voice analysis, biometric scanning, employee work tracking and a host of other technologies raises concern about privacy and possible bias. Some studies have raised concerns that AI systems may have biases built into the code unintentionally or included in the data.
Ben Eubanks, principal analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory, agrees that AI systems can be flawed and the algorithms used can exponentially increase bias in the data. “Algorithms can learn bias,” Eubanks said. “They will learn what is fed to them.” Or, as Sackett quipped, ““If you suck at HR, great HR technology will let you suck much faster!”
But SHRM CEO and President Johnny C. Taylor Jr. said that these systems already are starting to be used, and pointed out that the current way of operating and recruiting already is “really bad and inherently full of bias.” But, at least in the “black box,” he said, the data can be measured to see what is happening as the machines learn from those using the system (including their unconscious biases) and can be adjusted to reduce the bias as flaws are recognized. “To the extent these systems make it a little better, then we’re making progress,” said Taylor.
Giovanni Gavino Everduin, managing partner of The ETNICITY Group, explained that building an HR analytics capability is an uphill marathon, not a sprint. This is because data has to be analyzed and understood in the context of an organization’s needs, he said. “There are no shortcuts,” Everduin said. “Without the right questions, clean data and a shared language you will not get any meaningful insight.”
Using AI and Tech for More “Human” Resources
Speakers at the conference agreed that, used properly, increased use of AI and HR technology can help HR to ensure fair treatment and respect for employees, while increasing transparency and improving legal compliance. As more of HR’s transactional tasks are transferred to AI and automated systems, HR professionals can focus on functions that require human creativity, empathy and communication.
At the same time, Wolfe, said, these tools can be used to help HR be more predictive and responsive to employees, making for a more engaging and personal employee experience. HR departments are also making a shift towards data-driven self-service tools for their employees, he said, noting that small businesses highly value tools that make things like case management, employee communications and help-desk interactions easier.
Sackett sees the personalization of work for workers as the future of HR. The focus and value proposition from an employee’s viewpoint will be based on “my job, my benefits and my development plan.” “The reality,” said Sackett, “is we are quickly moving into a world where we don’t want to be treated like everyone else.”
In the end, will AI and HR technology be used to create a more human experience or not? Eubanks is optimistic that the results will be positive. “Automation history shows that the remaining jobs are more human focused.”
Has your organization begun using artificial intelligence and advanced technologies in the HR function? Share your challenges and successes in the comments below.