Out of the pandemic has arisen a new breed of employee, one that is accustomed to a more liberating way of working, one that seeks value and wants to be seen as a person rather than just human capital.
Yet, even though you might assume that HR would be the most personable department in any business, it appears this is often not the case.
According to our own research of 1,000 UK professionals in 2022, only 24% of employees are fully comfortable talking to their HR department about workplace issues. 37% are ‘somewhat’ comfortable, however, 20% are either ‘not very’ or ‘not comfortable at all’ in seeking help from HR.
Interestingly, these figures are largely consistent across different age groups and job functions. More so, of the employees who did engage with their HR department to discuss a workplace issue, 41% found the experience unhelpful.
If applied well, the increased use of AI could make HR more human.
How can we improve employee interactions with HR?
Clearly, for many HR leaders there is a significant job to be done in building trust and improving employee relations.
Fortunately, there is a powerful new weapon in this fight. The latest advances in AI and data offer a unique opportunity to transform how organisations communicate with employees, recognise and reward good work and support progression.
If applied well, the increased use of AI could make HR more human. However, getting it right requires a balanced perspective that pays equal weight to both the technology itself and human intelligence.
So, what should HR professionals be on the lookout for?
Pragmatic AI implementation
To understand how AI can benefit HR departments, let’s consider the application of AI technology in several key organisational touch points.
1. Promotions and career development
A great example can be found in promotion or personal development. While an algorithm can never offer a complete substitute for experience and intuition, data’s capability goes far beyond measuring simple KPIs or productivity stats.
It can take into account a huge range of sources from the structured (eg. performance reviews) to the unstructured (eg. ideas generated for projects).
In this way, some advocates of data science in HR argue that it is inherently fairer. Rather than leaving decisions up to the personal whims or potential human error of an HR rep or line manager, it makes it much easier to stay on top of performance targets from a broader perspective and reward staff on proven progress in a timely manner.
Data science is a powerful enhancement but it is not a replacement.
2. Diversity, equity and inclusion
This argument is particularly powerful when it comes to finding ways to support often underrepresented groups in an organisation. Our research amongst UK workers shows almost three-quarters (72%) believe that applying data to HR decisions could be better than the practices currently used. This number rises to 80% for BAME employees and 82% for disabled employees.
3. Team managers
It can also go a long way in helping managers identify and address worrying trends such as regular overworking or underworking to address any issues across their team before they escalate.
This becomes especially important in helping HRs support more people-focused remote working.
Human intelligence remains vital
All of the above is not to say that AI should ever try to be human. Although it can make decision-making fairer and more transparent, and tackle systemic problems such as discrimination, it cannot work properly if it is left to its own devices.
Thinking about human or data-based decision-making in HR as a binary choice can lead to you getting the worst of both worlds.
Employees should always be able to see a fair value exchange for the use of their data.
Though it was only a trial and didn’t go live, Amazon saw how an unchecked recruitment algorithm designed to eliminate the gender gap actually ended up perpetuating it.
Amazon’s findings could have been avoided if there had been closer monitoring and scrutiny of how its algorithm impacted the wider business in practice.
With any algorithm we use, we have to review any inherent bias it may have, such as not having been trained on sufficient data from certain cohorts, and address it accordingly.
In this way, the answer is to keep the human in HR. Data science is a powerful enhancement but it is not a replacement.
Communication and transparency
It’s also important to remember that data-driven HR is only fairer if it is a transparent process that everyone understands. This may require company-wide education on data to demystify the whole process.
Employees should always be able to see a fair value exchange for the use of their data – something that is genuinely making their working life better. The benefit of transparency is that it will empower people to challenge decisions they feel are unfair, adding further safety and accountability to the system.
Take, for example, the advent of employee surveillance technology. Some HR leaders might think it would put employees off, viewing it as a Big-Brotherish step too far. But the reality is quite the opposite. Our study reveals that 61% of employees are comfortable with data being used to monitor them – so long as they can see it – believing it to enable fairer decision-making.
In this way, it’s about acting responsibly, being transparent and taking your employees on the journey with you.
A valuable tool
The reality is that AI’s role in the future of HR is an inevitable rather than an optional one.
HR professionals shouldn’t be afraid of it but rather embrace the change. By leveraging AI technology and data responsibly, ethically and with the right mix of human intelligence, it is possible to transform processes, drive positive impact and, rather paradoxically, enhance the human aspect of the evolving HR field.
Interested in this topic? Read HR strikes back: How AI will augment HR