CIPD Research: HR needs to get involved in AI conversations

Back in February, I wrote about how HR can and should get involved in conversations around AI and the workplace.

The CIPD recently launched their own research, People and machines: from hype to reality, which saw them pair up with PA Consulting.  The report findings are both reassuring and concerning at the same time – so let’s start with the good news – AI is not expected to pose a threat to jobs.

Report co-author Katherine Henley, workforce transformation expert at PA Consulting concludes:

“We are a “long way from the ‘robots will take my job’ anxiety that dominates the media’s image of AI and automation.”

Research from software provider ABBYY found that 63% of employees would happily outsource repetitive tasks to a robot, given the choice.  The CIPD research showed similar findings and concluded AI is promising more enhanced job roles, enhanced skillsets and possibly even increased pay for existing staff, leading to improved job satisfaction. 

One organisation put this theory into practice. East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Trust had similar findings, revealing surprisingly positive responses from staff and patients when automation was introduced.

Darren Atkins, The Trust’s chief technology officer, explains:

“Our intention was to see whether AI could bring some real efficiencies into the NHS. We embedded this idea that automation would free-up time,” Atkins said. “We can allow staff to spend more time doing the roles or tasks that add value, as well as spend more time with patients.”

The Trust introduced technology to undertake some of the mundane administration tasks undertaken by medical secretaries. Staff reported that the technology cut their workload and gave them more time to interact with patients – raising both patient and staff satisfaction.

“Our workers are happier now because they feel like they add value to their roles and can engage more with patients,” Atkins said.

However the CIPD findings did highlight one major business failing when it comes to introducing AI technology – a lack of consultation with HR.

Only 55% of employers introducing AI involved HR in the technology decision-making process – and only 45% consulted HR during the implementation process, with other departments such as IT, production or operations being involved. 

HR are responsible for communicating business decisions to staff, Report authors expressed concerns that leaving them out of AI discussions will mean tech decisions cannot be effectively communicated to the workforce.  This lack of communication could breed mistrust, leading to poor morale.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, explains:

 “[This report] indicates a real need for HR and longer-term workforce planning, but too often HR struggles to be part of the conversation,” said Cheese. “Instead, people professionals should be taking the lead, orchestrating the debate on who does what work and where, when and how technology interacts with those processes.”

Early consultation with HR on the overall business strategy will allow them to fully understand and communicate the benefits of automation to the workforce in a relevant and timely way.

Latest Microsoft UK research, Maximising the AI Opportunity, shows “a staggering 68 per cent of HR professionals believe automating routine tasks will create time for meaningful work”.

Clare Barclay, chief operating officer of Microsoft UK, says that HR should also look at including AI in their own areas, using tech to improve recruitment and management of employee data:

 “The blend of key soft skills, such as human empathy and judgement, together with the powerful analytical and predictive capabilities of AI, is a recipe for success in HR, driving more insightful, human-centric work now and in the future.”

HR can be instrumental in the introduction of AI, using tech to save time in their own areas and using these time savings to do what they do best – bringing more humanity to business communication. If research shows anything, it is that AI drives more humanity in business.

This draws me back to my earlier blog – not only is it down to the business to involve HR in any AI plans, but it is up to HR to take an active role, ensuring they are involved in every conversation, positively communicating with employees and providing the link between the boardroom and every employee.

Kay Phelps