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Human Resources in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

Madina Alamanova ·

Human Resources in the Age of Artificial Intelligence
Photo by Kevin Ku

Here is why we don’t need Human Resource departments anymore

Before you get angry and begin defending the necessity of HR, allow me to explain myself. I do believe that there is nothing negative in Human Resource Management (HRM) and fundamentally all the functions of a “good” HR department are targeted to increase the profitability of the company. The history of Human Resources departments has been relatively well recorded since it came to a development around 1960. We’ve observed how HR and its functions have been changing throughout the time. From dealing with documents only to branding and talent coordination, HR has been gaining new perspectives throughout the years.

However, we can no longer ignore the result of technological advancement and its involvement in every sphere of our lives. Growth is inevitable, assuming we don't all die from another heat wave next summer. But I digress.

First Things First

New technologies are here not to replace HR. They are here to change the face of employee management and provide us with endless opportunities and, most importantly, time.

That extra time allows us to pay attention to matters of more importance, including relationship networks, company culture, and other “trendy” topics.

Since 1960 there has been dramatic change in the understanding of what an HR department is and what it is responsible for. A lot has changed since manufacturing jobs dominated, and scientific management proposed by F. Taylor was a very popular approach to help maximize the productivity of an employee. The values have changed and the workers themselves have higher demands regarding the work conditions, company culture, growth opportunities and other factors.

“AI fever” step by step

What do you imagine when you hear the term “Artificial Intelligence”? Possibly you imagine humanoid robots that clean your house while you watch new Netflix series. This almost sounds like a plot of a science fiction movie. Well, it is not a fiction anymore. You’ve probably heard about Amazon Alexa, virtual assistant in the house. She helps you manage house, order food and etc. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, told in the interview that there are more than 20 million Amazon Alexa devices has already been sold. Bezos happens to be the richest person in the World at the moment.

Don’t be confused. Not all the technologies are based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) networks. But here, we will discuss the influence of AI on contemporary Human Resources Management. As someone who has no engineering or IT background, I am cautious in broaching this subject. However, you don’t need to be an engineer or IT expert to notice all the AI based HR applications on the market.

There is hard evidence that proves that AI-based applications taking over daily business operations. Computing machines now manage such areas as medicine, finances, education, business and many more.

HR isn't the first concern when talking about AI. Often it's the last. There are industries that are more commonly associated with AI such as robotics and voice and visual recognition technologies.

Besides being an academic discipline, Artificial Intelligence will quickly become an inevitable part of the commercial field as well. The profit-making interest to AI has been exponentially growing for the past decade.

What are we talking about?

Artificial Intelligence research is a science field. Please, don’t expect to have complete understanding of it by the end of this article. Some call it “systems that are capable of adapting functions on their own.” Others say the main feature of such a system is an ability to learn and perform without being previously programmed to act in the specific situations. It is clear that independent learning seems to be one of its main characteristics. The above explanations of AI are overly simplified. To have a better picture of AI one must do extensive research on the topic.

Some examples…

Xander is an example of speech recognition AI specifically created for the needs of Human Resource departments. People call it “Natural Language Processing and advanced machine learning technology”. The company that created Xander claims that the technology behind it is able to analyze data elements, process employees’ feelings in real time and drive the conclusions based on it.

Let’s talk about Xander a little bit more. Combining emotional and analytical intelligence, Xander, provides data that helps managers improve organizational performance and make right decisions. I don’t know how about you, but it makes me anxious to think that my employer not only monitors my online behavior through internet, gathers analytical data about me but also monitors my emotions. Does it mean that I have to force myself to smile and look excited all the time at work?

“With the capability to understand virtually all HCM data, whether it’s a structured data element like tenure or an open-ended text survey response, Xander helps leaders understand not only what their employees are saying, but how they're actually feeling.”

— Ultimate, S. (10)

Certainly, there are different areas of AI involvement in the world of HRM. PR newswire (2017), emphasized the impact of AI on employee engagement in the following areas:

  1. Post-Offer Acceptance and New Hire Onboarding.
  2. Re-Engagement
  3. Skills Development
  4. Career Development
  5. Employee Relations
  6. HR Compliance and Case Management
  7. Attrition and Mitigation

In all of the above-mentioned areas of Human Resource practices the main feature AI is able to provide is efficient communication and knowledge sharing. Serving as a communicator between prospective candidates, current employees and the HR department, AI is capable of calculating best career decisions, writing follow up emails and providing legal advices.

If I got you interested in AI-based recruitment apps, check out AI startups such as Wade and Wendy, Mya, Switch, Olivia and Talent Sonar.

What others think?

Academics as well as practicing professionals are still debating on whether the usage of AI in HR will be useful or if it will remove the "human" component from "human resources". The AI enthusiasts are full of hopes for the endless possibilities that AI may provide in the future. Nevertheless, we are not completely sure what consequences AI will have on business and society in general.

“35% of HR managers who participated in the Career Builder survey responded that AI makes them nervous, because it could threaten their jobs. 7% of participants said that learning algorithms may eventually completely replace HR.”

Business Management Daily (2017)

A little bit of motivational speech…

Do not be afraid to try new technologies, even if Excel spreadsheets seem to work. Explore new opportunities and, most importantly, keep learning. Even if we are not there yet with virtual assistants that can easily take over our daily HR routine, we already have many software applications to help us be more efficient, mobile and, at the end of the day, happy.

So do we need Human Resource departments or not?

Yes we do need them. But rather than asking yourself those existential questions think about how can you as HR leader become more efficient in your tasks already today.

“AI is already learning more about our individual roles, behaviors and actions to personalize how we use HR and other business software.”

Raleight, N.C

P.S. I highly encourage you to read an article by Allegis Group to have broader understanding of how AI is stepping into our work lives. Link here.

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