HR sidelined in AI investment decisions and implementation

A new study into employer and employee experiences of how organisations are introducing AI in the workplace suggests people and productivity could be losing out to poor implementation.

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This is according to research, People and Machines: From hype to reality, launched today by the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, and business transformation consultancy PA Consulting.With AI and new technology platforms making a big impact in global mobility – as well as the wider world of work – the CIPD’s research shows where there are gaps and opportunities for employers seeking to benefit from digital advances.Relocate Festival of Global People 2019

What is the impact of AI and automation on UK jobs?

Claiming to be one of the first comprehensive surveys of both employees and employers exploring how AI and automation are already being used in UK workplaces, the study suggests AI and automation are radically shaping work and jobs in a way that is creating better, more fulfilling jobs for employees. The CIPD and PA’s analysis is based on a survey of 759 UK employers. Of the sample, 226 have made investments in AI and automation over the past five years. The survey found that:
  • almost a third (32%) of UK organisations have invested in AI and automation in the last five years.
  • 44% of employers introducing AI and automation believed the main jobs affected had become more secure, just 18% said they became less secure. 
  • two in five employers (41%) reported pay increases for the roles most affected by AI.

Which business functions make decisions around new technology?

However, the survey also finds that despite the significant impact of these technologies on workforces, HR is often the least likely business function to be involved in decision-making and implementation around new technology.The research highlighted how just over half (55%) of HR teams are involved in investment decisions on AI and automation, and just 45% in implementation processes.By contrast, functions like IT, research and development (R&D), production or operations, purchasing and procurement and marketing and sales are much more likely to be involved in both investment and implementation decisions. 

Why should HR be involved in investment decisions around new technology?

As well as HR missing from key conversations on the introduction of new technology, the CIPD/PA survey also finds employers are often managing significant changes without the support of an effective people strategy. The CIPD believes this represents could negatively impact key business outcomes including employee well-being, productivity, customer service and workforce planning.  The range of experiences of employees at two firms already using AI and automation highlights the impact of AI implementation on individuals and the need for an integrated people-focused strategy to support AI and new technologies:
  • 54% of employees said that AI or automation had not helped them to do their job better; 28% felt that it had and 19% neither agreed or disagreed, highlighting the risk to performance gains.
  • 43% of workers said that that they were learning new things and a third (33%) said they were doing more interesting tasks (only 6% noted a decrease).
  • employees were split on how AI and automation have affected the mental demands of their work (28% said it had increased, 25% said decreased).
  • one in four (24%) have experienced a decrease in their workload, with a similar proportion (23%) experiencing an increase.
  • employees said that AI and automation make their work faster (45%) and 16% reported that the pace of their work has slowed down (others noted no change).

How can HR best support investment in technology?

In response, the CIPD and PA are calling for HR and effective people strategies to be at the heart of integrating AI and automation into the world of work.Peter Cheese, chief executive for the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said: “The emerging scale of the impact on the world of work is huge, affecting the very nature of work."The impact on people must be more carefully considered so that businesses make appropriate investment decisions, embed technology in the right way and create jobs and roles that are good for people rather than negatively affecting their performance or well-being.  “This indicates a real need for HR and longer-term workforce planning, but too often HR struggles to be part of the conversation. Instead people professionals should be taking the lead, orchestrating the debate on who does what work, where, when, and how technology interacts with those processes."To get to this point, they must improve their understanding of AI and actively pursue a role in shaping how new technology is used from the very outset of discussions.”

AI an opportunity for employers and employees

Katharine Henley, workforce transformation expert at PA Consulting, also commented: “Our research shows that it’s a long way from the ‘robots will take my job’ anxiety that dominates the media’s image of AI and automation. There’s a real opportunity for HR to equip businesses to think big and seize the opportunity to transform themselves. 

“HR is the essential glue between people and machines. It has a pivotal role to play, for people as well as business, in making AI and automation work. We have moved on from simply configuring the technology, plugging it in and switching it on."We have an opportunity to make a difference to people’s working lives by considering how we use technology to enhance the employee experience. Our research found that AI/automation can increase wellbeing by providing more control, more freedom over where people work and increasing more complex or interesting tasks."If HR teams work closely with IT to plan their future organisation in the right way, our future workforce could find the workplace more rewarding and enjoyable. Younger generations are looking at the workplace as somewhere to curate different experiences. Employers that focus on the creation of a better employee experience will attract the best talent.”

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