Whatever else the future of work holds, it’s safe to say that all trends suggest the increasing prevalence of assistive Ai. When looking to the future, it’s important to consider our current starting point, and the extent to which Ai is already deeply embedded within the workplace.

The growth of Ai in the workplace is a pattern that needs to be acknowledged and approached from a place of informed consideration – labor rights, OSH and ethical standards are all at stake.

Statista reports show that the global market value of AI technology grew to around $327.5 billion by the year 2021. Its value is on an upward trajectory, the market value of AI is expected to grow by $190 billion in the US alone by the year 2025. 

If the increased presence of Ai in the workplace is an inevitability when it comes to the future of work, what do we have to gain? Current evidence suggests, rather a lot. This is demonstrated by the sustained uptake of the technology, across all aspects of employment and industry.

AI, HR and The Future Of Work

Where does human resources fit into the picture? Ai is already part of the furniture for many HR professionals. 40% of human resources functions being applied across the world in companies (of all sizes) are already using AI-augmented applications.

In order to predict the future role that Ai will play within HR, it’s important to explore where we consider HR’s true role to be rooted – is it purely bureaucratic or analytical? Perhaps a combination of both disciplines? Our answer to this question will dictate the way that we approach the concept of Ai within the workplace when linked to HR and the future of work.

Let’s consider some of the key ways in which Ai is already influencing HR practice around the globe.

AI’s Impact On the Labor Market

Ever since its inception, the trope of Ai replacing traditional human labor has been a common theme tied to the development and spread of the technology. At this stage, it is widely acknowledged that Ai will certainly have a considerable impact on the labor market – but that this impact will manifest itself in ways that could be considered both positive and negative, replacing some roles but creating other opportunities.

With this in mind, what are the implications of the growing levels of AI replacing workers? And what this might mean for HR practices in the future? When we think in the most alarmist terms, the “rise of the robots” could suggest that requirements around recruitment might start to fall. However research suggests that the opposite may be true. The first Future Of Work report, issued by ZipRecruiter, claimed that in 2018 AI created three times as many jobs as it eliminated.

In fact, the demand for workers with Ai skills increased by 379% from 2016 to 2018, and ZipRecruiter’s follow-up report, published in 2020, noted that the growth of Ai had triggered something of a “gold rush” for skilled workers – AI jobs (those in AI companies or requiring AI skills) “grew spectacularly” – accounting for four in 1000 job postings in 2019, up from just one in 1,000 in 2016.

It’s also important to note how the pandemic accelerated the move towards a digital economy. HR has had a significant role to play in ensuring a harmonious transition towards more integrated AI in the workforce, during a period of increased uncertainty and change for employees.

What can we conclude? HR is one of the sectors that is set to see a lot of impact from AI automation – it’s up to the industry to embrace this and harness its benefits, rather than seeing it as a threat or competition.

AI and The Future Of Recruitment

Let’s dig a little deeper into the impact that Ai is likely to have on recruitment. The significant shift (and advantage) that is manifesting here comes in the form of increased access to big data – an amalgamation of statistically significant information that is increasingly being leveraged to aid hiring decisions, using objective as opposed to subjective factors.

A good example of the way that this is already working within established recruitment practice comes in the form of larger corporations leveraging filmed interviews. By filming early stage interviews, the resultant video can be used to highlight especially promising candidates, whilst eliminating some which do not meet the Ai imposed thresholds for suitability.

While this does appear to be a great way of efficiently whittling down candidates and speeding time to hire, as with all emerging technologies, it’s important to take a cautious and conscious approach. Ai learns from existing data. Where algorithms are used to completely replace human decision-making, there is a danger of existing bias and inequalities being replicated and amplified.

Evidence has already emerged that preferences from previous hiring managers are reflected in hiring, and heterosexual white men are, a report by Business Insider reveals, “the hiring preference ceteris paribus.”

There’s also been some particularly poor press around companies which have chosen to apply the Ai led interpretation of employee interviews to issue dismissals. Estee Lauder, for example, used an algorithm that assessed the content of employees’ answers and expressions in an interview, combined with their performance data, to issue redundancies. The women impacted have since received out of court settlements.

AI and The Future Of Performance Management

We also need to carefully consider the way that big data is also applied to performance management and monitoring. Traditionally, this has been a complex and inexact science for HR professionals – especially as businesses grow and workforces scale. The traditional system of quarterly or even annual performance reviews can be an inefficient way to measure impact and pick up on problems or opportunities.

A recent survey suggested that only 2% of HR felt that their current traditional system was capable of delivering the required outcomes when it came to performance management. This statistic suggests that some urgent overhauls are required when it comes to the future of performance management. Does AI hold the key to this?

While we’ve already seen an example of the kickback that can occur when Ai is the only factor at play when impactful decisions around performance are being made, this doesn’t mean the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater. Automated performance reviews and continuous real-time assessments, built into smart, responsive Ai workflows can help HR professionals to increase the effectiveness of their review strategy, helping to gather more data, and flag up issues that potentially require more consideration from their human counterparts.

When carefully applied, Ai also stands to be an ally to those pushing for more equality and opportunity in the workplace. Problematic patterns in performance linked to gender, age, race or health could be picked up upon, helping businesses recognise underlying issues in their own equality of provision for their employees.

AI and The Future Of Training And Onboarding

Ai also represents a promising solution to the simplification of the complex task of onboarding new hires. According to Glassdoor, companies with strong onboarding programs can help improve employee retention by 82% and increase productivity by up to 70%. However, all HR professionals recognise the sizable workload that onboarding represents – a process that only increases in line with the successful growth of a company.

Ai offers the chance to create effective and efficient onboarding workflows that can streamline the process whilst still retaining a sense of the organization’s values and personality. It also presents good opportunities for incorporating feedback early on. When this can be collected incrementally from new hires, at scale, again, common or repeating problems can be identified and action taken to avoid them in the future. This should go a long way in helping to mitigate the (common but considerable) expense of losing a new hire early in the onboarding process.

Beyond onboarding, Ai can be used to roll out training programs (for example, cybersecurity awareness) that adapt and flex to the individual needs and progression of employees on a granular level, whilst collecting cohesive company-wide insights. Wearable AI devices are also becoming increasingly common when it comes to the performance of practical or manual tasks.

AI Impacting Labor Rights and OSH

Now that we’ve explored the many ways in which Ai will affect and evolve the practice of HR – one final world around the impact of Ai on labor rights of workers, and OSH practices.
The two main labor rights that Ai is commonly acknowledged to touch upon are “freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining” (in other words, it’s hard to unionize with robot coworkers) and “freedom from forced or compulsory labor” (a positive impact, where Ai can help in the fight against modern slavery.)

Ai has also been shown to have an impact on OSH in the workplace. As ever, there is a positive and negative side to this coin – Ai can make workplaces safe by removing menial tasks, or replacing the need for human interaction with dangerous or damaging machinery or substances, especially impactful on high-risk industries such as mining. On the flip side, performance-focused Ai runs the risk of a negative impact on the mental health of workers who feel “under surveillance.” Work opportunities for some may be reduced or even eliminated, and wages and labor rights also stand to be impacted.

What’s Next For Ai in the Workplace and The Future Of Work?

AI in the workplace is inevitable and set to increase. The best and most successful HR teams will be working with the ethics of its implementation at the forefront of their minds, to create positive outcomes, improvements in worker conditions, more efficiencies within their workflows and a happier, healthier workplace for all.