Studies estimate that nearly half of the present employment can be lost to automation in the coming decade or two. Automation is not the only technological culprit, recent advancements have also changed the traditional career paths with the gig economy becoming an attractive alternative to conventional employment.
Perception vs. Facts
There are a lot of opinions on what the impact of technology is on the job market and how companies should prepare for the upcoming challenges. Professor Emma Parry, of Cranfield University, decided to take a scientific approach on the impact of emerging technologies on work.
The robots are coming and they don’t care for your lives, just your jobs.
In her paper Parry writes that “Amongst all of the propaganda surrounding the impact of technological advancement on the future of work, however, it remains unclear what the actual evidence base is in relation to this and what the role of the human resource (HR) function will be in supporting the organisation and its employees in navigating these changes.”
According to Parry’s research, robotics and automation are not the only forces of change. The internet has led to an increase in remote working and flexible working hours, but strangely not a drastic decline in physical workplaces. A lot of companies still believe in the importance of personal contact for better trust and teamwork between employees. On the downside, increased connectivity coupled with globalization means that employees are practically working around the clock, with no distinguished working hours, increasing stress and disturbing their work-life balance.
The gig economy is the next big disruptor. Large tech companies like Uber or Amazon are pushing the trend towards subcontractors and pseudo self-employment. This not only leads to unstable work conditions but is also linked to growing economic insecurity and increased personal debt.
Last but not least comes Artificial Intelligence, a curse and a blessing. On one side AI is replacing the work of lawyers and even physicians, to name a few examples, on the other hand generating whole new job opportunities.
Emerging technologies are going to impact our working environment, how much depends on how fast they develop and how fast organisations are willing to adopt to them. As risks grow the role of HR in helping to adopt and cope with these challenges will also grow.
For HR to help managers, and employees, navigate the challenges emerging technologies pose, they have to embrace these technologies and work with them, not against them. Human resource management is, per definition, there to strategically support an organization’s management to maximize employee performance.
Most specialists believe that HR can best serve management by gathering and analyzing data. Naturally technology can play a big role in reliably gathering and mining relative data to predict business outcomes and their relation to employee behaviour and performance but is that enough.
IBM is going further and introducing cognitive solutions for HR departments. Some solutions make a lot of sense like executing time consuming, repetitive tasks with AI to generally reduce administrative overhead and give departments more time and resources to engage with employees. Other solutions can cause a little more controversy, like analysing employees behaviour to evaluate their productivity or loyalty.
A disputed talking point for AI is its lack of bias, especially convenient in the hiring process. The argument is that making decisions based on computer algorithms eliminates an interviewers, sometimes involuntary, bias when recruiting new employees. Erika Lucas from Cezanehr argues that there should be a more holistic approach, that is why their core software for managing employees is flexible in how gathered data can be used. She refers to a Harvard Business Review article where Professor Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic points out that AI, lacking emotion, can not be biased but if fed with biased data to rate like a human interviewer “it will not just emulate, but also exacerbate, human bias”.
Lucas suggests revisiting and scrutinizing recruitment processes, from job description to interview panel, to root out bias. You shouldn’t rely on technology to make the decisions but use the data to support future decisions.
No one can predict what technologies will emerge in the near future, or even how existing digital technologies will affect work and employees, but there are enough signs that the dynamics will change the way we work and live. For the future wellbeing of organisations and employees alike, HR departments will have to expand their functions and make better, creative use of their data to help their company’s working force stay competitive and healthy.