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Why Robots will put the “Human” back into Human Resources

Ronnie Toerien

No-one, they say, is safe from the rise of the robots. From sales, to manufacturing to HR to journalism, today’s headlines would suggest Asimov’s first law of robotics – that machines may not injure a human being – has been broken almost before the robot age has begun. Industries and careers will indeed change, in some cases dramatically, but rather than making us all redundant robots will more likely do what has always been promised of them: remove the drudgery of admin tasks and enable people to undertake more fulfilling and productive work.

Human Resources provides the perfect platform for robots and AI to prove they are a blessing rather than curse – not only for HR professionals themselves, but for employees throughout the organisation.

As in so many careers – teaching springs to mind – HR specialists begin their careers full of idealism. They dream of how they will help create a happier, more productive workforce. Before long, however, they find that much of their time (up to two days a week, according to research) is spent on time-consuming administration like employee on-boarding, consolidating staff feedback, and answering the same simple questions over and over again.

These are not the primary motivators that drive most young HR professionals into the field. Thankfully, this is where robots and AI can help. By automating more mundane tasks, HR professionals are freed up to concentrate on improving the happiness and wellbeing of the employees under their charge.
Why should a complex human mind be caught up answering routine questions on tax or employee benefits when workers could easily get all the answers they need from a chatbot? Why should HR teams spend hours each day on routine tasks like checking candidate references or working out holiday entitlements when these (and many others) could all be automated with today’s technologies?

The human resources department should be dedicated to fostering better employee engagement and more effective collaboration. It should be the business function that listens to workers’ needs and works to boost their wellbeing and job satisfaction; that builds bespoke career development paths and training programmes. One could argue that by allowing companies to entrust simpler functions to software AI and automation are actually putting the “human” back into HR.

These technologies also hold great strategic value for HR teams. When linked to the company’s talent management system, for instance, chatbots can also be asked to retrieve and analyse employee data at a moment’s notice. The implications for designing workflows, gathering employee feedback, designing bespoke training and other strategic initiatives are virtually limitless. It will simply fall to HR to see how much value they can extract from their technology systems.

Rather than fearing new technology, which is admittedly a natural reaction, the key for businesses is to appreciate the complementary value that human and artificial intelligence bring to the table and develop strategies that allow them to capitalise on both. As Asimov would have agreed, the secret to success is how we work with, not against the robots.

Ronnie Toerien, HR Development and Strategy leader