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HR must be more involved in AI implementation

While AI has not damaged jobs or pay in the way many feared, HR must play a greater role in using it to improve employees' working lives, according to research

The People and machines: from hype to reality report, from the CIPD and PA Consulting, revealed that HR is the least likely business function to be involved in investment decisions on AI and automation, being involved in just 55% of such decisions. It is also only involved in 45% of implementation processes.

Conversely, functions such as IT, research and development, production, operations, purchasing, procurement, marketing and sales are more likely to be involved in both investment and implementation decisions.

The research suggested that HR is missing from key conversations needed to make AI part of the people strategy. HR’s lack of influence poses a serious risk to organisations as this stands to negatively affect a number of business outcomes including employee wellbeing, productivity, customer service and workforce planning, the CIPD warned.

“The emerging scale of the impact on the world of work is huge; affecting the very nature of work," said Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD. "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 wellbeing.”

“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.”

The research also found that AI and automation are already being used in UK workplaces, with almost a third (32%) of employers investing in AI and automation in the past five years. Two in five (41%) reported pay increases for roles most affected by AI, while just 18% said that these roles had become less secure.

However, there was a mixed picture around whether AI had helped employees become more productive. Just over half (54%) said AI had not helped them do their job better, 28% said it had, and 19% neither agreed nor disagreed. Almost half (45%) said AI had made them work faster, and 16% said it had slowed their work down, while 24% said they experienced a decrease in workload.

Speaking to HR magazine, Katharine Henley, workforce transformation expert at PA Consulting, said AI has the potential to transform working lives. "I passionately believe that we are in a transition phase. Technology has already done so much in people's day-to-day lives, and we need to move towards the benefits in people's working lives," she said.

"If we can get this right there's no reason we can't move towards a four-day working week. We know from our research that if AI is used properly it can improve wellbeing, and take away some of the mundanity of work so that people can increase their learning and concentrate on far more interesting complex tasks.

"Now is the time for HR to really step up," she added. "If we want to improve productivity through AI we need to start looking at long-term workforce planning through improving the quality of jobs, rather than short-term corporate gains."

Neil Murphy, VP and head of global business development at ABBYY, said that there must be a personalised approach towards AI and productivity: “We know that investing in technology and innovation helps businesses boost productivity. But there is no one-size-fits-all approach to introducing new technologies into the workplace. It requires strategy, vision and buy-in from employees across the business – from the boardroom to the back office to the shop floor.

“Understanding how technology can improve productivity and where it will have the most impact is crucial. For businesses to make the most of what automation can offer it’s important to work out which tasks require human-to-human interaction and which don’t, and to educate staff on how best to make the most of their time alongside automation to improve efficiency. Giving workers the opportunity to grow these skills will undoubtedly go some way to solving the UK’s productivity crisis.”

The CIPD and PA Consulting’s research is based on a survey of 759 UK employers, of which 226 have made investments in AI and automation over the past five years. Researchers also interviewed 116 employees at two organisations that had invested in AI.