The robots are coming, but it’s not all bad news for HR

You could hardly blame HR people for being a little bit nervous about the march of the robots. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its likely impact on the world of work has barely been out of the headlines in recent months.

Artificial intelligence

Research from Oxford University predicts that 30% of jobs could be automated by as early as 2025. The study, from the university’s Martin School, suggest that HR administrators should be the first in the profession to start looking over their shoulders. According to a report in HR Magazine, their roles have a 90% chance of being automated by 2035. HR officers, managers and directors can (for the time being) breathe a sigh of relief, as it’s believed their roles are less likely to be replaced for the foreseeable future.

These HR practitioners are relatively safe because it will be some time before robots, however advanced, can take over the relationship-oriented work at which they excel. Technology will not, for example, be able to pick up the nuances of what’s holding the team back, diffuse a difficult situation between warring employees or provide support to someone who is struggling with their workload and under signs of stress.

Indeed, corporate and clinical psychologist Martyn Newman suggests that ‘relationship workers’ like HR will be among the most sought after professionals of the future. His research has shown that people with high social and emotional intelligence excel when it comes to the kind of team-based problem-solving that leads to greater innovation at work. They are able to build better relationships, manage stressful situations and help others develop the resilience they need to thrive amidst change and complexity.

If HR people are to have the time and space to start developing and exploiting these important skills, they need to recognise that the march of technology is not necessarily a bad thing.While AI may threaten certain types of jobs, technology clearly has the potential to be a positive force for the profession overall.

Thanks to the advent of the Cloud and development of sophisticated software, HR is already able to streamline much of the routine admin that threatens to divert its attention from more strategic tasks. HR systems can now provide up-to-the-minute data to inform business decisions, for example, and can give the organisation an overview of trends in areas such as performance or absence. Employees can already be allowed to help themselves to information, update personal details, check holiday entitlements, payslips and much more online and, in some larger organisations, chat bots are helping companies deal with some everyday questions.

These developments have been mostly welcomed by employees. Millennials who have grown up in a digital age expect to be able to access information and manage their personal data/working lives in the way that works for them.

For HR, the challenge is to embrace those technologies that add value to the business and buy them the time they need to hone their relationship skills.

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