AI REVOLUTION IN HRM
In Times of Global Health Crisis
Although the world has seen several health crises and emergencies, the Covid-19 pandemic is a public health emergency that has impacted every industry in a significant way. Most of the organizations are struggling to come back to normal, which is uncertain, unpredictable and is redefined every day. In this emergency crisis, consumer demand pattern is changing, supply chains are disrupted and the government is coming up with new interventions regularly. Companies are finding it challenging to deal with uncertain times (Accenture, 2020).
The Covid-19 pandemic is changing the way how we work, exercise, learn, communicate, socialize and, most importantly, think. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, organizations and individuals used to plan for the long-term and called this type of plan as a strategic plan. All across the world, in most of the countries, Covid-19 has taken only a few weeks to lockdown most of the service enterprises, such as schools, colleges, restaurants, bars, shops and gyms. Most of the employees are forced to work from home in the service as well as manufacturing firms. People engaged in essential and emergency services like healthcare are overworked and under a lot of stress. Organizations are forced to lay off workers, freeze hiring and training, and support employees to work from home. A large number of citizens are being forced to apply for unemployment benefits and work under government schemes. A large number of employees are finding it difficult to cope up with the changes due to Covid-19 lockdown.
Covid-19 pandemic has disturbed the mobility of employees and has disrupted the normal ways of working. Organizations and employees are finding it difficult to cope up with the challenges arising out of little economic activity during the lockdown. Employees are finding difficulties in managing challenges of remote work and collaboration across distributed teams (Meister, 2020).
HR professionals are finding it difficult to manage employee motivation and morale in the time of crisis. Solving employee engagement puzzle in times of emergency crisis arising in the hour of Covid-19 pandemic is a make or break decision. Harter (n.d.) reports that a large number of employees are disengaged at their workplaces. This disengagement has several economic as well as behavioural consequences, including reduced productivity and turnover. Even now, most of the modern businesses rely on feedback and periodic performance appraisals. These annual or quarterly appraisals do not provide an opportunity for a continuous review of performance and mentoring, thus creating a gap. These continuous performance management (PM) exercises, aided by technology, provide an opportunity for ongoing and prompt coaching and engagement.
Experts suggest that companies need to ramp up training, invest in remote working technologies and take care of the well-being of the workers. Experts believe that the Covid-19 pandemic has created an opportunity to redefine business and strengthen the finance, operations, marketing and HR processes. Companies need to leverage on the opportunity that has been created by the pandemic to disrupt their business and HR processes to gear up for the dynamic postCovid-19 world. Organizations need to utilize the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to accelerate technological and artificial intelligence (AI)-based investments in remote working, reskilling, skills-based hiring and corporate learning.
Why AI in the Post-Covid-19 World
According to Boston Consulting research, during the four previous global economic downturns, 14 per cent of companies were able to increase both sales growth and profit margins (Candelon et al., 2020).
A large number of companies have already experimented with digital applications such as automation and basic data analytics. But, with AI, the gains from the application and functionality of ML go far beyond what has been witnessed till date. A lot of the tasks that required decision-making, which only humans were able to do, are now being done with the help of AI tools. With AI, systems can analyse big data to learn patterns, thus enabling these AI-based systems to make complex decisions and predictions. With the power to learn and adapt continuously, AI-enabled systems have a huge potential of application in human resource management (HRM).
Companies have started looking for solutions for AI-based automation journey for several HR processes such as recruitment, selection, onboarding, training PM and mentoring to manage human resources (HR) and their work-life balance in the post-Covid world.
AI and Work-life Balance
AI-powered machines are replacing humans at work and are expected to replace more humans at jobs that are repetitive and rule based. Managing the new-found insecurity of job being replaced by a machine has emerged as a new challenge. Managing the work-life balance has emerged as a formidable challenge. AI-powered machines will raise the efficiency and effectiveness of the existing employees.
Experts believe that future employees will find more time and energy to pursue their new-found interests. HR managers are also finding it challenging to identify skills that may be relevant in the future. But a lot of experts think that humans and machines will coexist and work in synergy. It is important to review how employees will engage with new AI-based systems and study the impact of AI on work-life balance.
AI can impact jobs in multiple ways. In some cases, jobs may be lost to these AI assistants. In some cases, it is expected that AI will raise the efficiency of existing employees. AI will allow these employees to pursue meaningful and strategic activities in their free time.
It is expected that employees, as well as organizations, will be able to have productivity gains. The negative impacts on jobs can be mitigated by making investments in the education and training of existing employees. With AI, companies are expecting HR managers to engage employees in more meaningful and relevant ways.
Fire versus Develop: The Paradigm Shift
It is now, by and large, conceded that traditional stack ranking systems would be inadequate to evaluate the performance or failure of employees in a dynamic and ever-changing work environment. However, some confusion remains as to what could replace the traditional metrics ranking system—and this where AI holds great promise.
In some organizations, AI is already transforming traditional ways of measuring and evaluating the performance of individuals, teams and organizations by providing PM platforms that are much quicker, smarter and better.
AI can process volumes of data at supersonic speed and offer interpretations that are real time and accurate.
PM is defined by Aguinis (2013) ‘as a continuous process of identifying, measuring, and developing the performance of individuals and teams and aligning performance with the strategic goals of the organization’.
Based on the study by Kinicki et al. (2013), key PM tasks can be listed as follows: ‘defining performance expectations, observing performance, integrating information, formal summative performance evaluation, production and delivery of feedback, the formal review meeting, and coaching to improve performance’ (Schleicher et al., 2018).
As things stand today, performance evaluation or appraisal is simply one step in the process of PM.
AI: The Scoreboard
Although the use of AI in HR is comparatively new, it could empower the manager to rely on real-time data to make decisions that are more meaningful and grounded, resulting in better performance reviews.
Sometimes employees collaborate and work on multiple teams. During the review of such employees, collecting information manually from multiple supervisors is a challenge. Often, the manager reviewing the performance of such a team player ends up relying on a single source of information instead of collating information from every department where the employee has worked. This sometimes results in the reviewer missing out on valuable facets of the performance, which could demotivate the employee.
Some of the widely reported ills of the number-driven employee ranking system include bias, favouritism, nepotism and failure arising from the inability of the assessing manager to cope with the workload.
On the contrary, AI has the inherent capabilities to process complex data more accurately and according to predefined algorithms. Also, it can replicate the human brain and the thought processes of people to a great extent, and thus bring a modicum of fairness and balance to the appraisal process.
Another issue is that traditional performance reviews tend to be dominated by immediate events, instead of taking into consideration the long-term performance of the employee under review. Since annual performance reviews were—and still are in some organization—an annual, once-a-year event, one excellent or lousy incident towards the end of the year and near to the review date had the potential to make or break the individual’s chances of getting promotions, rewards and salary hikes that year.
Leveraging AI for Good Work-life Balance
Technology has an impact on our personal and professional lives. AI makes it easier and faster to work and leaves us free time to unclog our minds. It is necessary to keep a balance in the use of technology for both personal and professional life. These days, when people are forced to work from home the boundary between personal and professional life, it is important to use AI to help employees find free time for strategic work and to pursue their interests. One of the biggest challenges with digitization is that work and home life are blurring. Checking e-mails and watching television with the family has become a reality. Attending business calls during a movie is again common.
Finding the perfect work-life balance is a flighting dream for many. A lot of people are witnessing the impact of extended work on health in the form of lifestyle diseases such as blood pressure and diabetes. A lot of professionals suffer from stress-related disorders such as anxiety and depression. Incorporating wellness into an everyday routine is now being facilitated by AI-based applications. AI is now a means to leverage a good work-life balance. Let us look at how AI can help restore work-life balance.
Enhancing productivity: Companies like Google are enabling the integration of e-mail, video conferencing, document collaboration, instant messaging and so much more. These tools can easily fix and coordinate schedules. AI-based tools are being used to fix meetings and complete work on the go for workers as well as supervisors.
Making work easy: A lot of AI-based apps make work easy with the automation of a lot of menial and repetitive tasks. Automatic reminder apps can remind when the meeting is coming up. These tools even remind people to take medicines, walk and take a break.
Technology ropes in flexibility: AI incorporates flexibility at work. With AI and other tools, employees can now work remotely. Tools such as Google Hangouts and Zoom facilitate online and virtual meetings. Physically attending a meeting is not needed now, resulting in savings in travel time and cost. Technology helps in saving time for attaining work-life balance.
Transparent: AI-based systems create seamless and transparent communications between teams.
Wellness apps: Employees use wellness apps to manage their health and well-being. Technology acts as a tool to attain good work-life balance. The use of AI can lead to meaningful networking, productivity and focus (Mathur, 2019).
An excerpt from AI Revolution in HRM: The New Scorecard by Ashwani Upadhyay, Komal Khandelwal and Jayanthi Iyengar, published by SAGE Publications India.
2020, 272 pages, Paperback: Rs. 550 (ISBN: 978-93-5388-692-9), SAGE
Ashwani Upadhyay Komal Khandelwal Jayanthi Iyengar