Will Technology take the Human part from HR Business?

Robots Replacing Workers

How IT is changing Human Resources departments worldwide

A day doesn’t seem to go by without some sort of press release referring to the so called robot-induced jobs Armageddon. What we mean by this is that automation technology is advancing at such a rate that robots or smart IT systems will soon be able to do all of our jobs.

Just recently, Elon musk proclaimed in a CNBC exclusive that, ‘robots will eventually take your jobs and the government will have to pay you’.

Professsor Stephen Hawkins goes much further, warning that, ‘AI could end mankind’.

Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak and many other business personalities acknowledge the threat that robots present to the modern human-filled workplace.

But, is this alarmist rhetoric really justified, or is there really nothing to worry about? Should we all just get back to working our day job? The truth lies somewhere in the middle, as shown by this more measured study from the Oxford Martin School. The researchers analysed over 700 jobs and were able to forecast that, over the next 10-20 years, 47% of jobs will most likely be replaced in whole or in part by robots.

Will HR Jobs Fall to Robots?

So, in turning our attention to HR, the big question is whether HR jobs will start falling to robots and whether technology will take the human part from the HR Business? The short answer is ‘yes’, because HR task automation is well under way. But – and HR professionals can now breathe a sigh of relief – it is likely to occur in stages, over the next few decades.

It’s likely that the mundane, repetitive tasks that can be easily automated will go first. In fact, the study above projected that HR assistant jobs have a 90% chance of automation.

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Actually, a large proportion of HR admin tasks have already been automated away with smart technologies such as Employee Self Service (ESS). ESS automates/streamlines: HR data entry and maintenance, record keeping, incident reporting, vacation and absence management and much more. There hasn’t been staunch resistance to this form of task automation, probably because staff are relieved to be free of what can be boring work.

As you can see, the human HR admin is being replaced by an interactive, end-user-managed personal data portal, removing the human from much of front-line HR. This may not be an altogether bad thing, because we are all increasingly becoming used to engaging with technology, rather than humans in our real lives, be that banking, online shopping, or even booking a babysitter. It makes our lives easier, as we can connect 24/7, at our convenience, and it fits in with our flexible lifestyles. So, despite the fact that technology based front-line HR services are taking the human being out of HR, at the admin level it may be beneficial to most end users/employees.

Hiring will be automated too.

Sitting at the base of the HR jobs pyramid alongside HR Administrators are Recruitment Administrators, and we are now seeing that many hiring tasks are being automated away too. Most Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) can now automatically publish jobs to jobs boards at the click of a button. Also, they can automatically take CVs from email in-boxes or online application systems and enter them directly into databases. These activities were once core tasks for the hiring admin.

Task automation doesn’t end there though, as the more advanced ATS can match skills to requirements and auto-generate long-list and short-lists, replacing another of the core tasks of a recruitment admin.

The cutting edge ATS can perform advanced tasks like consulting shared calendars, emailing and auto-scheduling interviews with candidates and internal hiring managers. They can also send out acknowledgment emails and rejection emails, and some are even able to automate the referencing process.

As yet, not all employers have utilized these more advanced automation features. However, in the next 10 or 20 years, advanced ATS will become the norm and human recruitment assistants are likely to disappear. Once again, since many recruitment tasks are back-office in nature the end-user, the job applicant, may not notice or feel that the process has become less human. Recruitment assistants will of course notice they are surplus to requirements.

Dehumanized and downsized HR…

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As a result of the increasing automation of administrative HR and hiring tasks, we are already seeing – and we will continue to see – HR departments shrinking in size, particularly at the bottom of the jobs pyramid. This will be especially challenging for job incumbents who lose their jobs, but it will also be challenging for the HR function as a whole, who will need to get used to a culture of downsizing.

The end game in 10 years or so time could be a HR department that looks like a diamond with a nominal amount of admin positions at the bottom. The middle layer would consist of a large bank of mid-ranking business partners/managers, and perhaps a HR Director (HRD) and deputy at the top. The traditional HR pyramid could be a thing of the past.

The end-user experience will of course be very different, as much of the front-line HR will be automated and technology controlled. However, since we are increasingly used to engaging with technology in all facets of our lives, this change may be seamless.

The distant future

It doesn’t make sense to go to far into the future as there are so many unknown butterfly effect factors that can lead to drastically different future outcomes. However, what we can be pretty sure of is that IT automation will work it’s way up the ladder, automating HR jobs further up the pyramid.

In fact, we are already seeing signs of IT moving up the food chain. Xerox transferred their call centre hiring duties from humans to technology after a trial showed that HR tech made better hiring decisions. Call centre applicants to Xerox now complete computer generated psychometric surveys and the computer system approves or rejects candidate.

Recently, we have seen the development of a hiring robot called Matilda that can read human emotions and profile a candidate’s personality based on responses and answers to a set of questions. IT systems are now beginning to automate tasks from further up the HR job pyramid.

However, as technology works its way up the ladder we are likely to see much more end-user resistance and dissatisfaction. Are humans really prepared to accept the ignominy of being interview, fired, hired, coached, or mentored by a robot in place of a real human? Probably not in the early days, but as technology becomes more life-like we could expect a greater acceptance of technology based front-line HR services. End-users may only get to deal with a real human only in the most acute scenarios that machines cannot do sufficient justice too.

So, it’s plausible that within a couple of decades we could see a situation where a corporate HR department consists of just a HR Director, a couple of business partners, and a HR Technical Support Officer. Interesting times lay ahead.

If you are an ambitious HR person and you have found any part of this article alarming, you should know that there are some sanctuaries thought to be safe from automation for a few decades!

These are the more humanistic areas of HR that rely on higher level cognitive skills such as: negotiating, persuasion, influencing and conflict resolution. HR professionals who develop softer skills and look to occupy roles higher up the HR food chain in training, employee relations and management/business partners will have greater longevity in the increasingly automated HR department.

If you have any more questions about the future relationship between HR and technology, please read my book, Will The Future Workplace Still Need You?

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