But a lack of planning and investment around staff poses a risk to employee and business outcomes, highlighting a clear role for HR​ The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will have a widespread but mixed impact on jobs, new research shows.

Overall, the introduction of these new technologies at work will see job opportunities grow, by enhancing roles, employee skills and their pay. However, lack of thought and planning on how people and technology work together is reducing productivity improvements and increasing the risk of people being left behind.  

This is according to a new report, ‘People and Machines: From Hype to Reality’ from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development and PA Consulting, the innovation and transformation consultancy.

It is one of the first comprehensive surveys of both employees and employers that explores how AI and automation are already being used in UK workplaces. It shows that AI and automation are radically shaping work and jobs and that, overall, this is happening in a way that is creating better, more fulfilling jobs for employees. 

However, despite the significant impact that these technologies are having on the workforce, HR is often the least likely business function to be involved in decision-making and implementation for these new technologies. In response, the CIPD and PA are calling for HR and effective people strategies to be at the heart of integrating AI and automation into the world of work.

The CIPD and PA’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. It found that:

  • Almost a third (32%) of UK organisations have invested in AI and automation in the last five years.
  • Overall, 35% of employers saw more and 25% saw fewer jobs in the areas most affected by AI and automation (others saw no change).
  • 44% of employers introducing AI and automation believed the main jobs affected had become more secure, just 18% said they became less secure. 
  • Two in five employers (41%) reported pay increases for the roles most affected by AI. 

When speaking to employees at two firms that are already using AI and automation, the research shows more of a ‘mixed bag’ when it comes to outcomes for individuals:

  • 54% of employees said that AI or automation had not helped them to do their job better, 28% felt that it had and 19% neither agreed or disagreed, highlighting the risk to performance gains.
  • 43% of workers said that that they were learning new things and a third (33%) said they were doing more interesting tasks (only 6% noted a decrease).
  • Employees were split on how AI and automation have affected the mental demands of their work (28% said it had increased, 25% said decreased).
  • One in four (24%) have experienced a decrease in their workload, with a similar proportion (23%) experiencing an increase.
  • Employees said that AI and automation make their work faster (45%) and 16% reported that the pace of their work has slowed down (others noted no change).

    The research shows that AI and automation are bringing huge change to workplaces. However, it also found that employers are often not managing these significant changes with an effective people strategy. In particular, HR is missing from key conversations on the introduction of new technology.

The research revealed that HR is the business function that is least likely to be involved in investment decisions on AI and automation (being involved in just 55% of cases) and is involved in just 45% of implementation processes. Instead, functions like IT, research and development (R&D), production or operations, purchasing and procurement and marketing and sales are more likely to be involved in both investment and implementation decisions. 

This represents a serious risk to organisations as it stands to negatively impact a number of business outcomes including employee well-being, productivity, customer service and workforce planning. 

Peter Cheese, chief executive for the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said: 

“The emerging scale of the impact on the world of work is huge, affecting the very nature of work. 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 well-being. 

“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.”

Katharine Henley, workforce transformation expert at PA Consulting, said:

“Our research shows that it’s a long way from the ‘robots will take my job’ anxiety that dominates the media’s image of AI and automation. There’s a real opportunity for HR to equip businesses to think big and seize the opportunity to transform themselves. 

“HR is the essential glue between people and machines. It has a pivotal role to play, for people as well as business, in making AI and automation work. We have moved on from simply configuring the technology, plugging it in and switching it on. We have an opportunity to make a difference to people’s working lives by considering how we use technology to enhance the employee experience. Our research found that AI/automation can increase wellbeing by providing more control, more freedom over where people work and increasing more complex or interesting tasks. If HR teams work closely with IT to plan their future organisation in the right way, our future workforce could find the workplace more rewarding and enjoyable. Younger generations are looking at the workplace as somewhere to curate different experiences. Employers that focus on the creation of a better employee experience will attract the best talent.”

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