According to the CIPD’s ‘People and Machines’ report, just 14% of employers who have invested in AI and automation had sought to use these solutions in HR processes.
In this article, we'll explore five ways AI is being used to transform the employee experience and discuss some of the challenges and ethical considerations that have delayed its adoption.
1. Fast tracking recruitment
While at present many organizations are struggling to attract staff, many roles continue to attract a high volume of applications. For example, graduate job submissions have increased 41% vs. last year – meaning that employers in 2021 received on average 90 applications per opening.
That’s a lot of applications to review manually. Clearly a slower process isn’t the hallmark of a great candidate experience, and also risks slower employers losing out on the best candidates.
AI can help speed up the process by pre-screening applicants. For example, Vodafone use a video interviewing provider that leverages AI to examine an applicant’s visual and verbal cues. It then categorizes applicants into ‘highly recommended’, ‘recommended’ and ‘not recommended’. Vodafone found that the system correlated well with its own internal processes, reducing hire time from 23 days to just 11 days.
While this is an example of a more sophisticated application of AI, there are also a growing number of solutions that help HR teams at other stages of the recruitment process too; from designing the initial job advert, to a chat bot that helps applicants determine their suitability before they apply. These solutions save both the candidate, and the employer, time and effort.
However, AI in recruitment hasn’t been free from scrutiny. The technology is ultimately trained by humans and that means it’s susceptible to human bias. In 2018, Reuters reported that Amazon had scrapped a ‘secret’ AI recruiting tool that was biased against women.
AI can be very effective at streamlining the recruitment process. But when used to classify applicants, it’s vital to understand how the solution was developed to make sure it’s free from bias.
2. Improving employee wellbeing
61% of CEOs are concerned about the declining wellbeing of their people, according to the latest CEO survey by PwC. And this concern appears proportionate, given that 70% of employees said 2020 was the most stressful year of their working lives.
It’s therefore unsurprising that wellbeing tech is attracting attention, particularly chatbots and wearables:
Edinburgh-based Welbot nudges employees to perform daily physical and mental health exercises and tracks personal wellness by learning from how they respond. Alternative bots such as Wysa can even have a conversation with employees to help them get through periods of mental stress, such as anxiety.
And while getting advice from a robot may sound odd, research suggests that good quality chatbots do have the potential to provide scalable mental health support and care, which is probably why global brands such as Ricoh are already offering employees this technology.
Although many of us capture biometric and locational data each day through our smart watches, wearable tech isn’t something we usually associate with our work.
This may soon change. At Expo 2020 Dubai, more than 5,000 construction workers were part of a scheme that used wearables called Whoop Straps to monitor cardiovascular health and sleep disorders. This meant their employers could then provide personalized wellness programmes.
And momentum is building, with Microsoft recently patenting a biometric wellness insight tool that calculates an anxiety score based on blood pressure and heart rate.
However, the real challenge to adoption is convincing employees to share this sensitive health data. Even though the data is aggregated to make it anonymous, such schemes should be optional, and employees need to trust that their data is secure and not being used for any ulterior motives.
3. Personalized coaching
Coaching is an area of the employee experience that historically hasn’t scaled very well, due to the expense and resource it takes to roll-out across an organization.
However, AI solutions are working to make coaching mainstream. Chevron for example has enlisted the help of BetterUp to provide coaching to its 7,000 supervisors. The platform applies AI to identify what the individual needs, then connects them virtually to a coach for either one-to-one, or group support.
In some niche areas, AI is even doing a good job at imitating human coaching. For example, Orai provides a fully digital coaching solution that helps individuals and teams develop their presentation skills and overcome a fear of public speaking. The AI observes your presentation and assess areas including pace, confidence and the use of fillers such as ‘um’ and ‘erm’.
While AI isn’t yet as effective as humans when it comes to coaching, a scalable hybrid approach means that employees can be matched with the right coach, at the right time – with goal tracking helping to make progress, and return on investment, measurable for both the employer and employee.
4. Objective performance management
The last decade has seen a stream of articles that challenge the value of conventional approaches to performance management. In general, the common argument is that formal appraisal meetings are outdated, often subjective and vulnerable to bias.
Several tech firms have responded by developing AI products that help make performance management more objective. Solutions such as BetterWorks use AI to create a ‘work-graph’ – understanding not just how jobs relate in terms of organizational structure, but also where objectives are shared. This helps firms attribute success and failures more accurately across the workforce and captures feedback about colleagues at relevant times throughout the year. This enables employees to continuously see how they’re performing and provides them with a broader view of their contribution.
IBM has taken this a step further, adapting its Watson Analytics technology to predict an individual’s future performance with 96% accuracy. Although not an off-the-shelf solution that firms can easily adopt, IBM’s approach gives us a sense of how increased data integration and machine learning could pave the way to highly accurate and tailored methods of managing performance.
While this level of objectivity could, in theory, make performance management fairer, hard data can only provide a limited view. Understanding an individual’s perspective and total human contribution requires empathy – and that’s something AI isn’t capable of just yet.
5. Improved employee engagement
According to Gartner, just 36% of employees are engaged at work. The same research also found that firms with the highest levels of engagement were 23% more profitable and experienced 81% lower absenteeism, so the business case for improving employee engagement is compelling.
New technology is helping leaders to close this engagement gap. New Possible, an employee insight platform, uses real-time feedback to assess an organization’s people across 7 themes, including satisfaction, wellbeing and fatigue. It then leverages AI to identify what matters most to employees.
Another provider, KeenCorp, has developed a unique approach that measures engagement through the analysis of employee email. The technology anonymously identifies patterns and sentiment to provide HR teams with an engagement score. When workers are happy, the number is high, and when the algorithm detects negative emotion, the score is low. Applied to historic emails from Enron, the platform unearthed ‘one of the most important inflection points’ in the company’s history – a cover-up that likely contributed to the behemoth’s collapse.
Innovation in employee engagement is effectively enabling HR teams to proactively improve the people experience. This compares favourably to traditional approaches that typically provide just a ‘point in time’ snapshot that may already be out of date by the time it’s discussed and analyzed.
Adoption of AI across HR is gathering momentum and is already being used by organizations across the world to transform the people experience.
Although it’s clear that this technology can be at risk of bias and does not yet have the capacity to perform the role of a human, it can empower HR teams to become the beating heart of their organizations by proactively looking after their people better and more cost effectively.
From personalized wellbeing to coaching that helps every individual reach their potential, it’s the author’s opinion that AI will provide the much-needed firepower that leaders need to achieve a better future of work.