What does AI mean for HR?

Is AI just another buzzword, or is it going to change the world? And what does this mean for HR professionals? Today’s article looks at how the next few years of AI and HR will come together.

John Crowley • 
What does AI mean for HR

HR doesn’t have a clue about AI.

This is what one HR consultant told me, when we discussed the topic a few weeks ago.

It’s not that they’re incapable of understanding” they clarified, “it’s just that they’re not particularly interested in machines – they’re more interested in people.

Does HR really have no clue about AI?

That position may seem a little extreme. After all, HR professionals are some of the most switched-on people I’ve ever worked with. And considering that the word AI has basically infiltrated every job role, every industry, and every damn conversation, since the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022, it would be a bit of a stretch to say that HR “don’t have a clue” about it.

However, I can’t help but agree with the statement in part.

Sure, I’ve spoken to HR professionals who are super into the potential of AI. But at the same time, I’ve spoken to plenty of HR professionals who really couldn’t give a crap about how well a chatbot can hold a human-like conversation. And when you really think about it, why would they?

Is AI just another buzzword?

It’s easy to think of “AI” as a buzzword:

  1. Its popularity exploded from nowhere
  2. Companies and influencers are exploiting it for clout
  3. It is constantly mis-used by people who don’t understand it

And if there’s one thing that’s true of most HR professionals, it’s that they aren’t particularly interested in buzzwords. In fact, HR managers have been getting irritated by buzzwords for decades – and rightly so!

HR are not interested in “synergy”, “the new normal” or “growth hacking. Instead, they’re interested in real world issues with substance, such as managing talent, setting compensation and benefits, structuring training and development programmes, ensuring compliance, improving workplace safety, and maximising the value of the people within their organisation.

And all of this requires real, detailed work, not just a bunch of flimsy buzzwords. So you can forgive any HR person for ignoring AI as “just another buzzword”, and hoping that it will soon go away.

But here’s the thing: AI is more than just a buzzword.

AI is something that is going to shape the way we do life, for the rest of our lives and beyond. It’s a technological shift that is going to impact the human race in a similar way to how smartphones impacted us in 2007, how the dot-com boom impacted us in 1995, how the spread of telephones impacted us in the late 1800’s, and how the printing press impacted us in the 15th century.

AI is a big technological shift, and whether we want to embrace it or not, it’s going to change the way we do everything – including the way we manage our people, the way we manage our data, and the way we do our HR.

How AI and HR will start to collide over the next 12 months

HR professionals seem to fall into three broad camps, as far as AI is concerned.

  1. I am interested in AI, and I can see how it will impact HR
  2. I am interested in AI, but can’t see how it will impact HR
  3. I’m not interested in AI, and don’t much care how it will impact HR

This article is probably more aimed at people who fall into groups 2 and 3, but naturally those in group 1 will have an interest in reading on – either to confirm what they already know, or to argue with me that I’ve got it wrong. And I welcome both!

But either way, I won’t be getting into the serious technical detail of AI today. One day, I will – and I’ll bring our data scientist Cristina along, as she’s doing some jaw-dropping work in bringing AI and HR tech together. For now though, I just want to talk about some of the high-level areas where AI and HR are most likely to collide over the next 12 months, as well as the next decade and beyond.

And if you are wondering what your next steps should be, as an HR professional, in terms of embracing AI – or at least figuring out how to co-exist with it – then I’ll have some advice on that towards the end, too.

The early HR pains AI is helping to resolve

AI as we currently know it, is good at a number of things. Three of the things it is best at, are:

  1. Digesting large volumes of data
  2. Summarising key messages
  3. Holding human-like conversation

In practice, this basically gives us the basis for what is effectively an admin assistant. Somebody who can do the heavy lifting, read a bunch of boring material, give us the take-home points, and even help us to write up our next steps. And that’s going to be appealing to almost anyone, regardless of the industry we work in.

For HR, of course, this means that people are generally trying to use AI to do things like:

  • Reduce the administrative overload
  • Update policies and documents
  • Attract, screen and on-board talent
  • Manage performance and measure objectives
  • Identify trends in the data

And we can see that HR people are already doing these things with AI, even without the latest developments of HR tech companies such as Sense. For example, Forbes has reported that many HR professionals are using tools like ChatGPT to do things like review candidate CV’s, check through draft policies and documents, and even support the performance review process. 

Which is great, and shows initiative. But these HR professionals should be exercising plenty of caution.

Public tools like the main ChatGPT interface may not be able to guarantee the privacy or security of your sensitive HR data, so you should be careful about what you share with it. Especially if you don’t want your private company data being used to train future versions of their model.

And as with anything that crosses into the world of employment law or compliance, you should never rely solely on the output of a ChatGPT response to guarantee the accuracy or legality of your policies or documents. These should always be checked by a properly trained human!

But what we can clearly see happening – and what will continue to happen over the next 12 months – is a move whereby tech-savvy HR professionals are seeing opportunities with AI, especially its ability to remove some of the administrative burdens that have held them back from excelling in other areas of HR, such as the more strategic people-focused initiatives.

The opportunities AI is opening up for HR

Getting an AI chatbot to pull out the key facts about a person’s CV is a fairly obvious use case for HR. As is asking it to write you a template for a new policy or contract – as long as you execute this with care! But AI is opening up more opportunities for HR – opportunities that you may or may not have thought of yourself.

For example, one of the things we said that AI was really good at, was processing and digesting large volumes of data. And this can even include data that, to the human eye, looks messy or badly formatted. A machine can see this data without the human constraints we carry – and can often see through the data, to discover the things that we may never have even thought to look for.

I’m thinking, of course, about the biggest and most messy dataset you probably own as an HR professional – your employee database.

As an HR professional, you’ll be no stranger to the belief that people seem to hold about you, which is that you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of everything that ever happens inside of your employee database. This is obvious, in the “can you just tell me” questions that you’ll get asked on a daily basis. Such as:

  • “Can you just tell me what Gary’s remaining holiday entitlement is?”
  • “Can you just tell me who has not yet completed their office safety training?”
  • “Can you just tell me who was off sick the most last month?”

Some of these questions are easy enough to answer, if you have a decent HR system in place – you can just click into a person’s record to see their remaining holiday entitlement, for example.

But there are other questions that can be more difficult to answer. How do you work out who had the most sickness last month, for example – unless you’ve set up a specific dashboard to present this data? You’d have to go into each person’s record, check and note each of their sickness instances, and then compare them all against each other – which could take minutes, hours, or even days depending on how many records you’re responsible for.

And this is where AI can really start to open windows and doors for HR. Not only can it see your data much more clearly, but it can interact with it in a more conversational nature. Asking a good AI system a “can you just tell me” question about your database, carries a very real possibility of bringing about an accurate answer – so long as you’ve trained the AI correctly to understand your database properly.

And what’s more, AI could be trained to spot patterns and trends without even having to be asked.

Imagine a world where you log into your HR system, and it sends you a message to say:

“Hey, I thought you should know that your turnover seemed to increase this year – and I noticed the trend happening around the same time as you implemented your new uniform policy.”

Well, that’s a very real possibility now that AI is here. And AI is only going to get better – or, at least, more powerful. And this is one of the areas where tech-savvy HR professionals are getting really excited about, in terms of the potential for AI in our field.

Next steps for HR professionals who don’t understand AI

Don’t worry about anything I’ve just written. I’ve not gone into much detail, and I’ve only just really scratched the surface, but I can understand that if you’re still quite new to the world of AI, then it can still feel like there’s a lot of information to take on-board. Not only that, but there’s no clear advice on what’s going to happen next, or how you should use this information.

So I’m going to use this final part of my article, to leave you with some more practical advice – advice that I hope will get you a bit more comfortable with the idea of AI becoming a “thing”, but also that will help you to take advantage of it at your own pace.

  1. Don’t worry. The basic principles of HR are very much the same as they always have been – AI may influence how we travel, but the destination remains the same. So you’re not doing anything wrong by keeping on with the core HR practices you have learned and honed throughout your education and your career.
  2. Accept that AI is here to stay. If you’re burying your head in the sand about the arrival of AI, then don’t. AI is at the most basic stage it will ever be at, right now – it’s only going to get more advanced, more capable, and more incredible. It’s not going to fizzle out like those buzzwords we discussed earlier, so if you’re ignoring it in the hope that it disappears, you’ll be in for a nasty surprise.
  3. Familiarise yourself with a few AI chatbots. You don’t need to go using ChatGPT to process your HR data – in fact, sharing your HR data with external systems is probably not recommended. But it’s a good idea to go out there and try a few of the tools out, just to see what all the AI fuss is about. If you’ve not already got a free ChatGPT account, you can get one here – ask it a few questions, give it some dummy data, see what it can do. ChatGPT isn’t necessarily the future of AI, and there are plenty of other tools being built that will exceed its capabilities, but it’s a great introduction into the world of AI and will help you to understand what AI is currently capable of.
  4. Don’t get drawn into the wrong sort of hype. Now that AI is trendy, you’ll notice that almost all companies are starting to throw the term out there into their marketing material. You should accept that AI can, and will, be a useful tool for HR – but be wary of HR tech companies who simply throw that tag out there for the sake of cashing in on the popularity. Most HR systems were built over 10 years ago, and are not natively coded to accept true integration with AI systems.
  5. Talk to your peers. You’ll find that different people are interacting with AI in different ways. By talking to other HR professionals in your wider network, and by bringing up the subject of AI, you’ll find a mix of responses – from people who are choosing to distance themselves from it entirely, to people who’ve found new and novel ways of using it, to do better things with their people and their HR data.

At SenseHR, we are working with data scientists and tech nerds to help HR professionals take advantage of AI in a way that supports their natural way of working, while helping them to shortcut much of the admin, and leap over some of the data comprehension hurdles that have plagued the HR industry for decades. If you’re interested in seeing how we’ve been building AI into our modern HR software, you can book a free demo with one of our UK-based experts today – just let them know you’d like to see a demo of our AI capabilities, and they’ll be happy to oblige – with no pushy sales tactics, we hate that stuff.