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How HR needs to be riding the AI wave, not wiped out by it

By Ankitha Sheeba | |6 minute read

Artificial intelligence and its anticipated impact on the majority of industries has been an oft-discussed subject in the last six to 12 months, but also a point of fear for many employees who might see the technology as a threat to their jobs and livelihood.

It is an age-old fear that dates as far back as steam power and the printing press. That said, throughout history, it is a reassuring fact that workforces have evolved alongside technology without fail.

AI will be another such moment, another wave when the role of employees and workforces will be propelled forward and evolve, and I would argue that we are on the edge of a monster wave, at the precipice of a huge technical revolution where the possibilities are significantly more impactful than any other technology we have previously seen.


There is an expectation with every job that there will be parts that you love and parts that you don’t. Paperwork can be laborious, and common tasks like data entry are time-consuming. These menial tasks detract from the impactful and purposeful work that employees wish they could be doing more often.

AI has the capacity to do just that, and while the ability to refine workflows for efficiency is indeed attractive, what is by far the most valuable development is not the efficiency itself but the mentality that comes with it. The saying that “happy employees are productive employees” is indeed a truism, but historically, workplaces have taken a reductive approach to keeping employees happy.

Things like break rooms, work-from-home options, and office incentives like free meals have been tools that HR practitioners have utilised in a bid to improve employee morale and, by extension, productivity. But all these are just Band-Aid solutions, leaving the core problem itself: the monotony, busyness and stress of work, untouched.

We have had very few opportunities to tackle the heart of the problem itself, and I believe AI has the potential to do just that: to break the monotony, ease the workload, alleviate stress and give employees the time back they need to be creative, collaborate and do more of what they love (inside and outside of work).

By doing more of what they love, employees find their work more impactful, more meaningful and more fulfilling. Just like Steve Jobs said, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do”.

Gallup shows that 37 per cent of workers who enjoy their work rate their lives positively enough to be considered thriving. When compared with those who did not enjoy their work, that figure dropped to 21 per cent. Forbes published the results of its study that revealed happy employees are as much as 20 per cent more productive in the workplace than unhappy employees.

The research is there, but AI doesn’t come without some challenges, either. Inevitably, there will be a shake-up in a business’s workforce as AI is introduced, and I am a firm believer that AI cannot wholly replace human employees. There is a nuance and a common sense that employees have that technology can never replicate.

I firmly believe that employees will transition from being “task doers” to “task managers”, overseeing the work done by AI and focusing more on how their role integrates into the broader organisation.

As with every implementation, there will be a learning curve, and training will be essential. AI will be a big shift from traditional workflows. The AI “gears” need to meet the human “gears” for the technology and workforce to succeed, and it is important to identify gaps in knowledge, pain points impacting employees and resolving friction as it arises.

It makes it imperative that HR professionals take an active role in the integration process to build trust in the transition, ensuring all needs are addressed so that the business can ride the wave and reap the rewards of AI because, in the end, people, not machines, make businesses work.

I want to reiterate again that AI is not a workforce replacement. Because in the end, AI is simply a machine; it is a tool like any other, like the board you use to surf. Just like every tool, the surfboard is only as good as the one that rides it. Like monster waves at the beach, with the right surfboard, timing, coordination and training, it has the potential to launch a business forward and revolutionise work, augmenting employee roles and giving them the opportunity to make positive contributions to a business rather than just keeping the business afloat.

AI has the potential to give roles meaning and fulfilment, and this, in turn, gives employees a stronger sense of purpose and motivation to impact change.

It might seem strange coming from someone in my role, but I am a firm believer in the collaboration between people and technology and, by extension, the mutual relationship between HR and operations.

In my time, I have seen how important it is for the whole business to be involved in such a transformation. It is especially important now as we are on the verge of a new digital age, and once we cross that threshold, we will see new standards of work, human and technological needs, and so much more. And it all begins by giving employees the time and energy to be their best selves – with the AI revolution firmly supporting them at their side.

By Ankitha Sheeba, director of mobile, CI&T