Less than half of Australians trust the use of generative AI at work, finds research. What role does HR play in bringing this technology out of the shadows and helping organisations use it to their advantage?
New research from the University of Queensland (UQ) and KPMG has found that only 40 per cent of Australians are comfortable with employers using generative AI at work. Importantly, this study was undertaken prior to the release of ChatGPT, so it’s likely that results may look different today.
The research, based on surveys of 17,000 people globally, found that 75 per cent of people were concerned about the risks of using AI at work, such as cybersecurity and privacy breaches, manipulation and misuse, erosion of human rights and inaccurate or biased information.
It also discovered that only 43 per cent of people felt their organisations had practices in place to support the responsible use of AI. This isn’t surprising when you consider the speed at which this technology is evolving. Any formal policies developed would likely become outdated in the time it took to produce them.
This means that organisations that are keen to embrace generative AI technology will likely need to build the plane as they’re flying it. However, there are some things HR can do now to start normalising its use in the workplace and alleviate some employees’ concerns.
1. Explore AI’s potential
Before advising employees around how AI technology could be used to enhance their work experience, it’s important to have a firm grasp on its capabilities yourself.
“I think it’s really important for HR professionals to play with ChatGPT,” says Dr Sean Gallagher, Director at the Centre for the New Workforce and AHRI Future of Work Advisory Panel member.
“[Many people] in the workforce are playing with it, so you need to understand the risks that can arise from its use. HR professionals can play a leading role in ensuring that its use is actually delivering better work and more productivity and that, ultimately, it’s seen as driving competitive advantage.”
It’s not just a tool for greater productivity, he adds. It can be used in all manner of ways.
“After mucking around with this platform for eight, 10, 12 hours, I can guarantee you will be astonished by the potential and power of these tools. For example, I use it as a learning tool. Not so much about learning new information but learning about my own flaws in how I write.
“I’ve learnt about how I articulate and express myself to ensure I’m always [writing] clearly.”
Recruitment is one aspect of HR’s remit where many have already deployed generative AI tools, he says.
“You’ve got 100 applications for a role and there’s no way a human can assess those applications in a way that does justice to the effort candidates have put in. So you can get [AI to generate] candidate summary reports, which are much more sophisticated and accurate than humans.”
You could also use AI to come up with a job interview script, tailoring questions to someone’s CV to better assess their strengths and weaknesses.
“Also, in terms of onboarding, rather than giving a new hire the company manual to read, we can tailor the experience to the individual. We can filter out a lot of the information that’s irrelevant to them to give them a much more personalised onboarding journey.”
Editor’s note: Keep an eye out for HRM’s practical guide for prompts HR could input into generative AI in the coming weeks.
2. Normalise the use of AI at work
Most people are using AI at the moment, be that at home or in their personal lives, says Gallagher. So there’s no use trying to escape it.
“In May alone there were a billion unique users of ChatGPT globally. Your colleagues are likely already using it. Even in some organisations that forbid the use of ChatGPT, you could find workers taking in their phones and using it there,” says Gallager, who is an upcoming speaker at AHRI’s National Convention and Exhibition in August.
Instead of having employees sneakily using it on their personal devices, think about how you could introduce elements of it into your workplace that align with your organisation’s risk management process. For example, you might not want to allow the use of ChatGPT, which makes all information input publicly accessible, but you might choose to play with other platforms that allow you to have more control of the data management process.
“It’s time to bring [AI] out into the open and make it much more transparent in organisations,” he says.
This also goes for organisations that might be willing to embrace such technology, but find that their employees still feel the need to hide their use of it, perhaps feeling guilty or lazy for relying on AI.
“It’s just like using a calculator to add numbers up, right? We don’t think twice about that,” says Gallagher.
“There’s data coming out of the US that says 7 in 10 people are using ChatGPT but not telling their boss about it. And that’s partly out of fear of losing their jobs. HR has a huge role to play in this space in making it okay to play with these tools.”
He suggests HR professionals help managers and employees set up experiments around how these tools could improve their workflow, such as managing their schedules, acting as a research assistant or helping to craft high-level communications like internal comms.
“But you also need to set up guidelines and guardrails around it to ensure you’re mindful of things like ethics and commercial in confidence information. And, in the context of HR, ensuring that privacy [processes] around personal information are adhered to.”
3. Make work more valuable
The UQ and KPMG research also showed that only a quarter of respondents felt AI would create more jobs than it would eliminate.
That sentiment was shared by a portion of attendees at AHRI’s webinar on generative AI earlier this month, at which Gallagher was a panelist. (Members can access the on-demand webinar by logging into their portal).
AHRI found that 28 per cent of the webinar attendees were fearful of AI costing them their jobs.
“We’ve never really had a general purpose technology that impacts and exposes highly paid, highly educated, highly experienced knowledge workers before,” he says. “We don’t yet know the full capacity of this technology or which professions are going to be most exposed to AI automation.”
He admits there will be some organisations that see this as a tool to reduce employee headcount.
“But I think it’s the role of HR to think about how to augment roles to do higher value work. And it’s not just a feel-good thing; this is a strategic imperative. If your competitors are augmenting all their workers to do higher value, more strategic work, that firm becomes more competitive. If you just see this as a productivity tool, soon you’re not going to be able to compete.”
“It’s just like using a calculator to add numbers up, right? We don’t think twice about that.” – Dr Sean Gallagher, Director, Centre for the New Workforce and AHRI Future of Work Advisory Panel member.
We also need to think about potential commercial challenges that AI could introduce, he says.
“For example, if a company’s business model is based on billable hours and a client asks, “Did you use generative AI in developing the strategy that you’ve delivered to us?”, the inference is not just about the accuracy of the information, but that you should be charging them less.”
Gallagher says this is where HR can be instrumental in helping to redesign work.
“Organisations need to continue charging at their normal rates, so they need to demonstrate value in a new way, not just in billable hours. HR can help teams figure out how they can deliver so much more.”
He refers to some of the leading universities in America, such as Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, which are integrating AI into their curricula.
“At Wharton Business School, one professor tells their students they have to use AI in the course, but there’s this huge expectation that the student is required to deliver a vast amount more in deliverables that are much richer in content and more sophisticated. Rather than just submitting an essay, they might be asked to set up an entire marketing program or write a business plan.
“I think this approach is [one] that businesses could take to continue demonstrating value.”
It’s about shifting the conversation away from simply doing our existing jobs better to doing different work, he says.
There are also important wellbeing considerations around generative AI at work. Gallagher is currently working on some research with Deloitte that’s assessing, among other things, whether AI is going to deliver greater work-life balance for employees.
“If you can do your whole week’s work in less time, should your employer fill up that vacant space with more work, or should some of it be given back to the employee to drive better wellbeing?”
Wellbeing benefits might not only stem from less time on the tools but, as mentioned earlier, engaging in more fulfilling and satisfying high-level work.
“I am hoping generative AI will lead to better outcomes for employees, but, of course, there will be some employers who say, “You used to do 100 of these each week, now I need you to do 150.” I would strongly urge against that, partly because you’re not actually getting the best out of these technologies when used in that fashion. It might provide a short sugar hit to the bottom line, but ultimately these tools are to elevate all of the humans you employ to operate at a higher level.”
4. Lead the conversation
Introducing AI to the workplace should be led by HR, not IT, according to Gallagher.
“Even though it’s a software, it’s not a traditional software. The way I see generative AI is as a simulated human working with you in your job.
“If you take that perspective, then of course it should be HR-led. IT will support, of course, but you might think about it as every employee now having simulated co-workers in their job. What does that mean in supporting the [human] worker to manage those co-workers? What does it mean for the type of work you’re doing? And what does it mean for the skillset that’s required? This is an HR opportunity.”
Dr Sean Gallagher will be talking more about the integration of AI in the workplace and its impacts on wellbeing at AHRI’s National Convention and Exhibition in August. Secure your ticket today!