Mature businessman or a scientist with gray hair with a robot/artificial intelligence (AI)
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Organizational leaders and human resources executives have faith that merging artificial intelligence (AI) into HR functions like onboarding and administration of benefits can and will improve the overall employee experience. According to IBM’s 2017 survey of 6,000 executives, “Extending expertise: How cognitive computing is transforming HR and the employee experience,” 66 percent of CEOs believe cognitive computing can drive significant value in HR. Half of HR executives back that up, saying they recognize that cognitive computing has the power to transform key dimensions of HR. And 54 percent of HR executives believe that cognitive computing will affect key roles in the HR organization. 

It’s not all rosy, though. The Human Resources Professional Association (HRPA) reported in a 2017 survey that 52 percent of respondents indicated their businesses were unlikely to adopt AI in their HR departments in the next five years. About 36 percent believe their organization was too small to do so, while 28 percent said their senior leadership did not see the need for such technology.

“To AI or not to AI” may still be the question for many organizations, but some are already on the band wagon. We’ve found some examples of how companies are investing into AI and cognitive computing for their HR workflows.

Related Article: 8 Examples of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Workplace

Personalized Employee Experiences

IBM officials in their study discussed how AI can effectively be woven into an employee’s onboarding program. New employees who typically want to meet people and acquire information typically may not know where to go. They may ask their desk neighbor. But what if she works in a different department?  “What if Joe had been welcomed with new hire information on his mobile device that was tailored to his first assignment?” IBM officials wrote in the report on transforming HR with AI. 

IBM is looking to create a system that will answer a new employee's most pressing or job critical questions to help get them up to speed fast. An AI, for example, could provide training suggestions or provide the names, locations and contact info for people he/she should look to connect with on his first day or so. That same employee could also be advised by AI engines that a new hire webpage contains a lot of useful information. 

Cognitive-Supporting Decision-Making

IBM officials, who naturally are promoting their own AI capabilities through IBM Watson, also demonstrated ways cognitive engines could help employees arrive at key day-to-day decisions in the workplace. Usually, HR team members would have to handle these tasks.

  • Vacation requests - Employees that want to put in for vacation days are informed that it is unlikely to be approved as many others have already booked vacation in that time frame.
  • Determining your mood - An employee takes a client call. After the call, the employee receives feedback that he seems anxious and should take a break before his meeting.
  • Team training - When an organization wants to take a more systematic approach to employee training, team managers are provided a list of training opportunities for team members.
  • Hiring processes - A hiring manager is presented with information that the company’s recruitment approach falls short because it interviews too few candidates. Cognitive solutions can help organizations tap into multiple data sources and reveal new insights to help companies develop candidate profiles, among other things.

Related Article: Why Artificial Intelligence Will Create More Jobs Than it Destroys

Automation of ‘Repetitive, Low-Value Add Tasks’

Kate Guarino, director of human resources operations for Pegasystems, said AI presents an opportunity for HR to automate “repetitive, low-value add tasks” and increase the focus on more strategic work. She cited the example of HR spending time processing the steps of onboarding a new employee (allocating space, provisioning a laptop, etc.). Saving time in those arenas can help HR teams pivot to making sure they focus on “value-add work like mentoring and continuous feedback.”

Rob May, the CEO and co-founder of Talla, said as AI tools automate away common HR tasks like benefits management and triaging common questions and requests, HR teams will be “free to do more of the creative and strategic work that has a bigger impact on the success of their companies.” 

AI Recruiters 

Applicants and employees expect custom experiences tailored to their unique needs as they apply for a new job, choose the right benefits or explore development opportunities. 

Guarino said companies have implemented “AI recruiters” to automate scheduling interviews, provide ongoing feedback to candidates and answer their questions in real time. “This allows,” Guarino said, “the human recruiters to spend more time converting candidates to hires.”

Smarter People Analytics

For years, companies have been collecting data on their customers to gain insights to predict future behavior, Guarino added. She said HR teams have a lot of catching up to do in leveraging these people analytics. “Determining what data to track, analyze, manage and protect will enable AI to play a larger role within HR,” Guarino said. “In the never-ending war for talent, companies will look to find innovative ways to attract top talent. Technologies that enhance the candidate experience and meet the candidate’s digital expectations will help distinguish companies from one another.”

Removing Biases

In the survey by the Human Resources Professional Association, researchers found that even when employers strive to be inclusive, they may subconsciously lean toward candidates who are most like them, or what they call “unconscious bias.” Another bias, language bias, has been discovered by a psychological tool called the Implicit Association Test (IAT) that shows that people’s subconscious word associations indicate bias. “These biases find their way into job descriptions, as well as resume selections. Now, thanks to AI, algorithms can be designed to help employers identify and remove these bias patterns in language they use to improve their hiring communications and welcome diverse applicants,” HRPA researchers noted. 

AI could also present managers with candidates who may have been screened out due to human tendency to favor candidates with similar traits or competencies.

Tom Marsden, CEO of Saberr, told HRPA researchers algorithms are free of those tendencies, which allows managers to go beyond gut feelings and rely on data-driven assessments instead. 

Identifying Employees On the Way Out

Veriato’s AI platforms are designed to single out employees that may be heading for the exit door. It tracks employee computer activity — emails, keystrokes, internet browsing, etc. — and stores it for one month and implements an AI system that analyzes the data to determine a baseline of normal activity patterns in the organization. “Based on that knowledge,” HRPA researchers noted, “it flags outliers and reports them to the employer and also detects changes in the overall tone of employees’ communications to predict when employees might be thinking of leaving.”


As much as the HR technology landscape continues to be disrupted by AI, Guarino noted HR teams need to balance these cognitive tech advancements with transparency. “HR leaders and practitioners need to have a clear understanding of how decisions are being made to mitigate unknowingly injecting bias into their programs,” she said. “This transparency will be essential in making sure that employees trust the new technology."