On a practical level , employers must take steps to tackle the opacity of how these algorithms work. Too often, machine learning systems operate like a black box.
Employers therefore will need to be more transparent, both in terms of how algorithms work (data collection and analysis) and the strategic intent behind their implementation in the workplace.
Transparency may also help to mitigate bias. Most employers are using algorithms to sift jobseekers, cutting out the tedium of reading so many CVs and cover letters. Yet these systems can replicate the human bias of the people who create them. Because AI is trained to find patterns in behavior, any human bias that’s already present in the recruitment process, even if it’s unconscious, can be amplified by AI.
That’s why Amazon scrapped an AI recruitment tool that was biased against women. The company’s models were trained on CVs that mostly came from men, reflecting the tech sector’s gender imbalances, so the AI essentially taught itself that males were more desirable.
Such bias can be mitigated by using higher quality datasets that more accurately reflect the diversity in society. That said, AI could actually help to reduce human bias in the recruitment process, and help create more fair promotion and compensation systems.
While humans may have an unconscious sense of the desirable characteristics for a given role, such as academic pedigree, which can lead to homogenous workforces, AI can test a wider range of skills and aptitudes to determine a candidate’s job readiness. This will ultimately help to promote diversity and equity, rather than erode it.
Giving employees a say in how their personal information is collected, evaluated and used to form judgements and inform decisions will also help, with employers likely repaid with higher levels of workplace trust.
While organizations will want to employ technology to both hire and keep knowledge workers as they spend less time in the office, equally important will be helping staff to switch off.
Technology makes it increasingly difficult to disconnect from work, because it blurs the line between company and personal time. And with burnout becoming a workplace epidemic, many HR leaders are wondering how to stem turnover, especially when labor markets are persistently tight.
Organizations can ensure staff avoid digital overload and burnout through policies such as meeting-free days. Some companies only invite colleagues to meetings if they answer two questions: how will I contribute to the meeting, and how will I benefit? This protocol frees up productive time for employees to work on another project — or take a break. It also makes for a more meaningful dialogue between participants who do join the call.
Another step to take is encouraging no emails outside working hours; people who work after hours can use software to schedule messages until the next day, reducing the expectation of an immediate response.
With technology providing “always-on” communication between workers and managers, it’s often seen as a major contributor to employee burnout. Yet this stigma means there’s also a missed opportunity for organizations to use digital tools to disconnect. Ultimately, technology can be both a blessing and a curse for employee wellbeing.