What the future of work will look like is a question that plays on the mind of thought leaders and HR, alike.
While there are many academic reports predicting that 20million factory jobs will be lost to automation, according to Oxford Economics predictions and the future of work will be one of hyper surveillance, according to RSA research, they are just predictions and it is impossible to predict with 100% accuracy until it happens.
As the dedicated people function, HR will always have a responsibility for the welfare of the human employees that work under their stewardship. But, if a large chunk of the workforce does become automated, will there be a genuine role left for HR? A recent LinkedIn post has toyed with the idea of there being no need for HR in the future.
James Cumming, Director of HR, Transformation & Change at re:find, took to LinkedIn to explain that he had recently heard a lot of noise from people saying that there won’t be a need for HR in future, that the function’s remit will be outsourced, and that tech will make the need for human HR practitioners redundant.
He wrote: “In fairness, this is what the doom-mongers are saying about most jobs these days isn't it!?
“HR is a rapidly changing area of business. The rise of self-service, ‘gig' workers, outsourcing, and technological advancements have all played their part.
“An HR department's role is to surely ensure that the organisation is performing, adopting a modern approach to its employee welfare and keeping it ahead of the competition.”
Cumming added that although he doesn’t feel that the function will be completely replaced it, "will certainly evolve and become different again”. In order to evolve, HR will need to modernise the function and stay ahead of the curve to ensure that their jobs are still relevant. But, how can this be achieved? Cumming touches on four salient points that HR should be considering:
With workplace skills changing so rapidly, employers are battling to keep up with the constantly changing pace of work. Yet, upskilling workforces is crucial for sustaining the future of work and embracing technology that will help streamline internal and external processes. Cumming predicated that specialist skills within HR’s remit will become more in demand from both a company branding and recruitment perspective. So, making sure that the function itself is skilled enough to cope with the future of work and is able to bring in the right talent to keep going is crucial for riding that digital wave.
Whenever HR implements some sort of initiative to the business, employee buy-in is an important part of measuring its success. Without getting buy-in from those who are responsible for actually carrying out the work and driving the business forward, then it will be hard for HR to progress. So, gathering employee opinions on what needs to be changed to keep them engaged and productive will not only spur the business on, but it will give HR a purpose too. If HR can get strong employee buy-in then they can make a real difference to the business – more so than a robot could achieve.
While many people may fear that robots will take their jobs in future, Cumming explained that the technology is there to be embraced by the people department rather than replace HR. He said: “It’s meant to help people free up their time to think more strategically and longer-term. HR needs to become more innovative and come up with fresh new ideas to push the company forward and to have that competitive edge.”
Short-term employee contracts or freelancers can boost the flexibility of a business, according to Cumming, which can help businesses diversify and grow going forwards. He explained: “There are fewer obligations in terms of holidays and sick pay…plus the benefit that they can quickly come in to set up and run new projects.
“Embrace technology and tools that allow remote working to be more flexible as an organisation. It combats the negative impacts of inflexible working like non-productive stress and a disengaged workforce.”
As long as a business has people, it has a need for HR. Additionally, the results generated from a job predication site should provide HR with a little more reassurance. Graham Salisbury FCIPD, Lecturer in HR and Organisational Behaviour at Nottingham Trent University, commented on the LinkedIn thread explaining after a quick search on willrobotstakemyjob.com, the site predicted that there is “very little chance” (0.6%) of the HR manager role being replaced by robots or automation.
While HR’s role may be safe for now, over the next few decades, it is likely that HR’s remit will look quite different so it is crucial that HR keep ahead of the curve and constantly improve their skillsets.