The Future of Human Resources in the Age of Automation by Max Blumberg

We’ve all seen films where Artificial Intelligence replaces humans on-mass – and much debate swirls around just how much of this could ever be a reality.

Meet Erica – perhaps the world’s most advanced, human-like robot yet. She demonstrates that we may not be too far away from silver-screen-like AI workers.

Yet when we talk of automation and robotics, we really shouldn’t be looking to tomorrow. Revolution has actually already occurred – and automation is, or at least, should be transforming the world of HR.

Putting it into context

Let’s consider a few statistics...

45 percent of work activities could be automated using already demonstrated technology.

Yet fewer than 5 percent of occupations can be entirely automated using current technology. However, about 60 percent of occupations could have 30 percent or more of their core activities automated.

The effects of this are already being felt.

Last year, Barclays announced an immediate future where 30,000 banking employees would lose their jobs to automation.

Whilst more recently, Apple’s manufacturer, Foxconn, replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots.

So, what does all of this mean for the world of HR?

In short, these drastic job market changes demand that HR professionals brace themselves. Here is what may be ahead when it comes to your roles...

Corporate culture: Just what does a culture where AI, robotics and humans intermingle look like? This is a particularly relevant question given the presumed hostility that many a worker may exhibit, given the increasing robotic replacements besides them.

Performance management: Performance-based management - comparing one employee to the next, is the traditional means of assessing workforce progression.

As robotics increasingly enter our workforces, just how can a scale be defined between the two? This may well be a question that you’ll have to answer.

Employee relations: Technology has already disrupted markets – take Uber as the perfect example of a tidal wave of now unhappy workers take action against automation. The question as to how you harness advancement, whilst handling disgruntled employees may well prove a relevant one sooner, rather than later.

Motivation and rewards: Some experts reason that robotics will drive down wages – if this is realised then you’ll need to re-think your reward system. Just how can workers remain motivated when working alongside the automated tech that has taken bread off of their table?

Finally, some schools of thought might argue that you’ll potentially look after far fewer staff – whilst others contend that you’ll face departments that are in-flux as automation may empower productivity and staffing levels in other areas.

Are you sitting comfortably?

Perhaps the HR department itself is not immune to a certain level of replacement – as existing technology is already boasting advanced capabilities involved with Payroll, scheduling and Benefits arrangements. Yet until recently, such automation really only represented various tools – rather than a single robot that looms to threaten your job role.

Now, however, there’s Talla – a desktop chatbot that’s in the final stages of being prepared for office life – taking on tasks such as onboarding, 24/7 workforce support and Tier 0 and Tier 1 support. And version two is already in the making.


The full version of this article was published in Winmark’s excellent C-Suite Report following my session there in November:

  1. Report


Max Blumberg worked as a management consultant at Accenture in the US and South Africa before successfully founding and exiting a technology start-up followed by a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London. Today, Max is a Visiting Professor at Leeds University Business School and founder of the Blumberg Partnership.

The Blumberg Partnership operates in the following areas: Sales Force Effectiveness, People Analytics and Artificial Intelligence Services, and Startup Advice.