"I for one welcome our chatbot overlords"...preparing staff for AI in the workplace


In the last two years, the AI landscape has been transformed by advances in generative AI, largely due to increases in the sheer amount of data available to "train" applications like ChatGPT and Gemini.  AI is being adopted by many businesses as a way of streamlining processes, managing data and scaling up activities.  But amid the enthusiasm for new technology, it's important not to forget the role of HR in ensuring that staff are properly prepared.  

First, it's worth checking your employment contracts and job descriptions to ensure that the business has the contractual right to require staff to undertake different duties.   In some sectors, the use of AI will fundamentally change the nature of employees' roles, even if this change is incremental rather than sudden.  Employers should assess whether their contracts provide enough flexibility or if it may be necessary to seek employees' agreement to vary the contract in order to change the way they work.  In some cases, the change to an employee's role will be so significant that their existing role is effectively redundant (and so they may be entitled to a redundancy payment if they are not willing to undertake altered duties).

Another key preparatory step is workforce planning.   AI is likely to result in some job displacement, with AI taking over many administrative functions and a requirement for different skills such as prompt engineering.  HR should proactively assess which roles are likely to be affected and offer training to staff in those roles to upskill them for more tech-focused roles.  

Employers should also assess what risks AI could expose their businesses to and how they can mitigate those risks.  For example, careless use of generative AI could lead to claims for IP infringement, errors due to hallucinations or simply poor quality/generic output.  Staff who need to use AI will need proper training, and businesses should put in place clear written policies on use of generative and other forms of AI, to reduce the risks of misuse.   HR will play a key role in developing and rolling out such policies (although they can always ask ChatGPT to write them a first draft…). 

Almost all organisations will have some tech enthusiasts and some refuseniks.  With the former, the challenge for HR and managers is reining them in and ensuring that they use AI only in accordance with the business' policies.  For the latter, the challenge is getting buy-in and cooperation.  This is where communication and consultation will be key - as will demonstrating why it's in their interests to adapt to technological change.   For this reason, businesses should choose their flagship AI projects carefully; a too-hasty rollout which creates operational problems will have a lasting impact on the willingness of staff to adopt new technologies. 

“Move fast and break things” might be a mantra in Silicon Valley, but for most employers, “move at a sensible pace and take staff along with you” is likely to be the best approach. 


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