With the increasing adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) applications at the workplace, the debate about the future of work, workers, and the workplace has intensified. The polarised nature of debate ranges from job losses versus new-technology job creation through performance efficiency versus performance effectiveness to liberating humans from drudgery versus being controlled by machines. While several other polarities are evident in this debate, the truth always lies somewhere in between. In addition, there are other dark-side debates in the field about ethical, legal, and moral issues in the design and implementation of AI technologies for work and society.
While popular discourse presents AI as a new phenomenon, the development of AI as an academic discipline dates back to 1956. Since then, the computational power has increased exponentially, and various new AI technologies have been developed for delivering a range of social, business, and workplace applications. The rise of expert systems in the 1980s, followed by the increasing integration of various knowledge-based systems, saw the growing adoption of intelligent agents for a range of activities. The foundational efforts employing multidisciplinary lenses from maths, science, psychology, and economics led to increased use of machine learning, deep learning, and big data, and artificial general intelligence to develop a range of developments in AI-enabled applications for the workplace.
Extending the multidisciplinary nature of his research on analyzing the performance of systems, teams, and individuals, Associate Professor Ashish Malik, Head of the Management Discipline at the University of Newcastle, Australia, teamed up with Professor Pawan Budhwar, as part of an International Research Collaboration Grant between the two Universities. They examined various impacts of AI at the workplace, focusing on how AI technologies and applications are being employed in the study and practice of Human Resource Management (HRM) and Employment Relations. Kickstarting scholarship on this crucial topic, Professors Budhwar and Malik are editing two Special Issues in the International Journal of Human Resource Management and Human Resource Management Review on AI and HRM.
Professor Pawan Budhwar is the 50th Anniversary Professor of International HRM, Head of Aston Business School, and an Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor International (India) at Aston University, UK. He is also the Joint Director of Aston India Centre for Applied Research and the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Human Resource Management Journal. He received his doctorate from Manchester Business School and is globally known for his research in the fields of strategic and international HRM and emerging markets, with a specific focus on India. He has published over 150 articles in leading journals and has also written and co-edited over 25 books.
Pawan is the co-founder and first President of the Indian Academy of Management, an affiliate of the Academy of Management. He has served as an advisor to the Commonwealth Commission for six years, as co-editor-in-chief of the British Journal of Management for seven years (2014-2020), and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, British Academy of Management, the Academy of Social Sciences and the Indian Academy of Management. He has won numerous awards for his research.
Associate Professor Ashish Malik has authored nine scholarly books on various aspects of HRM and culture in knowledge-intensive and high-technology multinational enterprises from emerging and developed nations. In addition, Prof Malik serves on the editorial boards of several A-rank international journals and is an Associate Editor of the Journal of Business Research, and is part of the multidisciplinary research team with GICAN at the University of Newcastle Australia with $4.9 million in grant income.
Investigating case studies of organizations adopting AI applications Associate Professor Ashish Malik, Professor Pawan Budhwar with Charmi Patel, and NR Srikanth found subsidiary operations of a significant and highly innovative technology multinational operating in India implemented several AI applications as part of its ecosystem for managing people. In their paper titled, May the Bots be with you, Malik, Budhwar, and colleagues found this organization disrupted the HR function using AI applications and bots for driving efficiencies across its vast HR function spanning several geographies. This helped drive significant efficiency gains for the business and reduce the less appealing and high-volume transactional work for its HR managers, freeing up their time for more value-add employee engagements.
The interactional and communicative experiences with AI-enabled applications and intelligent digital assistants delivered an overall positive experience for employees. These applications drew employee-specific information from various databases to offer personalized or even hyper-personalized experiences to employees. This led to high levels of individualization of HR practices. The massive savings in time and resources for HR created efficiencies but improved employee satisfaction and commitment and reduced their intention to quit. Overall, evidence in this research suggests that if these applications are well-designed, they can potentially deliver both HR effectiveness and positive employee outcomes, thus contributing to overall HR function and employees’ performance.
Extending this line of inquiry further, Malik, De Silva, Budhwar, and Srikanth examined the use of AI in the area of global talent management. Their research titled Elevating talents’ experience through innovative artificial intelligence-mediated knowledge sharing examined how AI applications can elevate talents’ overall employment experience. They also discussed how, through an AI-mediated social exchange between humans and several bots and AI applications, the highly sought-after AI-experienced and trained technology talents reported high levels of satisfaction and retention at this extensive technology multinational. Additionally, having a culture of innovation and working at a technology multinational developing AI applications for its clients create a strong sense of affiliation with the talents. Their involvement in the co-design and implementation of these AI applications affected their positive experience in using the applications.
The researchers point to further research that examines differences in employee experience in firms that were not the creators of these AI applications. The end-users might have a very different experience. This points to the importance of co-designing the applications as it affords ownership and more significant affinity to the produced technology. Thus, building on this line of inquiry, Verma, Malik and Budhwar and employing a multidisciplinary lens, propose a multi-level framework for AI-augmented HRM. In this research, the authors highlight the importance of keeping technology assimilation with technology, organization, and people factors in their impact on a range of business and employee level performance outcomes. The importance of the quality of AI applications was also borne out in recent research by Nguyen and Malik, which highlights that the quality of AI applications can have a profound impact on employees’ job satisfaction and experience.
While these issues point to the positive benefits of AI technologies at the workplace, further research is needed on the ethical, moral, and legal matters related to adopting such technologies and how such technological disruption may even redefine how traditional business and management functions are organized.