“Artificial intelligence, when used properly, can become a very potent and productive tool that enhances employee engagement and effectiveness,” says Deepa Param Singhal, Vice President, Human Capital Management, Oracle Asia Pacific. In an exclusive interaction with ET’s Rica Bhattacharyya, Singhal talks about the huge role that technology and AI can play in supporting employees in issues related to mental health and how it can assist organisations in navigating into the post-pandemic world. Edited excerpts:
What role can artificial intelligence play in enabling organisations to support their employees in issues related to mental health? Has the pandemic accelerated the pace at which individuals and organisations have embraced technology to seek mental health support?
As technology is becoming more and more advanced, it’s very important to understand which processes in an organisation should be handled by machines and which processes by humans. This year in our fourth annual AI@work survey we’ve focused extensively on the area of mental health and how technology will impact our future and assist us in navigating into this new world. For the first time, people in India scored higher on items like focusing on their health and fitness (66%).
The pandemic impact is far from over. Our survey results show that 80% of the global workforce was negatively impacted. But at the same time, 82% of the people thought that robots could help support them in their careers better than humans. In India, 92% of people believe that robots could help support them in their careers better than humans. There is also an area of opportunity for organisations as we saw that people are motivated to make changes, but at the same time there are a few challenges. Another important area we found was around people wanting to future-proof themselves in their careers. They wanted to acquire new skills and they are looking to technology for help.
Our survey also showed that people in India seem to be struggling the most, as India, along with Brazil and the UAE, reported the highest number of people negatively impacted. About 91% of our survey respondents from India said that they are highly impacted in life, and it’s much higher than the global average. About 44% stated that they are struggling financially, as compared to the global average of 29%. So, this points to an area of concern, but all this has a silver lining as they’re open to technology to support. People in India are reflecting on their lives more than before. 96% of the people who reflect on your life and 92% of Indians believe that robots can support their careers, and Indians are more receptive to technology.
How can AI enhance engagement and effectiveness of people at work?
People in India are more comfortable with seeking help and guidance from bots and organisations here can leverage technology very well. In the past, AI at work was making employees more productive because a lot of these repetitive and mundane tasks could be offloaded, and you could deploy your workforce in such a way that your workforce focuses on strategic initiatives or strategic thinking. There are so many examples within HR. Many new multiple roles have emerged in the field of HR today, which was not possible because HR used to be choked up with very mundane tasks in the past.
What’s happening is these bots are becoming very intelligent and unbiased. We are able to identify any sort of biases in the HR interaction. Today you can leverage AI to read job descriptions and suggest language. You know where you can remove any biases, and that’s what we get to do for your diversity and inclusion initiatives. And there is natural human talent, of course, and AI can sit on top of that to augment it.
Is the prolonged nature of the pandemic, the resultant uncertainty and remote working leading to further deterioration of mental health of working professionals? How can organisations leverage AI to address such issues?
One of the best things that happened around the globe was how quickly people could adapt to being offline to the online environment just with the help of technology. But one of the things in the absence of physical proximity is that your human intuition cannot work and whether it’s your manager or your peers, they can often not sense the struggle of a co-worker. That’s why it’s important for organisations to focus on mental health making it an integral part of workplace strategy. Organisations must become more empathetic and humane, and that is how we can bridge this gap between offline and online. There is a huge role that technology can play. For instance, AI can do a lot of predictive diagnostics. Earlier, HR was sort of in the dark about the challenges employees were facing, but with these new-age AI-based technologies, HR can get insights into the feelings of the workforce. Lastly, bots and digital assistance take the place of buddies at work. So, for any of these mental health issues, digital assistants and bots can be leveraged very well.
How has the role of human resources as a function changed amid the disruption caused by the pandemic?
From an HR aspect, it starts with listening to employees. Employee listening becomes very critical and leveraging technology that can help to pulse check almost daily that CHROs can invest in that becomes very important. The processes are evolving in a lot of aspects, like performance and productivity. We are seeing a lot of advancements in what the CHROs are doing. Presently, new age performance management tools can leverage AI and can track employee productivity on a real-time basis instead of having to wait for annual appraisals.
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