No surprise: AI was the dominant topic of HR technology conversation during 2023, while the underlying issues facing employers didn’t change. Businesses are preoccupied with skills, believe good workers are hard to find and struggle to figure out how to implement hybrid work policies.
We think 2024 will be similar and unpredictable. The fascination with AI will continue, businesses will look for flexible technical solutions and employees will insist their companies pay attention to their personal as well as professional concerns.
Also, bear in mind 2024 is an election year. Already the contest is unruly and divisive – even before either party has nominated a candidate. Financial markets are sure to be skittish, employers will tread carefully on filling roles even as they lament the scarcity of quality candidates. The drive for efficiency in HR will become a central theme as vendors push the idea of AI freeing up employees to tackle “high-value” tasks.
What does all that look like on the ground? These are our predictions:
AI Grabs Even More Mindshare
Last December, we predicted that 2023 would be the year AI would be everywhere, except when it wasn’t. “The acronym ‘AI’ has lost all meaning to both vendors and practitioners,” observed William Tincup, president and editor at large at RecruitingDaily.
He’s right. Today, the idea of “AI” is applied to products that do everything from coordinate video interviews to tease out workforce trends. During 2023, AI advanced into the market by leaps and bounds, propelled more by marketing buzz than technology advancement. Just a week after its launch, the ChatGPT page on OpenAI’s website generated more than 1 million visits. In October 2023, it generated some 1.7 billion visits.
Since the notion of generative AI has become ubiquitous, 2024 is certain to see continued steady growth in HR’s use of artificial intelligence. However, that growth will be more about quantity than technical advancement: We’ll see higher numbers of product launches, dollars spent and users both business and personal. Leaps forward in terms of capabilities will be relatively few.
Employee Experience Gets Sidetracked…
Employers are ratcheting back their efforts to nurture culture and employee experience, says Forrester Research. An “employee experience winter” is looming as budgets become more competitive and leaders focus on issues they deem more important. While most employers plan to invest in some kind of EX/HCM software next year, they’ll be looking for improved efficiency in HR rather than strengthening their experience efforts and improving outcomes.
One area sure to suffer is DEI. The number of businesses with active DEI programs dropped from 33% in 2022 to 27% this year, and Forrester believes it will hit 20% in 2024. Look for more employers to approach DEI by rote, and to work with whatever DEI systems they have rather than move up.
…But the User Experience Counts for More
Google rose from being a startup in 1998 to owning about 83% of the desktop search market today. Talk to pretty much anyone involved in technology, and they’ll tell you Google beat the competition by offering more accurate and relevant search results.
What they don’t say is that Google launched into a world of truly terrible user interfaces. Yahoo, Ask Jeeves, Webcrawler and AltaVista all presented cluttered home pages filled with text and design elements that did little to help users actually search. Google, with its minimalist approach, clearly pointed users to the search box and offered just two options: conduct your search or jump to a website selected by machine.
Like Google in the 1990s, OpenAI’s approach to UI is all about simplicity. ChatGPT 3.5 presents a search field along with four simple options that help users to, if they wish, take their first step into building a query. ChatGPT attracted 1 million users in five days. By comparison, Instagram needed 2.5 months to reach 1 million while Facebook took around nine months.
To consumers, simplicity matters. Already, HR technology vendors strive to build user experiences that relate more to Netflix and Amazon than, say, Craigslist. As generative AI tools become more common, users – and tech customers – will make greater demands for simple, natural language interfaces. Whether that’s achieved through better design or delivery in the flow of work, how users access HR tools is going to matter.
Digital Workers Begin to Flock
Advocates say generative AI won’t eliminate jobs, although it might change them. Still, a growing number of businesses will explore the use of “digital workers” as the face of their AI and automation efforts. That wave will gather speed and strength during 2024.
In April, Kelly launched Kelly Fusion, a product suite that manages data entry and new-hire processes such as background screenings and onboarding. In December, the startup Artisan planned to launch its first digital worker, Ava, a “sales representative” that will automate the outbound sales cycle. Artisan’s future “workers” include Noah the designer and Liam the marketer.
This is all about automation. The idea is that these apps – digital workers – will operate alongside actual people to take care of repetitive tasks like data collection and document handling. That, pretty much every vendor in the space will tell you, frees up human workers to spend more time on strategic projects.
Indeed, that notion of “freeing up human workers” is the theme of AI’s marketing efforts. If its actual meaning is squishy, employers are still enamored of the idea they’ll need fewer people to do the same work. Still, the AI industry insists this efficiency may change jobs, but won’t necessarily eliminate them.
Employees don’t believe it. A study by Qualtrics found that nearly half of all workers, 49%, say the potential impact of AI is scary. Only 39% consider it exciting. (That’s compared to 64% of business executives.) More than two-thirds of employees (68%) believe that some jobs are at risk because of AI, and 23% believe their own jobs may be on the chopping block.