How can we recapture the ‘human’ amid HR technology disruption?

George Brooks, Ernst & Young Americas People Advisory Services Leader considers how AI can be used to not only recapture humanity at work, but enhance it 



Many factors are forcing a change in the characteristics that define successful leaders – the rise of automation, the increasing reliance on “contingent” workers, and the critical importance of purpose in driving employee engagement just to name a few. All this has led to new approaches in the development of innovative corporate cultures and work environments conducive to success. As such, two overarching themes have emerged: The need to “recapture the human”, and the need to take a proactive multi-disciplinary approach to change.


The need to “recapture the human.”

We’re in the midst of an ongoing industrial revolution where breakthroughs driven by automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence, are often viewed as threats to the human workforce. On the contrary, they free up people to focus on higher-level tasks which machines are incapable of, like strategic thinking. In other words, by taking over more mundane tasks, technology enables the workforce to be more human.


Proactive, multi-disciplinary approach.

To survive – and thrive – in the future, companies must take a proactive, multi-disciplinary approach. Changes will impact virtually every area within a company, from human resources to IT to operations to finance. EY has identified seven interconnected “levers” which agile leaders and cross-functional leadership teams can implement to smooth the transition to the workplace of the future, attract the right talent, and engage and inspire employees. Unlike ad hoc teams that quickly disband after a project is complete, these teams must work together on an ongoing basis, to maintain flexibility and adapt quickly to continual changes in the workforce and workplace.


The Role of Leadership

These approaches hinge on a leadership team that focuses on the mindset of employees to help them view technology and automation not as a threat, but as an opportunity. Threats lead to fear and disengagement, while opportunities help create engaged employees, ultimately increasing efficiency and productivity.

As the work environment changes, leadership models should adapt as well. Today’s leaders must embrace the digital revolution, diversity, inclusiveness, and possess a broader set of skills and traits than their predecessors, including the ability to inspire and lead virtual teams.

Increasing competition for talent, combined with changing workforce demographics, makes corporate culture more important than ever before and is creating new challenges for leadership. Culture and engagement go hand in hand. Leadership must understand the diverse needs emerging today and learn to manage in a way that recognizes those diverse needs.


Maintaining and improving engagement

One of the biggest obstacles to building culture is the shift to contingent workers and an increasingly “virtual” workforce. Strategies for engaging these workers include using technologies such as video conferencing to help them feel more connected and providing engaging training opportunities.

Purpose has become one of the key attributes employees — millennials in particular — look for in a company. One of the keys to engaging employees, is to acknowledge employee’s search for purpose and connect it with the company’s collective purpose. Companies that focus on involving employees in achieving their mission, vision, and values are in the best position to attract and retain employees.

As the nature of work continues to evolve, demand for digital-minded, analytical talent will likely exceed the supply. To respond to this talent gap, companies should focus internally on “reskilling” and “upskilling” current workers. Many companies are addressing their talent needs by looking externally to a contingent workforce such as independent contractors. Some experts believe that these contingent workers will soon make up around 50 percent of the workforce.

At the same time, the future workforce will become increasingly diverse, not just in terms of race, gender and region, but generationally diverse with the potential to cross five generations. As boomers wane, the multitude of incoming millennials bring an entirely new approach to technology and its role in their lives.


A word about ‘Millenials’

When asked what they look for in a job, millennials and other younger workers typically are less concerned about monetary compensation than they are about work conditions and culture. This means it’s critical for companies to build a culture that satisfies those needs.

One of the best ways to enhance culture and respond to the needs of millennials is to rethink the physical office environment and understand the impact it has on employee satisfaction. Millennials, for example, often prefer more of a “café culture,” with open spaces that foster collaboration, “huddle” rooms for meetings, and quiet spaces. Most importantly, they expect technology to connect on a variety of platforms to facilitate virtual teaming. Space for exercise, leisure, or other wellness activities can also promote a healthier workforce and provide welcome stress-relief.


Beyond Engagement

In the future, technology will take over an increasing number of mechanical tasks, changing the role of people in the workplace and making human qualities, such as empathy, more important than ever before. To attract and retain the best talent, the challenge for companies will be to define a clear purpose and build a culture that doesn’t just engage employees, but inspires them. Moving beyond engagement to inspiration will require a concerted effort on the part of leaders throughout the company.


The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Ernst & Young LLP or any other member firm of the global Ernst & Young organization. For more information, visit

Author: Editorial Team

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