Should you have been blissfully sequestered on a lunar terrain or surviving on a remote, WiFi-less island, here’s a pertinent update: Artificial Intelligence (AI) is dramatically reshaping the world as we know it, and it’s happening right before our eyes. Its omnipresent influence impacts businesses, industries, and the global job market at large.

While the benefits of AI are significant, it’s crucial to openly address the associated risks and concerns, particularly from an employment or “internal brand” perspective. This article will provide a guide to leaders and HR professionals on how to effectively communicate about AI to their teams, discussing the challenges and opportunities it presents.

Addressing the elephant in the room: Job displacement

First and foremost, it’s vital to acknowledge the perceived threat AI poses to jobs. Openly discussing this with employees, whether from an HR and/or leadership perspective, is essential. Note that this cannot be a one-time discussion; a repeated effort of communicating about AI within the business/workplace will help bring calm and confidence to employees, which will, in turn, help employees focus on what is most important, adding value to the company. Harvard Business Review addressed the importance of not delaying in communicating with your internal stakeholders. A common concern among employees is the potential of AI and automation to replace human tasks, little by little, leading to a sudden loss of placement within their company. As leaders, it’s your role to recognize these fears and address them candidly. Here is what we have found works.

1. Education

It’s crucial to emphasize that AI is a dynamic tool that is designed to enhance our work, not a holistic, full-spectrum replacement. It’s designed to automate mundane, repetitive tasks, freeing up humans to focus on complex problem-solving, strategic initiatives, and creative tasks that require a human touch. Use specific examples from your industry to illustrate this point.

2. Reassurance

Reinforce the fact that while AI can automate certain tasks, it cannot replace the nuanced human skills such as empathy, leadership, strategic thinking, creativity, or even real-time industry trends. Employees need reassurance that these qualities continue to be highly valued within your organization.

3. Upskilling and reskilling

Demonstrate your commitment to your employees’ development. The fact is, eventually, there will be tasks, or jobs, that can and should be evolved into AI-managed functions, which result in less human involvement. In these cases, be quick and creative with employees who may be impacted. Offer ample information about what the company is looking into, the timeline, what transition could like, etc. Every business will need to manage this ongoing discussion with their employees differently. Just remember that good information, compassion, and timeliness are all ingredients in these discussions.

The terms “upskilling” and/or “reskilling” is part of this dialog. Help your employees psychologically frame “how” they are going to rebound professionally if their role is impacted. Follow up by developing robust training programs to equip your team with the necessary skills to work alongside AI. By fostering a learning environment, you’ll help alleviate fears and empower your team to embrace the AI revolution how (and when) it touches your business.

HR’s unique role in calming fears and normalizing AI

HR leadership carries a substantial responsibility when it comes to preparing and educating employees about AI. They’re at the forefront of creating a culture of acceptance and readiness for AI integration. HR will also be the team most equipped to at least recognize the mental health aspect of any large shift in the workplace (such as the onset of AI). In short, HR’s role involves communicating transparently about the changes AI might bring and addressing employee concerns related to job displacement, privacy, and transparency. This requires a close partnership with the CEO and senior leadership team (which HR should be a part of anyway). In this transformative phase, HR leaders should work diligently to dispel the notion of AI as a “job-killer” and emphasize its role as a “job-enhancer.”

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) notes that HR needs to relay the message that AI isn’t about replacing humans, and that the company is not out to eliminate their jobs, but rather about augmenting human capabilities, driving efficiency, and promoting growth.

Moreover, HR leadership plays a vital role in fostering a learning environment to equip employees with the necessary skills to thrive in an AI-driven workplace. Of the action items noted in this article, it is HR that helps spearhead these changes. Upskilling and reskilling initiatives will be designed and executed, in part, by HR to ensure that employees are not left behind in the digital shift. HR leaders will also be the ones collaborating with IT and other department Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) to identify the skills required and to then develop (or contract for) comprehensive training programs. Finally, HR leadership will be the ones most likely to consistently set a culture of adaptability and lifelong learning among employees. When (1) allowed to, and (2) done correctly, HR leadership can help smoothly transition the workforce into an AI-integrated future, minimizing disruption and maximizing benefits if it actively and strategically takes the lead in this arena.

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