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Yes HR Still Needs Humans

Employers racing to automate key HR tasks are hurting their workforce and their bottom line.

In the June 21st episode of Marketplace Tech, entitled “Does Human Resources Still need Humans?” the answer seemed to be a resounding “Yes”! Host Amy Scott and Director of the Center for Human Resources at Wharton, Peter Capelli discussed the implications of robots assuming key HR roles. 


Employers racing to automate key HR tasks are hurting their workforce and their bottom line. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that involving employees in decisions that affect their work-life makes for better work culture and more engaged employees. Removing the human from HR by having an opaque algorithm handle it can lead to “class-action” level mistakes.


A few of my favorite takeaways were:



  • A recent NYT investigation revealed that Amazon’s automated HR systems lead to unreasonable scheduling, delayed benefits, and inadvertent firings.
  • The paper-pushing aspects of HR work are the best candidates for automation. E.g. filling out benefits enrollment forms, even chat-bots replacing time on phone fielding complaints and questions. 
  • The problem lies in using machine learning and algos to predict things. Questions like “Who’ll be a good /bad employee?” “Who might steal from me?” Who deserves to be fired?” are dangerous in the hands of robots.
  • What makes this form of HR automation dangerous is the potential scale of the mistakes algos can inflict. A hiring decision mistake from one recruiter can be easily dealt with by management. But a system-wide version of that same mistake inflicted on every applicant is a “ class-action level mistake”. 


  • There is one positive use of HR algorithms: Helping employees find suitable job growth opportunities within your company. Especially since in-house career counselors are a thing of the past,


  • In some management theories, there’s an assumption that getting rid of human-made decisions is the best, more efficient thing to do for a business. This started with Frederick Taylor and the idea of Scientific Management. Which assumes engineers know better than workers what’s best for the company.


  • The popularity of this engineering approach to people management increases in economic downturns and decreases when workers have more power. No kidding.




  • Research has shown that employees like, and are more invested in, the outcomes if they’re involved in workplace decisions. Employee involvement really works as it results in better workplace decisions, employee engagement, and work culture. 


  • Empowering, and trusting, employees with workplace decisions also saves money on invasive monitoring tech. See also: Amazon warehouse workers scared to take bathroom breaks. 


  • Another un-automatable HR function: conflict resolution.

Listen to the whole Marketplace Tech episode below to hear the full discussion.



Andrew Davies

Drew's degrees in Illustration, 2D animation and Broadcast Design, and his volleyball skillz mean he can get your design done and play well with others at the same time. He’s the Creative Director at Paragon and will call you out if you start hanging out with shady-looking fonts and messing around with whacked-out color palettes.