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Should AI in workforce management be feared?

For all the excitement and positives surrounding advances in AI, there are still elements of cynicism, fear and concern surrounding the technology.

We don’t just make workforce management software; we love the potential it has to transform and improve the work lives of millions. And we love the way the industry is evolving and being shaped for the future.

That’s why we’re fascinated by AI in WFM software, something we believe is one of the most exciting elements in the industry’s evolution.

But not everyone shares our excitement. The tech media has seen a flood of stories recently outlining the fears of how automated scheduling and AI in WFM solutions will create bad managers, be detrimental to employees, and will see companies squeezing their workforces to maximize profit. And in times like these where external factors are challenging businesses even more, the fears of AI might be even stronger. 

Are these fears justified?  

Before we answer the question, here’s what AI in WFM software does:

  • It uses data to help you make better decisions for your business and employees;
  • And, it helps you drive better engagement, gain additional insights and create stronger ROI.

If your business uses (or wants to use) business drivers to create more accurate schedules then the advances of AI in WFM software should definitely be on your radar. In short, it’s an evolution of existing technology that any business that wants to get better can use to optimize both its HR and operations.

However, for all the excitement and positives surrounding advances in AI, there are still elements of cynicism, fear and concern surrounding the technology.

Here are some of the biggest fears regarding AI in WFM software and our take on whether they are justified:

Will AI replace human jobs?

Our take on this is simple; AI will never fully replace people and won’t (at least not in the immediate, foreseeable future) behave in the same way and with the same nuances as a human. 

Sure, if you wanted it to, it could act autonomously. However, in the case of AI in WFM, presenting suggestions in combination with the power of AI and human touch enhances your ability to make the best decisions for your business.

As such, the use of AI in workforce management software should be seen as an enhancement - NOT a replacement.

Here’s an example. In Quinyx, both in the desktop and mobile view, your managers will be given a ‘smart list’ of people to fill a shift if, for example, someone has called in sick or is on holiday. These are lists of available employees sorted by relevance / likelihood to accept the shift based on skills, availability, desire to work and more. 

Your manager can then select the best person to fill the empty shift and this person will automatically receive a notification through the mobile app telling them they’ve been added to the schedule. Employees can also be proactively notified an open shift matches their request to work additional time.

Will businesses use AI in WFM to exploit their workforce?

There are fears that AI in WFM software will be used to exploit workers, keep costs low and increase profit margins to the detriment of employee wellbeing.

And they are fears that are justified. 

Certain algorithms don’t take time rules or scheduling fairness into account. In the hands of “bad” managers or companies who don’t prioritize employee wellbeing, schedules will be automatically created that ‘ignore’ staff regulations, have no regard for work life balance, aren’t communicated in advance and don’t handle absence or holiday requests effectively.

This quote from a report in Vice explains this further:

“With this lack of transparency, white-collar developers are effectively building systems that allow companies to exercise greater control over blue-collar workers.  When shifts are scheduled tightly, any request to change one employee’s schedule can cause a snowball effect that throws the system off balance. 

“Workers then negotiate amongst themselves to swap shifts using internal apps, but since most workers’ availability is already coded into their schedules, many will be busy with other responsibilities such as childcare or education, making it even more difficult for hourly workers to control their free time. This can lead to calling out and losing pay, or using sick time unnecessarily.”

However, we know a happy workforce equals a happy business, and when times are more extra challenging it's vital to assure that your employees feel safe, happy and motivated. That’s why, in the long run, businesses who don’t prioritize employee wellbeing in their scheduling practices will face consequences like lower productivity and higher sick-percentages.

Will AI in WFM software mimic human empathy?

The immediate answer to this is no; society isn’t anywhere close to creating empathetic artificial intelligence.

A big concern many employees and managers have is the ability of AI to consider other, more human factors (that go beyond data) when creating schedules. For example, will it take into account that Employee A hasn’t had time off to see their family in three months, or Employee B has worked every Friday evening for the past three weeks?

The argument goes, a human scheduler would know the answer to these questions and would be able to schedule in a fairer way thanks to this knowledge.

The good news is AI can do this too if you, as a business, decide to optimize schedules based on employee happiness. 

This means taking into account factors like schedule stability, predictability and fairness. Quinyx already has, for example, a strong set of time rules allowing schedules to be optimized for fairness. 

Furthermore, we also care about employee opinions regarding their work life and have the ability to collect opinion data which can be used to improve the algorithms for the better.  

To summarize, as Mike Walsh the author of The Algorithmic Leader: How to Be Smart When Machines Are Smarter Than You, writing in the Harvard Business Review, explains: 

“Algorithms are not inherently bad. Automating transactional and repetitive tasks should free people to do more interesting and meaningful work. And for subtle and complex decisions that require human context and delicacy, there is the opportunity to harness algorithms to increase the effectiveness of workers by optimizing their combined talents, rather than maximizing their individual contributions. In other words, rather than using algorithms as a weapon of workplace surveillance, you can instead use them as a catalyst to hack your work culture and organizational structure.”


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