Generative AI (GAI) is set to reshape the HR function. Despite the fear that it will replace jobs at scale, AI and automation only tend to impact certain tasks — not entire jobs. There is a real opportunity to use AI to reinvent roles that truly excite jobholders. So, we looked at three roles in HR that are already changing because of AI and automation: Human resource business partners (HRBPs), learning and development (L&D) specialists, and total rewards leaders.
GAI may not cause job reductions, but there is no doubt that HR professionals who use it will be more in demand than those who don’t. Mercer found that 58% of employers plan to use GAI in HR by June 2024. And while 76% think it will boost efficiency, it’s more than a cost savings play. By democratising knowledge and creativity, GAI enables innovation, complex problem-solving and higher-quality work.
What does this all mean for HRBPs, L&D gurus and total rewards experts? Data from the Mercer Operations Scanner™ shows how their time is allocated today and how much of their work might be affected by AI and automation in the future. By redesigning how HR work gets done, chief people officers can adopt AI-based tools to enhance human capabilities and elevate the performance of their teams.
Let’s imagine three personas to predict the impact of GAI on key HR jobs — with a caveat that task allocation can vary by organisation, depending on size and structure.
The HRBP: Hadley
Fast forward to now, and Hadley’s HRBP role no longer seems like what she signed on for. Beyond the strategic initiatives, she’s also inherited several transactional clerical duties over the years. Hadley now spends more than half (55%) of her work week on talent management programme delivery, (30%) project management (20%) and employee support (5%).
Sometimes, Hadley feels more like an HR transaction partner than a business partner. This tracks with a 2023 Mercer survey finding, in which 47% of respondents disagreed with the notion that the HRBP role is more advisory than transactional.
Armed with the right technology, HRBPs like Hadley can free up more time to spend on high-value work:
- AI-powered systems can streamline tasks such as performance evaluations to curb her total talent management time by one-third.
- Modern tools can automate a range of duties — task assignment, resource allocation and more — to speed up any project management tasks that Hadley’s PMO doesn’t support.
- GAI tools like chatbots can field routine HR enquiries, allowing Hadley’s employee support work to drop from 5% to 1% of her total hours.
- GAI tools can eliminate Hadley’s data entry work, which she should not be doing but still is in many cases.
The graph below shows how much time Hadley spends on different tasks that could be augmented or replaced by AI and automation:
- The human capital consultant. This is the role that Hadley’s been yearning to take on — a true strategic partner to senior leadership in connecting business needs to the HR portfolio. This role brings a seasoned, analytical mindset to drive, shape and lead a business department’s people agenda; it tells stories with data to tie people efforts to business outcomes.
- People leader services. Many firms still need a business partner who’s on the same level as a people manager. Without strategic or transactional work to handle, Hadley can take on a role in organisational effectiveness. She would solely focus on developing and supporting people managers across the entire employee lifecycle.
The L&D Specialist: Lee
Another part of Lee’s role is to keep pace with the latest tech trends and skills. Lately, he’s noticed that AI-based tools like Midjourney and Synthesia mimic the creative, analytical and interactive abilities that power his own job duties. Should Lee be concerned?
AI and automation will indeed affect some key parts of his role. Today, our research shows that Lee typically spends 35% of his time on programme design and 34% on programme delivery — we project that those tasks will drop to 21% and 14% of his time, respectively. Automation can schedule trainings and manage registrations; GAI can provide real-time feedback, answer trainees’ questions and analyse training evaluation data to suggest improvements.
Here’s the full breakdown:
While much of his busy work is disappearing, it’s essential for people like Lee to stay at the helm of L&D. Tasks around training strategy and vendor management, for example, are untouched by disruption in the chart above. AI may help Lee become less of a gatekeeper to trainings and more of a facilitator who inspires information-seeking and creativity.
Further, even the most advanced learning management platforms need guidance to keep running smoothly. GAI will free up more time for Lee to handle these duties today and start building a more flexible L&D model that ensures a resilient workforce tomorrow.
In the new world of AI, Lee, the L&D professional, becomes a learning consultant who creates and delivers content to extract the most value from AI. His role shifts from focusing on just content and delivery to learning enablement, curation and governance. And to Lee’s delight, GAI can amplify his creativity — suggesting slide decks and learning content, for instance — instead of bogging it down in busy work.
The Total Rewards Leader: Taylor
In fact, more than half (52%) of Taylor’s hourly workload could be affected. Accounting for paid time off, that’s roughly five to six months per year that may soon be spent differently. The shift could increase Taylor’s business impact and job security, given the strategic nature of this combined role; it allows for their job design to shift away from process execution and toward employee outcomes. To that end, they’ll need an employer that’s open to coupling this change with real upskilling efforts — one that can have candid chats about the future of the function.
GAI chatbots can handle two-thirds of employee support work and create truly interactive experiences. Many employers outsource related tasks, and those vendors already use AI. But for those still mired in routine benefits enquiries, chatbots can help speed things up for the user and still escalate more complex concerns to human experts like Taylor — delivering an efficiency advantage.
AI and automation are also poised to make deep cuts in Taylor’s programme design and data analysis responsibilities. And more notably, GAI could completely take over benefits programme administration — including the market analyses, salary surveys and compensation benchmarking that come with it. But the real advantage comes in individualising the rewards proposition, taking what you know about different people and pulling reward and benefit levers in unison for the most motivating (and retaining) reward outcomes.
The ROI cannot be ignored
More high-impact projects and less busy work sound like a sweet deal for HRBPs, L&D specialists and total rewards leaders. And business leaders are on board with a more fulfilled and engaged workforce — but that’s not all they’re excited about.
The potential time and cost savings from implementing AI and automation are tremendous. Data entry, research and routine benefits enquiries are just a few of the tedious time sinks that modern technologies can streamline. And the tools coming out today add value to the flow of work, allowing for more individualisation, greater creativity, and a more balanced approach toward empathy and the economy. Consider how much time and money might be saved and redistributed in cases like Hadley’s, Lee’s and Taylor’s:
Generative AI alone is not replacing jobs but will fundamentally change and reimagine them
To reiterate, GAI is more likely to enhance certain tasks than replace entire jobs. While GAI might take over some activities, it can also bridge knowledge and skills gaps to augment many more. In a study by GitHub and Microsoft, programmers finished tasks 56% faster with the help of AI; similarly, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that customer support agents were 14% more productive with a GAI tool guiding conversations.
The chart below captures the expected impact of generative AI more broadly:
Despite all the excitement around ChatGPT, it’s just one example of how AI and automation are changing the People function. TalentGPT from Beamery uses GAI for HR task support. SeekOut and Eightfold.ai are adding it to their own talent solutions. And if you’re using any Mercer tools today, there’s a good chance your HR team already benefits from the power of AI.
Instead of looking for a tool to cut headcount, HR needs to find the optimal blend of humans and tech. Each should complement the other’s skills and activities. For example, it takes a human touch to address performance, mental health and interpersonal struggles. While GAI can’t fully grasp the nuance or empathy that those tasks require, it excels at finding information, fielding questions in real time, making sense of data and creating text that passes for human output.
Redesigning HR jobs
How might HRBPs, L&D gurus and total rewards experts coexist with GAI? Work design is a practical way to prepare these HR roles for change. Per Ravin Jesuthasan and John W. Boudreau, it’s about breaking down jobs into tasks, assigning those tasks to the right “contributors” — AI, shared services, robotics process automation (RPA) and internal talent marketplaces — and rebuilding work processes around the best mix of talent and tech.
While we’ve yet to discover the full potential of GAI, we know how work has evolved alongside RPA and machine learning. Jesuthasan and Boudreau illustrated in Reinventing Jobs how RPA often substitutes for highly repetitive, rules-based cognitive work performed independently, while machine learning often augments variable work that requires judgement and creativity and might be performed interactively.
Balancing generative AI and HR sustainability
As HR taps into AI and automation, people in the function will be more available to support the workforce in meaningful ways. Understanding how GAI can transform HR jobs is the first step in ensuring that HR talent is prepared for what’s next.
Start by finding opportunities to quantify how your HR team operates today, from resource allocation to service provision, and then consider how an enhanced approach might deliver even more value to internal customers. Armed with those insights, it’s easy to craft a plan for better interactions, talent management, technology use and service delivery within HR.
GAI can help with these efforts, but the real value comes from enabling a more human-centric experience for workers. Modern rewards, learning programmes and benefits enrolment can certainly overwhelm the end user. Guiding them with data-driven suggestions based on their health, wealth and career goals can make these parts of the deal more intuitive. It also frees up HR and business leaders to spend more time on strategic, talent-critical conversations, making this effort a win-win.
Are you ready for this change? Contact Mercer to start optimising your tech stack, supercharging your employee experience and ensuring future-fit HR jobs through our Work Design tool — we’ll even walk you through a digital-first workforce transformation, backed by our proven change methodology that already pays dividends through innovation in the HR function today. Stream the New Shape of Work podcast or the Now of Work series to hear from peers who partner with us for a brighter future.
Global HR transformation programme manager, Mercer
Mercer Senior Partner and Global Advisory Solution and Insights Leader
Global Leader, Digital HR Strategy, Mercer | Leapgen
Communication consulting & digital engagement strategist, Mercer