Trust gap on AI in the workplace must be overcome if businesses are to get ahead

With many AI firms increasingly pivoting towards developing specialised tools for easier integration into the workplace, it may come as a surprise that half of the companies Freeths recently surveyed have no plans at all to implement them, with only 15 percent reporting that investing in artificial intelligence tools for human resources was a strategic priority.

The data shows that the current reticence towards bringing AI into the workplace is the result of an ongoing trust problem, with HR managers dubious as to the benefits of deploying such technology, especially in areas such as recruitment and employee development. Whilst 43% of participants said that they would trust AI tools to support the learning and development of employees, only 11% said that they would be confident using AI tools to select and recruit the best candidates for each available role. With opaque ‘black box’ models the most visible manifestations of AI on the market, companies need to overcome an apparent knowledge gap if they are to integrate AI into their businesses and gain an edge over competitors.

It might even be necessary for companies to face up to this gap just to stay afloat, with data on recruiting challenges showing that firms were steadily losing candidates due to lengthy and difficult hiring processes. With a tight labour market and smaller companies especially susceptible to this kind of attrition, many hiring managers might be forced to grapple with implementing AI tools in an attempt to streamline recruitment. While this could certainly help address such challenges, the wider lack of trust is, for now, likely to remain a barrier to the swifter rollout of AI across industry.

Highlighting this point is the fact that 51% of participants surveyed said that they do not currently plan to implement AI HR tools at all, underlining ongoing reluctance despite promises that AI will overhaul productivity in the workplace as the sector takes centre stage in the public consciousness. It appears that, while breathless reporting on AI continues to generate benevolent headlines in some parts of the press, companies are not as seduced by its supposed charms as might have been expected by this point.

It seems likely that the lack of trust in AI is related to the (in)ability to quantify the costs involved and the defined benefits of integrating AI. Our survey revealed that only 19% of participants said they had a good understanding of AI HR tools available. Within this is the crux of the problem – the reflexive nature of the technology means it is improving faster than can be made sense of for most. The significant proportion of employers that are de-prioritising AI overlap with those that are not fully confident in how to apply it to their businesses and put faith in the gains it could bring.

With time invested in understanding available tools, trust might be built, enabling businesses to gain a march on sceptical competitors. Even if HR do invest this time and remaining untrusting, then at least they will be making an informed decision based on the knowledge of what is available. AI developers can play a key role in this process by improving their marketing of their products, and educating potential customers as to exactly what can be achieved as models get more specialised and find places to settle in throughout the value chain.

It isn’t fair to say that the integration of AI being somewhat surprisingly far down the list of priorities for employers is due to ignorance. It has to be noted that there is justifiable concern in the HR community. There is potential for the creation of discrimination risks through recruitment screening, data privacy risks through losing control of personal data, and of course for internal misuse on the part of employees.

It seems, however, that much could be done to rectify this mistrust by demonstrating to employers what tools are out there is assist HR processes, how these tools operate, and how they will benefit their business. Investing time into researching and trialling the AI tools available would allow the current knowledge gap to be bridged. Even if HR managers choose not to implement such tools, they would at least be making more informed decisions.

Ultimately, given how quickly artificial intelligence models are proliferating, HR managers should begin to scope out their options before others do.