Impact of AI on the Future of Employees in Asia: Q&A with Anuradha Purbey, People Director at Aviva

June 23, 20177:53 am928 views

While most of us dread the impact of AI, automation, machine learning to replace the need for human intervention, but HR professionals on the contrary believe this rapid rate of digital transformation could lead to emergence of new job roles requiring new-age skills.

They further agree on common grounds of AI and automation to complement human intelligence, with employees working alongside robots to increase efficiency and productivity.

Delving deeper to understand how AI will revolutionise the workplaces of the future, we at HR in Asia caught up on an interesting conversation with Anuradha Purbey, People Director, Aviva, and Speaker at CommunicAsia 2017 to understand the workplace culture at the company, employee engagement initiatives and the need for workforce today to change perception towards robotics and AI.

“See the technology revolution as an ‘opportunity’ to do better/ different work rather than fear it and ‘choose’ not to do to anything about it.”

  • How will AI revolutionise workplaces of the future to disrupt workings, and impact jobs in Asia?

With the help of AI, a lot of the roles which are repetitive, predictable and manual in nature will be automated and technology will only get cheaper, better and faster. As a result, nearly 30 to 40% of existing jobs will be eliminated and/or will require different capabilities in the future.

Anuradha Purbey, People Director, Aviva, and Speaker at CommunicAsia 2017

Anuradha Purbey, People Director, Aviva, and Speaker at CommunicAsia 2017

  • How can employees hold onto their jobs, to make sure they are not displaced or replaced by robotic intelligence?

History has shown us time and again that humans will keep looking for ways to improve efficiency and productivity, regardless of what industry we are in. Whether it’s the farmer leveraging machinery to plant and harvest the crops, the construction worker using machines to do his/her work safely and productively or the homeowner relying on robotic vacuum cleaners to clean the house, our natural instinct is to try and do more with less.

With advancements in technology, there is always the fear that people will lose their jobs. At the same time we all know the distinctive qualities of human beings which set us apart from everyone else including machines i.e. creativity, agility, resilience and ability to connect the dots.

We need to leverage our ‘unique’ capabilities to rethink our own roles to see how they will be impacted and then develop our skills aligned with the jobs of the future. We need to see the technology revolution as an ‘opportunity’ to do better/ different work rather than fear it and ‘choose’ not to do to anything about it. With this mindset shift (fear vs. opportunity), employees will be able to future-proof themselves.

  • How can HR managers ensure to maintain a competitive edge for businesses ahead of the disruption wave?

The disruption has already begun and HR has a key role to play in it. We need to enable our employees to embrace the Digital and Technology revolution and be prepared to thrive in it. This starts with helping employees familiarise themselves with the above and more importantly see for themselves how their own lives will be enhanced by digital/tech/AI.

Secondly, we need to help build resilience in the organisation so that both the company and employees are better prepared to deal with change. Finally, we need to imagine the workforce of the future, upskill and re-skill our employees so that they have roles in the ‘new world’.

We may not have all the answers about how big the impact of digital, tech or AI will be in the future and how fast it will hit us, but we do know it’s going to be sooner rather than later. Hence we need to get started, learn fast, fail fast and more importantly enjoy the journey.

See: 63% HR Leaders in APAC Expect AI and Automation to Impact Organisations by 2022

  • What are the benefits employees desire most today and how can HR managers bridge the gap between employee demands and employers approach?

With the hyper connected, ‘always-on’ world and people exercising more choice about how they want to integrate life and work, flexible working is definitely an area which employees want more of these days. While this may not be possible for all roles, there are clear opportunities for employees to work flexibly.

The three key enablers for this are – trust between managers and employees, shifting the focus from being present in the office to delivering on agreed outcomes, and having the appropriate technology and controls in place. The people function does play a key role in working with managers and employees to make all of the above happen.

  • Tell us more about the people management strategies at Aviva Singapore to curb talent attrition and increase employee engagement.

At Aviva, we want people to do the best work of their lives. We also fully appreciate that each employee is unique in the sense that he/she has aspirations, strengths and development needs which are different to others. Our approach to employee engagement is underpinned by the above two tenets.

We believe that ‘pride in what I do and how I contribute to the Company’s successes is the key driver of engagement. Hence the CEO and the leadership team spend considerable amount of time talking to employees about the company’s purpose, values and strategic drivers, and the role employees’ play in delivering them.

For example, our purpose is to defy uncertainty and one of our values is ‘To Create Legacy’. I asked my Payroll Team as to how they contribute to delivering our purpose and how do they create legacy every single day. This changed the meaning of work for them.

To cater to the individuality of employees, we have our flagship engagement program called Basecamp. It is a holistic programme offering free activities for employees ranging from fitness, community volunteering to self-development workshops. There is something for everyone and we leverage on it to drive engagement.

  • As organisations embark onto the digital transformation agenda, how can HRs be the strategic partners of change to help smooth transitioning of employees to embrace digital fully across all company operations?

Embracing change starts with a ‘mindset shift’ and building resilience to thrive in it – both of which are key areas that the people function can help enable partnering with all key stakeholders.

  • What will be the future of HR? Would we still need HR departments and personnel with the AI boom, for managing multigenerational workforce, administrative and payroll functions, and motivating employees?

The future of HR (or the People Function as we call it at Aviva) is bright and exciting. I can already imagine co-working with Robots, AI, Digital and Machine Learning which frees up my time to do more value and insight driven work, enabling people to realize their full potential.

Roles like People Operations and MI will be disrupted, face-to-face learning will be balanced with e-learning. Managers will be better equipped to manage performance and capability needs, and a key focus of the people function will be managing the workforce of the futurewith a constant need to align talent demand with supply.

People function teams will need to understand the business and future trends now more than ever to enable the business to be ahead of the disruption curve. People professionals will need to be flexible, agile, and resilient and continuously learn to stay relevant in the fast-pace changing environment.

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Also read: When Robots Steal Jobs: 7 Occupations Most at Risk of Being Replaced by Automation

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