Type this question directly into ChatGPT and you get a resounding ‘yes’ followed by a comprehensive list of how it can be beneficial to those working in the HR and wellbeing industry.
Benefits listed are:
Onboarding and Training
Anonymity and Privacy
AI can take away repetitive tasks
We asked an actual human – Lewis Barker, Director, Workplace Services, EMEA, at technology platform ServiceNow, whose brief touches on wellbeing and who is embracing AI to accelerate productivity – what he thought. He broadly agrees, seeing the benefit of AI being “taking away the repetitive and administrative work and allowing us to get more free space to concentrate on the truly impactful work that gives us purpose and meaning”.
Indeed, feeling a sense of purpose at work is linked to wellbeing. Given this, AI could potentially boost wellbeing professionals’ own wellbeing levels by allowing more time to build this sense of purpose (if they’re not worrying about the robots stealing their jobs in this free time, see this article for more on that topic).
AI could reduce stress
Obviously reducing workloads by taking on these more mundane but time consuming tasks will also reduce stress levels. That is, so long as humans resist the human tendency to cram this free time with yet more to-do list tasks:
“These benefits are caveated by saying that AI is harnessed and controlled in the right ways and also workload isn’t just piled up again because ‘free space’ has been created,” says Barker.
We are at a crucial time in terms of setting the rules and boundaries for the use of AI in business, and ensuring that these wellbeing-enhancing potentials of the technology actually come to fruition. Due to the fears around the potential negatives of robots taking over human jobs (thanks, in no small part to media like Hollywood films fuelling the dystopian fires), some are calling vociferously for tight regulation.
But what are the deep opportunities with AI?
Because of this fear, the real and deeper opportunities for working with AI for good are sometimes overlooked. What’s interesting about ChatGPT’s answer to my initial question is that, after listing the benefits, it also issues a warning that, in using artificial intelligence, we mustn’t lose our humanity. It clearly recognises the importance of humans remaining human and the limitations of machines:
“It’s important to note that ChatGPT should not replace human interaction entirely, especially in sensitive situations where emotional support and empathy are crucial. Overall, ChatGPT can enhance HR and wellbeing efforts, but it should be used as a supplement to human expertise rather than a complete replacement.”
What makes us human?
But this begs the questions: do humans understand the importance of their humanness, as machines become increasingly prevalent in our lives? And do they know how to protect their humanity?
These are topics close to academic and author Eve Poole’s heart. Or, rather, I should say “soul” as her new book is called “Robot Souls: programming in humanity”. According to her, AI presents us with the opportunity to 1) help us build our humanity, or 2) suck our souls dry of it.
Hopefully, as you’re reading this and probably got at least a passing interest in wellbeing, you are plumping for the former. So let’s focus on how we do that.
AI: the perfect machine?
Let’s go back to the beginning. Humans, after all, love and respond to stories because they help them make meaning out of them (unlike machines).
In creating AI, designers have tried to design the perfect machine. Broadly, perfection has been defined as an entity that doesn’t make mistakes and is certain that it’s found the “right” answer. It doesn’t let its emotions get in the way of this process.
But what Poole’s book explores is the fact that it’s exactly these apparent ‘flaws’ – the tendency to make mistakes, have emotions, have gut feelings, not be sure of ourselves – that are what make us human and, so, valuable.
Danger to our wellbeing
There is grave danger to, not only our levels of personal wellbeing, but also to the future of the entire human race if we abandon these fundamental characteristics which make us human.
Especially at a time in the business world’s evolution where we’re increasingly realising that behaviour like vulnerability, empathy and bringing our whole selves to work are so important.
Let’s start with making mistakes and understanding why this is important to progress.
We make mistakes to learn
“One of the reasons we make mistakes is in order to accelerate our learning,” says Poole. “It’s only by falling over all the time that we figure out how to balance as toddlers. The other thing that happens when humans make mistakes is that we develop a conscience because if we make a really awful mistake, and you hurt somebody, you start feeling guilty.”
Experiencing guilt, which doesn’t feel pleasant, trains us not to make those “awful” decisions and upsetting people, or being unpopular, so serves as a way to keep the peace.
“So mistakes are actually really important as a future-proofing mechanism,” says Poole.
The role of intuition in making us human
Now let’s look at emotional reactions and intuition (gut feelings), and understand why these are so important.
“Emotional reactions help us keep together as a species, so we’re not too independent of each other,” says Poole. “Affiliations with our children, parents, siblings and other members of the community help us make decisions which keep us together as a community rather than just individuals. This stops us making very foolish errors with our free will which would just mean that we’d all die!”
Related to this but even more misunderstood by the mainstream is the role of intuition in our humanity and why it’s so important.
Uncertainty helps us avoid rushed, bad decisions
“Intuition allows us to fill in the gaps when we’re not sure about things,” says Poole. “As humans we get all sorts of non-obvious ‘messages’ which protect us… like when someone is in a ‘funny’ mood or we’re not quite sure about someone or something. Uncertainty is actually a really helpful way to stop us rushing into bad decisions.”
While some business leaders might dismiss intuition as too “woo woo”, it can be extremely helpful in the workplace too. It allows us to pick up on when we’re not quite sure of ideas or proposals and aren’t yet sure why, or with our attitude to risk or about how we treat people.
“Take Black Lives Matter,” says Poole. “You can bet that there were people in organisations feeling uneasy about how some employees were being treated a long time before this movement, it’s just nobody asked them. We need to start listening to these intuitive thoughts because, in ten years time, that will be your court case.”
We need to bring all our humanness to work
Ultimately Poole’s message is – especially for those working in wellbeing – a positive one. There is much discussion currently of the importance of employees being able to bring our “whole selves” to work. However, often people are reluctant to reveal the vulnerable and imperfect parts of themselves.
Her research is saying we must do this as this is the crux of what makes us human; paradoxically it’s our flaws that make us better than machines. It’s essential we don’t allow AI’s definition of ‘perfection’ to override our humanity.
“My main message to anyone working in workplace wellbeing would be that humans are beautifully and carefully designed,” says Poole. “I would encourage people to embrace their ‘design’, their whole selves, and what it means to be human. And to be as human as you possibly can be. After all, if AI could outperform us on every measure, why would we be in charge? The only thing that really saves us is that we have a ‘soul’ which makes us special, precious and unique. We need to work along AI if we are to have a thriving future.”