The rise of ChatGPT and other large language models has been well-documented, although the technology underpinning it has been developing for several years.
One common question now arising, however, is whether managers and HR teams could potentially use ChatGPT in the workplace of the future?
Role of ChatGPT
While it is certainly impressive to see ChatGPT quickly create creative content, is its ability to recreate the most human of traits something we should be worried about?
Headlines that ChatGPT was able to pass the exams required in order to become a doctor, lawyer or accountant have been met with alarm.
In reality, this should not be surprising – it is exactly what ChatGPT is supposed to be good at. It can scour billions of pieces of information and use this to provide an answer to a question posed - providing the most logical next word in the sentence - in a way that a human never could without technology.
Nevertheless, it still lacks some basic skills that would come very easily to a human.
It is for this reason that decision-making in the workplace is one area in which, while ChatGPT might be able to do some of the heavy lifting, it is unlikely to be given free reign any time soon, particularly where the consequences of a poor decision may have severe consequences for the business.
In some sectors, many would be uncomfortable delegating decisions to ChatGPT.
Automation inevitably brings existential risks to certain roles – jobs that typically come top of many lists include taxi drivers and cashiers. At the other end of the spectrum are roles that are more based on human relationships, such as therapists and carers. ChatGPT would likely come across as inauthentic - or worse - in a setting where people are used to having a human communicator or decision maker, and this includes in the workplace.
A place within HR
When it comes to HR matters, the clue is in the name – HR teams are inherently human in nature. HR teams may be tempted to disregard ChatGPT as a piece of technology that cannot be harnessed as part of their day-to-day roles because of the interpersonal nature of the work.
However, there are areas where it could benefit HR teams to increase efficiency and give them more time to focus on other parts of their role. There are several potential applications of machine learning to the recruitment process, and ChatGPT could also start to feature in day-to-day HR processes for those already employed.
Many people are of the view that ChatGPT will not replace employees. Rather, it has been suggested employees that do not or cannot use ChatGPT could be challenged by those that can. There is no reason why this cannot apply to HR matters.
Take, for example, a situation where an employee is dismissed for poor performance and brings a claim for unfair dismissal. In claims at the Employment Tribunal, it is vital for employers to have a ‘paper trail’. Witness evidence is always crucial, but the witnesses need documentary evidence to refer to and back up what they are saying. Could Chat GPT assist with this?
If an organisation were to have an underperforming employee, in order to prove that any dismissal was procedurally fair there would need to be evidence that the employee was informed of their shortcomings and given sufficient chance to improve. This would likely involve staged meetings as part of a formal performance improvement plan. ChatGPT could help HR teams with the production of appropriate documents throughout the process.
It is sensible to have a note-taker - typically an HR representative who can also advise on process and best practice - at formal meetings, and this is unlikely to change.
The easy availability of high-quality microphones within mobile phones and voice recognition software has not led to a sea-change to record these meeting – they are often uncomfortable enough already. Having an HR representative attend to take notes, albeit not verbatim, and provide policy guidance and support can be invaluable.
However, if ChatGPT had access to template letters used by the business and the relevant policy documents (e.g., an organisation’s capability policy) and the notes of what was discussed at the meeting, it could provide an efficiency saving if ChatGPT produced a first draft of outcome letters from the performance review meetings.
The manager could simply confirm an outcome (“I want to give this employee a stage one warning”) and some justifications (“the employee has only hit sales targets of X in the first quarter of this financial years” or “the employee has had Y incidences of lateness/non-attendance in the past three months”) and ChatGPT could prepare a first draft in moments.
Clearly the letter would need checking, but this would save the manager time and free them up to carry out other responsibilities. It could also reduce the risk of matters not being put in writing, which would help employers in any subsequent Tribunal claim.
Future of the workplace
Blindly entrusting the often-delicate role of an HR professional to ChatGPT would be a quick way to erode confidence in an organisation and destroy something that takes so long to build up – a positive culture and environment.
Like all new technologies, ChatGPT brings challenges as well as opportunities, and it is unlikely that completely delegating the decision-making process itself to ChatGPT would be sensible. There would also be data protection concerns around the security of the software and whether it is safe to use it on confidential issues, so care is needed.
However, that does not mean that there is no place for it in HR matters.
Artificial intelligence is already ingrained in the technology that people use on a day-to-day basis, such as predictive text features, and there is significant scope to expand its use, including within the HR sphere. For now, organisations and HR professionals may consider using ChatGPT to explore how it can make their workload a little bit lighter, freeing up time to support the business on a strategic level.