Josh Bersin: New Technologies Distract Workers, Slow Productivity

HR told to look for tech tools that ‘drive value’

By Aliah D. Wright Apr 20, 2017
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HYDERABAD, INDIA—Most organizations "anticipate their industries will be totally disrupted by digital trends," said Josh Bersin, founder and principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, speaking April 20 at the SHRM India Tech '17 conference and exposition.

Bersin, the opening keynote speaker, said that 70 percent of HR professionals say they don't have the skills to deal with robotics, artificial intelligence, automation, chat bots, wearables and other technologies.

"Whether we like it or not, technology has not made work easier. Work is actually getting harder," he told an overflow crowd at India's largest HR technology conference ever.
"We are a little bit overwhelmed by information. The average U.S. worker now spends 25 percent of their day reading or answering e-mail."

The average mobile phone user checks his or her device 150 times per day, he said, and 40 percent of the U.S. population believes it is impossible to both succeed at work and have a balanced family life. And fewer than 16 percent of companies have a program to simplify work or help employees deal with stress.

"We're actually taking less vacation," Bersin added. All of this stress, brought about by technology, takes a toll on workers worldwide.

"There's less productivity than we've ever seen," he said, and, as a result, HR has "to make technology easier and embedded in the workforce."

Historical Perspective

"It is impossible to predict the implications of technology before it comes," Bersin said. "If you look at the history of technology, no one could have predicted the steam engine would have created interstate highways and interstate commerce. No one could have predicted that the invention of electricity would eventually result in digital communications and the Internet. Nobody could have predicted that the original word processor would turn into a PC, which turned into a laptop, which turned into a mobile device that would turn into a tool for hailing a car, for buying things, for doing digital learning."

And all of these technological advances disrupted the way work got done.

Bersin added that, while smart watches, fitness bands and other wearables are now all the rage, there is even more innovation to come. "I would not be surprised if, in a few years from now, we are wearing technology fabric within our clothes. We now have smart badges that are so smart they listen to your voice and determine if you are under stress. Companies like Deloitte and Hitachi and others have actually used these technologies to study their workforce and identify why there's high engagement or low engagement in different parts of their organizations."

Virtual reality and artificial intelligence (AI) are on the horizon for use in the workplace, too. "Companies like Facebook have put billions of dollars into it," he said. As SHRM Online reported recently, recruiters are using AI to make smarter hires.  

"We can't predict where all of this is going to go. But my point is that your job and my job in HR is not to necessarily be on the bleeding edge or … implement all of these things, but to pay attention to them because they change the way we work."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Staffing Technology Professionals]

Bersin said he believes the reasons we have this productivity gap, "which has resulted in income inequality, political unrest and all sorts of issues around the world, is because the technology we are being sold … is not necessarily improving the workplace."

He urged HR professionals to make sure new technologies they consider for work "actually drive value."

"Your job," he said, "is to understand the true employee needs in your organizations—so that technology fits into the workforce in your company."

SHRM's HR technology editor Aliah D. Wright is attending the SHRM India Tech '17 conference and exposition in Hyderabad. You can follow her coverage and insights on Twitter @1SHRMScribe and by following the conference hashtag, #SHRMTech17.

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