• Both employee representatives and HR managers are in favor of a clear ethical framework for the use of AI and modern technologies
  • Update on the survey by the Federal Association for Human Resource Managers (BPM) and the HR Tech Ethics; in which over 700 employee representatives participated

Frankfurt am Main, February 2, 2022. A survey of employee representatives by the Federal Association for Human Resource Managers (BPM) and the HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board reveals that more and more companies are implementing, piloting or planning to use AI applications. It is primarily recruiting-related use cases, such as job advertisement optimization, résumé analysis and chatbot integration where corresponding applications are used and considered useful. Compared to HR managers, employee representatives tend to be more critical of potential improvements in HR work through the use of modern technologies. Both groups rate the automated creation of rankings, e.g. in talent management, as the least beneficial.

The latest survey analysis, which is available now, is based on feedback from over 700 employee representatives. BPM and the HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board had already conducted a comparable survey of HR managers prior to this at the end of 2021. The results of both online surveys have now been consolidated, scientifically supervised by Martin Kersting, Professor of Psychological Diagnostics at the Justus Liebig University in Gießen and HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board member. 

“Using modern technologies in HR doesn’t just impact HR managers. Therefore, in addition to conducting a survey of the HR side, we also aimed to involve employee representatives in the AI conversation. Comparing both perspectives provides important impulses for embedding ethical guidelines on the use of modern technologies in HR management," explains Inga Dransfeld-Haase, President of the Federal Association of Human Resource Managers (BPM).

Comparison of HR and employee representative perspectives

When asked whether sufficient clarification on how applications work was provided prior to the introduction of modern technologies, employee representatives were more likely to give a negative response than HR managers. In both surveys, the involvement of the works council tended to be rated as inadequate, with the employee representative group seeing greater gaps here as well. 

The study’s results point to uncertainties in the use of new technologies. This makes the need for more certainty and accountability in their introduction all the greater. A majority of HR managers and employee representatives, for example, want binding guidelines for the use of such technologies. These guidelines don’t necessarily need to be legally binding, although significantly more employee representatives welcome legal requirements than is the case for HR managers. Alternatively, support from expert bodies at social or economic level is accepted, although there is still too little of it. 

The guidelines most commonly known among employee representatives are ver.di’s Ethical Guidelines for the Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence (AI), whereas HR managers are more familiar with the European Commission's White Paper on AI. The German government’s AI strategy comes in second place for both groups. Many of the guidelines and regulations listed in the survey are, however, unknown to more than half of the employee representatives involved. 

The survey focused in particular on the guidelines of the HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board (see https://www.ethikbeirat-hrtech.de). These also meet with strong approval among employee representatives. They therefore provide a good basis for drawing up action-oriented corporate guidelines, which more than half of the study participants consider necessary. Compared to HR managers, proportionally more employee representatives perceive the guidelines as (too) mild.

“The current study emphasizes that there is a greater need than ever before for pragmatic, action-guiding ethical guidelines regarding the responsible use of AI and modern technologies in HR. HR and employee representative bodies both need to be equipped with the necessary tools to use modern technologies in their day-to-day work in a business-oriented, safe and clear-sighted manner," emphasizes Prof. Dr. Martin Kersting, Professor of Psychological Diagnostics at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen, and member of the HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board. 

Areas of application for AI and modern technologies 

As part of the current study, participants were asked about eight areas of application for AI and modern technologies in HR management. Specifically, it involved: the analysis of résumés, optimization of job postings, chatbots as points of contact, the matching of profiles, creating rankings, suggestions for development measures, analysis of audio and video recordings, and prediction of resignation intentions. 

The study shows that AI is most widely used for optimizing job postings, and the use of chatbots. In the HR manager survey this is ranked second behind the analysis of résumés, with a prevalence of 11 %. Among HR managers, a clear majority of those who already use AI and modern technologies, or intend to introduce them, consider their use to be beneficial in terms of improving the quality of HR work. Employee representatives take a much more critical view. However, both groups consider the automated optimization of job postings to be of particular value.

Employee representatives and HR: Knowledge and solidarity needed

Working with AI and modern technologies requires careful scrutiny of the data sets used within the applications to avoid discrimination and other misalignments related to historical data. In this context, the current survey of employee representatives identifies a troubling insight, to an even greater extent than among HR professionals: testing of the applications is omitted in almost half of the cases. The HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board, however, considers such tests to be an indispensable step in the introduction of modern technologies. 

Dr. Elke Eller, Co-Chair of the HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board, reminds both sides, “It is essential not to waste energy trying to stop or even reverse technology implementation. Both HR and employee representative bodies need to boldly invest in relevant knowledge and actively engage with AI and modern technologies. This is the only way they can provide employees with effective help and guidance, as well as effective protection in day-to-day corporate life. She sees the need for HR and employee representatives to work closely together, “HR managers are responsible for HR decisions and processes, regardless of whether these take place offline, digitally, or with the help of AI-based technologies. Involving employee representatives may pose challenges, but is an absolute must and will ultimately lead to success,” says Dr. Eller.

Top marks for HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board guidelines

It is encouraging that the study underpins the relevance of the guidelines for the responsible use of AI and modern technologies published by the HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board in 2020 (see https://www.ethikbeirat-hrtech.de). “The HR managers and employee representatives involved in the study are clearly in favor of safeguards for the use of digital technologies in corporate environments.” They also both give top marks to the guidelines developed by the HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board, not only for content and precise formulation but also for practicability,” explains Michael H. Kramarsch, Co-Chair of the Advisory Board.  

Overall, all ten guidelines of the HR-Tech Ethics Advisory Board meet with a high level of approval in both studies. The recommendation that it is necessary to define which personal data is to be used for which purposes before an automated solution is used, is rated as particularly relevant, as this ensures that such data is only collected, stored and used for the intended purpose. According to respondents, the statement made by the Ethics Advisory Board in guideline 3 is equally relevant and important:: Anyone using AI solutions must ensure that a human has the final decision-making authority for key personnel decisions.

The survey not only includes the perceived importance of the guidelines but also whether they strike the right balance between obligation and freedom of choice, and whether the guidelines are (much) too liberal, just right, or (much) too strict. In all instances, the “strictness” of the ethic advisory board’s guidelines was judged “just right” by at least 63% of employee representatives. The approval rate was slightly higher among HR managers. Notably, a significant number of employee representatives, who didn’t rate the guidelines as “just right” overall, found some points to be (far too) moderate. Among the HR manager group, on the other hand, there were two points predominantly rated as (much) too strict by those who didn’t consider the guidelines “just right” in all aspects.

“Digitalization has arrived in the corporate world, and in HR in particular. But the time to discuss the associated practical and ethical challenges on a wider scale, and to ensure that technologies are used responsibly, is becoming increasingly scarce. If we want to move competently in the new digital world and actively participate in it, HR needs to undergo a period of digital enlightenment and emancipation,” the study’s scientific supervisor, Prof. Dr. Martin Kersting of the University of Giessen, sums up. In his regard, the aim is to empower HR and employee representative bodies to identify modern technologies across the spectrum of opportunities and risks as well as benefits and costs, and to make the right decisions in the interests of a sustainable, responsible and improved corporate practice. “The HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board guidelines offer an effective basis for this,” says the study’s scientific supervisor.

Background of the study 

The current study by BPM and the HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board is entitled "Between Fear and New Horizons - Modern Technologies and AI in HR" and is based on a comprehensive online survey answered by over 700 employee representatives in November/December 2021. The analysis was scientifically supervised by Martin Kersting, Professor of Psychological Diagnostics at the Justus Liebig University in Gießen and HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board member. 

Prior to the employee representative survey, HR managers were surveyed in a comparable study in summer 2021 (updated November 2021). A summary of the results of both surveys can be obtained by sending an email to: info@hkp.com

About BPM and the HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board

The Federal Association of Human Resources Managers (BPM) is the professional body for HR managers working within companies, organizations and associations. The association promotes knowledge-sharing among HR managers and represents the interests of its 4,600 members in political and business arenas. The association’s members are HR professionals from all HR functions and management levels, from HR generalists in start-ups to HR directors in Dax corporations. Details: www.bpm.de

The HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board, founded in December 2019, consists of renowned scientists and experts specialized on behavioral economics, HR management, psychology, business ethics and law. Its members include HR executives from established companies, experienced HR practitioners, founders, CEOs, and civil society representatives. The board’s goal is to provide HR professionals in particular with guidance on the responsible use of modern technologies. Having presented guidelines for the responsible use of AI and digital technologies in HR, the focus of the HR Tech Ethics Advisory Board is currently on empowering HR professionals to address relevant issues. Details: www.ethikbeirat-hrtech.de

Contact: thomas.mueller@hkp.com,Tel. +49 176 100 88 237

Author Thomas Müller

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