Getty Images

SHRM warns of HR polycrisis from AI, incivility, DEI backlash

SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor Jr. highlights a polycrisis facing HR managers, as political discord, AI's effects on the workplace and DEI battles challenge HR and workers.

HR managers are facing an unprecedented time, as challenges mount from automation; political discord; and the diversity, equity and inclusion backlash. There are so many gathering problems that it's a polycrisis, where multiple crises occur simultaneously, according to Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management.

"A storm is coming," Taylor said to attendees at SHRM's annual conference this week in Chicago. Because of AI, there is a need to train 1 billion workers globally, especially at a time when education in the U.S. and abroad "has never been more fragile."

A storm is coming.
Johnny TaylorPresident and CEO, Society for Human Resource Management

HR will be at the center of managing this polycrisis, which includes the rapid adoption of generative AI creating a demand for reskilling and upskilling. But COVID-19 was a "wrecking ball" to education, causing significant disruption and learning loss, resulting in a decline of math and reading skills, Taylor said. This will put more of a burden on HR to skill workers, he said. 

Taylor's claim is reflected in data gathered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress demonstrating academic declines in the U.S. following the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance,  math scores of 9-year-olds tested between 2020 and 2022 fell by seven points on average, and reading scores dropped by five points on average, it reported. 

"We aren't ready for the full impact of AI on jobs and work," Taylor said. "Millions of people are in danger of losing their ability to earn a living."

Another part of the polycrisis is workplace incivility, which is rising with societal divisions, something that will be exacerbated by the upcoming election, he said. "It's going to get ugly."

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts, which rose to prominence in 2020, have more recently been under attack. Taylor called for a reset in how DEI is approached, encouraging HR managers to lead with inclusion when discussing it.

"Everyone has a right to feel that they belong in the workplace and that they are included," he said.

Allstate, an insurance company headquartered in Northbrook, Ill., has done just that.

"We lead with inclusion," said Olga Otero-Brown, vice president, talent advisor and head of inclusive diversity and equity at Allstate, in an interview with TechTarget Editorial. Indeed, Allstate uses IDE as an acronym instead of DEI, a change it made about two years ago. She said she believes it makes a difference in how employees perceive the concept.

"If we're going to drive some change, even in the wording, we have to be able to say, 'Why are we doing this?'" Otero-Brown said. She said HR leads with inclusion because the company encompasses a range of individuals, communities and interests.

"We feel that we need to lead with inclusion and create that community where people can bring their best selves," Otero-Brown said.

Kerri Nelson, director of Mission Research at SHRM, said that workplaces experiencing civility issues will pay a price in turnover. "Those who rate their workplace as uncivil are two times more likely to leave their job in the next year," she said, citing its own survey data.

But other problems HR faces include employee morale and retention. Nelson said 44% of workers feel burned out from their work, and those workers are "three times more likely to be actively searching for another job."

Patrick Thibodeau is an editor at large for TechTarget Editorial who covers HCM and ERP technologies. He's worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.

Dig Deeper on Talent management

Business Analytics
Content Management
and ESG