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The biggest 2020 workforce issue may be Medicare for all

Adoption of universal healthcare, or Medicare-for-all-type plans, may make retaining employees and recruiting a lot harder, according to Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace.

A leading presidential election issue is Medicare for all, or universal healthcare. That may also be the largest 2020 workforce issue.

If government health insurance replaces private employer plans, firms may have to work harder to retain and recruit employees, said Dan Schawbel, research director at Future Workplace, a New York City-based consultancy. HR's job will change, and corporate leaders may have to change their approaches to managing their firms, he said.  

Along with the possible effects of universal healthcare, Schawbel discusses how AI may affect the 2020 workforce and beyond in this interview. Schawbel is also the author of Back to Human, a book about socially connected workforces.

Workers are told today that they will have a relationship with robots. What does it mean to have a relationship with a robot?

Dan Schawbel: Workers today have to have a relationship with robots and coexist, because robots will be taking away the tasks that humans don't want to do and enabling humans to do the work that adds the most value to their job and organization. It's more of a coexistence with both working hand in hand, essentially side by side, to accomplish goals in a way that lowers cost, increases value and productivity for everyone involved.

Dan Schawbel, research director at Future WorkplaceDan Schawbel

Does HR have any role in managing the robot workforce?

Schawbel: Yes, of course. HR and IT are going to get closer and closer together. You'll see CIOs managing the nonhuman workforce, but also working side by side with HR to manage the coexistence of both human and robot.

In a recent Oracle study of HR professionals, only 6% of HR departments have implemented AI. Is that because of fear of AI, insufficient budgets or lack of technical skills?

Schawbel: All of the above. It is lack of budgets. It's fear. It's misunderstanding. It's a lack of the actual skills. All of that adds up to slow adoption, especially in big companies -- they are slow to adopt anything. We are in the early adopter stage. The ones who are implementing it, mostly, are in recruiting.

Recruiters are concerned that AI may reduce the need for recruiters. Have you seen that?

Schawbel: That doesn't seem like the case. They are becoming more efficient. Recruiters are spending less time reviewing the applications, so it saves them time. Recruiters do more of the value add, which is during the final rounds of interviews. In many cases, they are helping with the transition from the offer to the onboarding.

Won't employers be tempted to think about whether they need as many recruiters?

Schawbel: I think it's possible. No one really knows. And while we're going to lose jobs, new jobs will be created.

That's the aggregate employment picture. Let's talk about HR. What will the impact be there?

Schawbel: More administrative tasks in HR are going to be eliminated. [For instance,] the HR help desk, where it's very repetitive -- you're answering the same questions every single day from employees. That's going to be gone, because you can just have a chatbot programmed to respond to those questions.

More administrative tasks in HR are going to be eliminated.
Dan SchawbelResearch director, Future Workplace

One of the things that you've written about is the importance of employers to take a stand on social issues to help make their firms attractive to candidates. One social issue is privacy. Should employers be cautious about the deployment of technology that monitors employee behavior?

Schawbel: There needs to be transparency. Companies want to monitor to ensure that an employee is doing work and not fooling around. It's very Big Brother in the workplace now.

And if you look at other countries like China, they're monitoring people's emotions and stress levels. This could indicate that the person might not be good at the job or might not be healthy. What I was pertaining to are the big social issues. Companies have more pressure on them now than ever before to make a positive contribution over just making a profit.

If a firm has a strong goal of increasing the diversity of its workforce, should it think twice about using video in recruiting?

Schawbel: Yes, I think so. But there is such a push for people to have pictures on LinkedIn, and that creates bias, too. The bigger issue is not video; it's that we live in a world where it's very easy to find someone's picture and information and personal things about them, which creates the bias. The bigger thing is we have this information to judge at our fingertips.

You have mentioned health insurance as a major 2020 workforce issue. If Congress were to adopt Medicare for all and end employer-sponsored health insurance, what impact will it have on the workforce?

Schawbel: It would have the biggest, the highest possible impact imaginable. Companies would have no choice but to create healthy, amazing workplaces that serve employees, not just profit. Because, otherwise, you'd leave. You don't need them for the healthcare. If you don't need them for healthcare, then it's much easier for you to move around to other jobs, because nothing is left holding you back. Of course, there is the salary and whatnot, but there's less stress to move.

What other effects might universal healthcare have?

Schawbel: I think you'd get more people choosing jobs that they're passionate about at companies they think are great and cool. That eventually will lead to better leadership at firms.

In a Medicare-for-all scenario, what will HR's role be?

Schawbel: It will be more on the creative side, like coming up with team-building activities -- doing fun things that add value on top of your job. HR will still control employee benefits; you would just remove healthcare from that. It will focus more on learning and development. If AI does remove recruiting or most of the recruiters, HR departments will be tiny. It might not even be called HR anymore.

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