Meet Maria and Janet, the latest AI HR professionals

CHICAGO — When it comes to the human resources industry, there are new players in the game. 

Meet Maria, a new artificial intelligence tool created for Wyndham Hotels and Resorts that can answer candidates’ questions, help them fill out applications and schedule interviews. 

And Janet, a chatbot that answers workplace accommodation questions for both employees and leave and accommodation professionals created by CareValidate, an HR software company focused on improving accessibility for individuals with disabilities. 

As companies experiment with and embrace AI, the workplace is seeing “the evolution of the knowledge worker,” Wyndham CHRO Monica Melancon said during a Nov. 7 panel at the Reuters Workforce Health conference in Chicago. “We’ve seen the evolutions of other industries that have been impacted by machines.” 

These personified chatbots and AI tools, which use natural language, can worry some workers, panelists said. 

“It’s 50-50: 50% curiosity or interest in AI and about 50% anxiety and fear for what it means for their job,” said Mary Alice Vuicic, chief people officer at Thomson Reuters. 

The company has tried to do what it can to empower people to “thrive in an AI world,” Vuicic said. That included having conversations with the entire staff and answering questions on AI, machine learning and generative AI and hosting hackathons to give workers a safe space to experiment and gain familiarity with generative AI, Vuicic said. 

Because tools like Maria and Janet are working, employees will need to know how to use them, panelists said. 

In the past quarter, Maria fielded nearly 6,000 general questions from candidates, freeing up talent acquisition leaders to be able to focus on the things that make the greatest impact, Melancon said. It “gives those recruiters the opportunity to stay focused on the day-to-day tasks, interacting directly with those candidates.” 

Wyndham encourages workers to see Maria as a team member or support system to help them with their work, rather than as a replacement, she said. 

“We continue to make it important and critical to know that there’s always going to be a human element,” Melancon said. 

Janet, meanwhile, is offering sound suggestions, said Jiten Chhabra, chief medical officer at CareValidate. 

“What we’ve seen with Janet is that the accommodations are actually working,” Chhabra said.

And these tools can be used by workers without technical expertise because they use natural language, Chhabra said. “I think we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg there,” he said.