Dr. Anna Tavis is Clinical Professor and Chair of the Human Capital Management Department at NYU’s School of Professional Studies. As Department Chair, she leads three MS degree programs in the Human Capital Management Portfolio: Human Capital Management; Human Capital Analytics and Technology and Executive Coaching and Organizational Consulting. Additionally, Dr. Tavis manages five HCM certificate programs. She is the co-author of Humans at Work. The art and practice of creating the hybrid workplace. (Kogan Page, 2022). Her upcoming book, The Digital Coaching Revolution (Kogan Page, 2024) is scheduled for launch in the spring 2024.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with Higher Education Digest, Dr. Tavis shared her professional journey, current roles and responsibilities at NYU, the impact of generative AI models including ChatGPT on the workforce, pearls of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Dr. Tavis, please tell us about your professional background and areas of interest.
Throughout my professional career, I’ve been deeply engaged in examining the interactions and dynamics of individuals and teams within organizational settings. My primary interest has always been in understanding how individuals operate within work environments, taking into account the myriad factors that shape their behavior, interactions, and overall well-being. The rapid evolution of technology and its transformative effect on the workplace has been a significant area of focus for me. At every juncture of my career, I have aimed to design processes that bridge the divide between individuals and the organizations they are a part of.
Brief us about your roles and responsibilities as Department Chair, Human Capital Management at New York University.
In my role as the Department Chair, Human Capital Management at New York University, I oversee a diverse portfolio of responsibilities. This spans from leading departmental strategies that stay ahead of the ever-evolving field of Human Resources Management to adapting real-world needs into our academic programs. I am privileged to lead a team of world class faculty who not only teach cutting edge curricula, but also mentor and guide our students. Most of our graduates make a significant impact in the world of work. Equally vital to my role is remaining at the forefront of workplace innovation. This involves research, industry conferences, and sharing insights on the future of work. Throughout all these commitments, we remain committed to diversity, inclusion and the highest ethical standards of our profession.
How do you try to bring in a practical approach towards the subjects and make them industry-oriented?
At the heart of NYU’s HCM program lies our distinctive people and culture. Both our students and faculty are deeply invested in applied and experiential learning. This commitment to practical engagement isn’t just an attribute — it is our signature strength, setting us apart from other academic institutions. The current dynamic of the workplace and its inherent challenges is the starting point for us and our collaboration with industry is not an afterthought – it is integral to everything we do. The examples include
- Internship and field visits allowing students to gain first hand experiences in real HR settings
- Capstone projects requiring students to work on corporate partners’ projects and apply their knowledge to real life projects.
- Guest speakers. NYU doors are open to industry leaders, HR practitioners and alumni.
- Staying current with technology. We equip our students not only with the theoretical knowledge of the latest technology trends but also with the latest tools as they are being introduced in the workplace.
- Focus on “Human Skills.” In our curriculum, we emphasize communication, negotiation, and other “soft” skills, as they are vital for success in organizations, especially for HR leaders.
We transform our classrooms into hubs of innovation, not mere venues for transmitting established knowledge. We emphasize critical thinking, evaluating opportunities and challenges, and cultivating problem-solving skills. This approach provides our students with a solid foundation, preparing them to succeed even in the most demanding work scenarios.
You co-authored the book, “Humans at Work: The Art and Practice of Creating the Hybrid Workplace”. Can you please share the major takeaways from this book?
Our book, Humans at Work (Kogan Page, 2022) examines the pivotal role of human-centric practices in today’s constantly evolving workplace. At its core, the book emphasizes the shift towards a more human-oriented work environments amidst multiple changes involving digitization of tasks, emerging workplace designs, and diverse makeup of today’s workforces, all converging to redefine traditional workplace norms. Together, these trends are shaping a new era of distributed and digitally enabled network of workers where the work comes to workers instead of the workers going to work.
What causes burnout in professionals and how does it differ from other challenges and obstacles at work?
Worker burnout is a multifaceted challenge, stemming from both external and internal factors. Externally, the triggers are often more straightforward to identify and address. They include extended work hours, relentless travel, lengthy commutes, multitasking, and sleep deprivation. Further complicating this issue is the rise of “workism” – a social shift where work isn’t merely a means to support oneself. It becomes the central pillar of one’s identity, often sidelining family, friends, social engagements, and leisure activities.
On the other hand, the intrinsic factors revolve around the essence of work and the core human motivators: autonomy, mastery and purpose. Extended burnout frequently arises from feelings of lost autonomy (such as mandates to return to the office), stagnation in professional growth, and a missing sense of purpose in one’s role.
To solve the epidemic of burnout at work, one must address those two sets of issues together.
What will be the impact of ChatGPT and other forms of generative AI on the workforce?
Generative AI models including ChatGPT are already reshaping the workforce in a few profound ways. Their integration offers both challenges and opportunities for organizations and societies at large. To name just a few specific shifts whose impact needs to be addressed.
- Automation of routine tasks and replacement of routine jobs is already reducing demand for certain types of jobs including data entry, customer support and other such roles. More complex tasks are also undergoing automation.
- Enhanced productivity. For knowledge workers, these AI tools can aid in research, draft content, provide data analysis, thus enhancing their productivity with an idea that every job will eventually have a “co-pilot” to assist with the routine tasks.
- Creation of new roles. Historically speaking, the introduction of new technology will lead to the emergence of new types of roles. For AI itself, one can expect roles related to AI training, “prompting”, maintenance and ethics and many more.
- Continuous learning. To remain relevant and “employable,” one needs to continue to learn new skills. The workplace culture needs to be the culture of lifelong learning.
- Improved Decision Making. Generative AI can assist in data analysis, forecasting, and provide better insights for decision makers.
- Ethical and Privacy considerations. Concerns related to data privacy, surveillance, intellectual property rights are front and center when the latest AI tools are being integrated into the workplace. New roles will be created to oversee the ethical implementation of these tools.
- Increased Personalization. AI will be used to create more personalized experiences for consumers leading to potentially higher engagement and demands for more personalized services.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Proactive strategies, continuous learning, and a focus on ethical applications will be essential for successful AI integration.
What do you think the world of work will look like in 10 years?
Given the fast pace of innovations in all aspects of our professional lives, it is truly hard to offer precise predictions. Nonetheless, beyond technological advancements, I foresee an enhanced emphasis on well-being and health. It is critical to prioritize our physical and mental health; only then can we navigate and adapt to the increasing pressures brought about by the relentless pace of technological and societal change.
What valuable advice would you like to the students for them to have a prosperous career ahead?
To the HR students, I would advise to stay current with the trends of the time. Our profession is as much about understanding people as it is about creating the right organizational conditions for them to flourish. Keeping the balance between our personal and professional lives backed by continuous learning and ethical principles can pave the way for a rewarding HR career. I am convinced that HR will continue to grow in the importance of its mission in the age of AI.