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Ever since it exploded onto the scene in late 2022, generative AI (GenAI) has been taking the world by storm — so much so that global consulting group Accenture refers to it as “likely the most significant change to work since the agricultural and industrial revolutions.” 

But while a growing number of business leaders are eager to capitalize on the enhanced efficiencies and related profits anticipated from GenAI adoption, some workers worry the new technology will leave them without a job — like the Hollywood writers who went on a 148-day strike to protect their livelihoods from its exploding use. 

Here, we’ll take a look at several recently released reports regarding workplace sentiment about GenAI — as well as expert recommendations for its integration into organizational culture in a way that considers the needs of workers while optimizing its potential.  

Department of Labor: Include workers in AI planning

In mid-May, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced the release of “far reaching” principles that provide guidance for employers and developers about how to design and implement AI technologies in a way that will “enhance job quality and protect workers’ rights.” The DOL said the effort was in response to President Biden’s Executive Order on the Safe, Secure and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence

“Workers must be at the heart of our nation’s approach to AI technology development and use,” said Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su. “These principles announced today reflect the Biden-Harris administration’s belief that, in addition to complying with existing laws, artificial intelligence should also enhance the quality of work and life for all workers. As employers and developers implement these principles, we are determined to create a future where technology serves the needs of people above all.”

In a separate post, “Artificial Intelligence and Worker Well-being: Principles for Developers and Employers,” the DOL describes the rapidly evolving impact of AI on the business landscape, noting that the “precise scope and nature of how AI will change the workplace remains uncertain.”

The DOL notes that AI can help by reducing repetitive tasks, enhancing efficiencies, freeing workers to focus on higher-level responsibilities, and creating new AI-related roles. But, it will also require current workers to gain new skills to operate within an AI-augmented context — which could also have a negative impact on worker autonomy. 

“…AI-augmented work also poses risks if workers no longer have autonomy and direction over their work or their job quality declines,” the DOL says. “The risks of AI for workers are greater if it undermines workers’ rights, embeds bias and discrimination in decision-making processes, or makes consequential workplace decisions without transparency, human oversight and review. There are also risks that workers will be displaced entirely from their jobs by AI.”

Noting the movement by unions and employers in recent years to address such concerns, the DOL says it developed the new guidelines as a shared set of principles that can be applied according to the purposes described.

“The following Principles apply to the development and deployment of AI systems in the workplace, and should be considered during the whole lifecycle of AI – from design to development, testing, training, deployment and use, oversight, and auditing,” the DOL says. “The Principles are applicable to all sectors and intended to be mutually reinforcing, though not all Principles will apply to the same extent in every industry or workplace. The Principles are not intended to be an exhaustive list but instead a guiding framework for businesses. AI developers and employers should review and customize the best practices based on their own context and with input from workers.”

The DOL’s AI Principles for developers and employers include:

  • [North Star] Centering Worker Empowerment: “Workers and their representatives, especially those from underserved communities, should be informed of and have genuine input in the design, development, testing, training, use, and oversight of AI systems for use in the workplace.”
  • Ethically Developing AI: “AI systems should be designed, developed, and trained in a way that protects workers.”
  • Establishing AI Governance and Human Oversight: “Organizations should have clear governance systems, procedures, human oversight, and evaluation processes for AI systems for use in the workplace.”
  • Ensuring Transparency in AI Use: “Employers should be transparent with workers and job seekers about the AI systems that are being used in the workplace.”
  • Protecting Labor and Employment Rights: “AI systems should not violate or undermine workers’ right to organize, health and safety rights, wage and hour rights, and anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation protections.”
  • Using AI to Enable Workers: “AI systems should assist, complement, and enable workers, and improve job quality.”
  • Supporting Workers Impacted by AI: “Employers should support or upskill workers during job transitions related to AI.”
  • Ensuring Responsible Use of Worker Data: “Workers’ data collected, used, or created by AI systems should be limited in scope and location, used only to support legitimate business aims, and protected and handled responsibly.”

BCG: GenAI can lead to more fulfilling work

In a June 12 article for Harvard Business Review (HBR), experts from global consulting firm BCG cite two studies their firm recently conducted that — when combined — demonstrate the potential for GenAI to help workers find more fulfillment in their work.  

In a post describing the results of its “Making Work Work” survey, BCG acknowledges that while employee retention is both complex and unique to each company, research suggests that “doubling down on employee joy” might be a “universal solution.” 

Key findings of the survey include: 

  • “Employees who enjoy their work are 49% less likely to consider a new job than employees who don’t.”
  • “Most company leaders aren’t thinking deeply or strategically about whether their employees find their work interesting, rewarding, or fun. It’s a blind spot that could result in the loss of key talent.”
  • “With a better understanding of what employees need—such as motivation and support—leaders can start to design programs and policies that flip the script. Joy looks different for everyone.”

Which is where BCG says GenAI can make a difference. The firm also found increased risk of quitting among workers who spend too much time “toiling” on tasks they dislike, but better retention odds among those who get to spend enough time on “joy-creating” tasks. BSG says organizations should enable the use of technologies like GenAI to deal with the toil so workers have more time to focus on creating joy in their jobs.  

“This is particularly important given organizations’ focus on integrating GenAI into their processes,” BCG says. “Such efforts are primarily geared toward the technology’s potential to boost productivity or creativity, but companies also need to explore its potential to boost employee joy.” 

Since not all employees may feel joyful about the growing creep of AI into their roles, the BCG experts note in the HBR article that the firm’s most recent study underscores the key role managers play in effective AI adoption: “…the main finding is that having a manager who is immersed in using AI will drive employee engagement with the technology.”

Adecco Group: Workers want AI training

In a January post for the World Economic Forum, Denis Machuel, Chief Executive Officer, Adecco Group says that despite the enormous potential of GenAI to enhance both productivity and profits, the technology can’t do it on its own. 

“Empowering workers to make the most of this seemingly boundless technological potential is the next thing we must get right to get the job done,” Machuel says.

Touted on its website as the “world’s leading talent advisory and solutions company,” the firm’s annual global workforce study of more than 30,000 employees across 23 countries reveals “an astonishing 70% adoption rate of AI in the workplace,” according to Machuel. 

However, he notes the research also reveals three threats that could limit the full potential of GenAI: 

  1. “…an under-appreciation of the technology’s true potential and the impact it will have on jobs”
  2. “…access to the technology is far from equal and threatens to create a class of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in the workforce”
  3. “…many workers are being left to fend for themselves with little or no guidance from their employer” 

He also says that according to Adecco Group research regarding preparedness among senior business leaders, “only 43% of executives believe their company’s leadership team has sufficient AI skills and knowledge to understand the risks and opportunities offered by the technology.”

“I believe that for businesses to truly unlock the full promise of genAI, employees at all levels of all seniority, educational attainment and income level need to be guided to properly understand the full extent of the technology’s potential, and be given strategic direction and practical know-how from those in charge,” Machuel says. 

He adds that as organizations move beyond 2023’s “honeymoon period of experimentation” to an earnest adoption of GenAI in 2024, companies and their leaders must be ready to deliver on the “huge potential” of the technology: “Employers must chart a clear course, offer the chance to upskill and make sure everyone shares in this next technological leap.”

For more on this topic, check out: 

Carson College of Business: “Workers sound the alarm on AI workplace readiness” (January 25, 2024)

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