How Employee Attitudes Can Make or Break Your Business’s AI Strategy

April 5, 2020  |  10 Minute Read

Artificial Intelligence (AI) used to seem like something that existed mostly within science fiction movies or highly technical environments. But AI is quickly changing the way all of us live and work. By replicating human capabilities with information systems that can sense, reason, comprehend, learn and act, AI is poised to deliver massive advancements in accuracy, productivity and personalization.

In fact, AI isn’t really new; it’s been developing for decades. But in the era of Big Data, it’s becoming more powerful and practical for so many more applications. The McKinsey Global Institute forecasts that 70% of all companies will adopt at least one form of AI by 2030.

With AI/machine learning experts predicting that there’s a relatively high chance AI will beat humans at all tasks within 45 years—and that AI will automate all human jobs within 120 years—it’s only natural to wonder, as humans, what does that mean for our jobs?

McKinsey estimates that available technologies could potentially reduce FTE hours by half, especially in economies with relatively high wages and that are heavily manufacturing-based. But in the near future, we’re probably not going to see entire jobs get eliminated. A more likely scenario is that a portion of the activities within each role will be automated, starting with predictable physical activity, followed by collecting and processing data, unpredictable physical activity, interfacing with stakeholders and applying expertise to decision-making.

Depending on your point of view, all of this might seem exciting or depressing. So for our latest research study, we decided to take a closer look at people’s attitudes about AI. Our study explored the skills that will be needed to maximize the human-machine partnership of the future. What follows are a few of the highlights from the report, which lays out what C-Level, HR and L&D professionals who have plans to implement AI in their own organizations can do to help ensure its success.

Why Employee Attitudes About AI Matter

Successful adoption of AI depends on human employees embracing their changing role in the future of work. The good news for companies planning to implement AI is that our study finds employees are generally optimistic about it, but there’s more to the story beneath the surface.

While 44% of respondents strongly agree that AI will fundamentally change the way we work and live in the next 10 years, and overwhelmingly, they expect those changes to be positive, many are ambivalent about the impact it might have. Nearly two-thirds are slightly worried about losing their jobs as a result of AI advancements. But there is one aspect of AI they’re particularly enthusiastic about: Seventy percent said they would feel positive about handing over routine tasks to AI, the kind of activities that keep them from being able to focus on more meaningful work. Fortunately, this is a good match for AI’s strengths. Routine tasks like coordinating and controlling work are easy to automate.

AI’s Impact on Corporate Culture and Employee Engagement

While AI has the potential to transform our work experiences for the better, it can also have unintended consequences. Technology, in general, can impact corporate culture and employee engagement in both positive and negative ways.

For example, thanks to technology advancements, communication flows more easily, both inside and outside the company. But employees’ perceptions of the organization are now formed in part by channels that may be harder for the company to control. Virtual meetings can be cost-effective and productive, but people miss out on the physical interaction that’s shown to promote cooperation and other positive outcomes. And then there’s monitoring software, which improves productivity and security, but can also make employees feel like the company doesn’t trust them.

It’s not surprising then that 64% of respondents to our survey at the level of director or above said they were at least moderately worried about the potential impact of AI on their organization’s culture. If AI’s cultural impact results in higher levels of employee disengagement, then it could negate any positives that come from AI.

3 Human Factors that Determine Whether Your AI Integration Strategy will Succeed

From Human Resources activities like candidate sourcing and sentiment analysis to management tasks such as performance management and productivity tracking to L&D assessments and personalized learning capabilities, AI stands to deliver a whole host of benefits to organizations. But only if the culture and the people are prepared for it.

Our research sought to find out what would make people feel more positive about AI, and three points clearly stood out:

  1. Trust in the organization’s leadership
  2. Transparency resulting in a clear understanding of what the AI does
  3. Confidence in their skills to transition, including soft skills and creative and social intelligence—where humans have the advantage

These are three critical areas that organizations and, specifically, their leaders, HR and L&D teams need to pay attention to in order to prepare for successful adoption of AI. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at each of these areas individually. The payoff of focusing on them is worth it: Respondents in our survey who trust their leaders, understand AI and have received training in soft skills in the past three years are more than three times more positive about AI’s potential impact than others (68% vs. 21%).

The takeaway? To get the benefits of AI while avoiding some of the unintended consequences, bring a people-focused perspective to discussions of AI’s implications on the employee experience and engagement. That includes keeping an eye on trust, advocating for transparency and making sure you have the training strategy in place to help people transition.

Download the full report, Beyond Technology: Preparing People for Success in the Era of AI.