How to address employee AI fears

Johannesburg, 05 Apr 2024
Amanda Ellis, Modern Workplace Delivery Lead, Mint Group.
Amanda Ellis, Modern Workplace Delivery Lead, Mint Group.

With the rapid advances in AI-powered productivity tools that have the potential to significantly boost an organisation’s efficiency – and bottom line – the drive to integrate AI into existing business processes is gaining momentum.

Amanda Ellis, Modern Workplace Delivery Lead at Mint Group, highlights that while there are hurdles to address in integrating AI effectively, there's an opportunity to empower employees. Overcoming initial resistance and concerns about job security can pave the way to embracing AI as a tool for enhancing skills and productivity, ultimately fostering a more dynamic and adaptable workforce.

Before we get to the upside, it is important to understand the concerns of employees.

World Economic Forum (WEF): The WEF's "Future of Jobs" reports provide insights into the potential impact of automation on employment. The 2020 report estimated that by 2025, automation could displace 85 million jobs but also create 97 million new jobs, resulting in a net gain of 12 million jobs globally. However, the report also highlighted the importance of reskilling and upskilling workers to adapt to changing job roles.

McKinsey Global Institute’s “Generative AI and the future of work in America” July 2023 report predicted that by 2030, activities that account for up to 30% of hours currently worked across the US could be automated – a trend that, it says, is being accelerated by generative AI.

And in January 2024, the authors of an IMF staff note on “Gen-AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work”, suggested that “almost 40% of global employment is exposed to AI,” with 60% of jobs in advanced economies at risk, compared to 40% in emerging markets and 26% in low-income countries.

In addition, the IMF note report indicates that unlike earlier automation waves, where the impact was predominantly felt by middle-skilled workers, "AI displacement risks now extend to higher-paid professionals".

However, there is an upside to all this.

As pointed out by Ellis, since the advent of the industrial revolution 250 years ago and continuing through the rise of the digital information age, the integration of new technologies has consistently disrupted the workforce. However, this disruption has historically been balanced by the emergence of fresh job opportunities and new occupational avenues.

"Jobs evolve, roles transform, yet alongside these changes new employment opportunities emerge. The critical aspect, however, lies in providing workers with avenues for reskilling and upskilling to adapt to this evolving landscape," she emphasises.

Ellis contends that nearly every role within the business sector today stands to be influenced by AI to varying degrees, potentially leading to significant and beneficial enhancements in productivity.

For instance, AI algorithms have the potential to significantly improve customer service and satisfaction by automating responses to inquiries and offering personalised marketing recommendations. Moreover, AI's rapid data analysis capabilities make it invaluable for informing decision-making across a multitude of industries, spanning manufacturing, logistics, hospitality and retail.

"AI tools also play a pivotal role in HR functions, streamlining hiring processes by efficiently identifying top candidates' qualifications during onboarding, and even pinpointing factors contributing to employee turnover, thereby enhancing retention," she explains.

Furthermore, Ellis underscores how AI tools can effectively handle mundane yet critical tasks like minute-taking in meetings or optimising delivery routes for trucks.

Ellis stresses the importance of a deliberate approach to adopting AI solutions, emphasising the necessity of understanding the organisation's objectives and needs. "Strategically deploying AI maximises its potential benefits, avoiding the pitfalls of implementing it without a clear purpose, which could lead to unintended repercussions," she advises.

Once the organisation has identified its goals for AI implementation, Ellis suggests a six-step strategy to facilitate a seamless integration while addressing employee concerns:

  • Perform an impact analysis to understand how AI will alter job roles and processes. Identify opportunities for creating new roles, reskilling and upskilling current employees as AI takes on certain tasks, and communicate these changes clearly to those affected.
  • Establish clear metrics to gauge the AI implementation's success. Define what successful outcomes look like and the measures to assess progress.
  • Develop policies and procedures to tackle ethical, legal and regulatory challenges, with a focus on security and privacy considerations.
  • Maintain transparency throughout the process. Share the organisation's needs, goals and the anticipated advantages of AI with employees, ensuring they grasp the reasons behind the implementation and how it will be carried out. This openness helps secure their support and quells unfounded concerns.
  • Offer continuous support and training for employees at all stages of the AI implementation process.
  • Seek and incorporate feedback from employees and other stakeholders to refine and enhance the AI system.

Following these steps, according to Ellis, can help ensure that the transition to AI not only meets the organisation's strategic objectives, but also supports and engages its workforce.

In conclusion, AI holds the promise of transforming operations and generating new employment possibilities. However, it's crucial to tackle the challenges related to job displacement, privacy issues and biases to fully realise its positive impacts.