Around 84% of workers who use generative AI in the workplace said they publicly exposed company data in the last three months. Image: Unsplash/Vasilis Caravitis
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- The rapid use of generative artificial intelligence (AI) and its use in the workplace presents new efficiencies and opportunities but also raises concerns.
- Nearly a third of chief executive and chief financial officers are redesigning work to reduce their dependency on people, according to a recent Mercer survey.
- Employers can ease the disruption of AI in the workplace by upskilling employees, dispensing clear guidelines on generative AI use and ensuring job security.
The rapid proliferation of generative artificial intelligence (AI) use means companies must quickly gain pace with the rate of adoption among their employees.
When ChatGPT launched in November 2022, it set off a frenzy, presenting new efficiencies and opportunities for companies while significantly increasing risks that could limit generative AI’s ultimate potential. Simply put, generative AI is spreading faster than many companies can install the necessary guardrails. That sparks enormous concerns.
Some 84% of workers who use generative AI at work said they have publicly exposed their company’s data in the last three months, according to a new 16-country study of more than 15,000 adults by the Oliver Wyman Forum.
At the same time, 71% of employees said automation will significantly change how their work is done, and nearly a third of chief executive and chief financial officers are redesigning work to reduce their dependency on people, according to a recent Mercer survey.
As generative AI technology boosts productivity (albeit not always safely), it also exposes skill gaps and erodes morale. Businesses need to act quickly not only to limit employee misuse but also to address worker concerns.
The AI allure
The number of weekly users of generative AI jumped from 10% to 60% among our survey respondents in June 2023 and, depending on the industry, to 35% to 75% in October. More than half of workers said they use generative AI at least once a week, and about one in five said they use it daily. It is especially popular among younger workers and in countries with developing economies, such as India and Indonesia.
Part of the appeal is that tools like ChatGPT are easy to use and provide fast feedback, exponentially democratizing access to AI through natural language instead of code. AI is often characterized as a “work buddy” that helps employees start a project and get more done; almost two-thirds of white-collar users said it improved their productivity.
“For me, it’s something like a sounding board,” said a 28-year-old customer support manager at a London fintech company. “A lot of the things you ask ChatGPT, you’d be able to bounce off your colleagues, but you can’t always do that.”
Many organizations are underprepared for generative AI, lacking the expertise or speed to manage its growing risks quickly. With over four in five employees saying they have exposed employer data via public generative AI tools, from analyzing company data to writing emails with coworkers’ names, companies need to catch up.
While many employees said their organizations already have generative AI guidelines, these alone may not be enough to mitigate this risk: 92% of generative AI users who said their employers have AI data guidelines also said they have leaked company data.
Leakage isn’t the only risk. Many leaders and employees aren’t clear on when generative AI should substitute for human decision-making and when AI should merely augment it. More than 40% of employees said they have seen incorrect generative AI outputs and almost half said they use generative AI-provided facts or recommendations to make decisions without the review of others. In addition, one in 10 employees acknowledged using generative AI behind their employer’s back and 47% of all users said they would keep using it even if their boss prohibited it.
Despite the promise, the technology is also lowering morale. While blue-collar jobs have long been impacted by automation, 60% of white-collar workers now fear that AI will make their jobs redundant. The World Economic Forum estimates nearly a quarter of all jobs (23%) globally will change in the next five years, with a structural job growth of 69 million jobs and a decline of 83 million jobs. This corresponds to a net decrease of 14 million jobs, or 2% of current employment.
Concerns about job loss are persuading employees to find new positions. Almost a third of job-seekers surveyed said they seek new positions because of the expected disruption of generative AI in the workplace. Countries with the highest percentage of such job seekers include India, at 45%; the United Arab Emirates, at 41%; and the United States, at 29%.
Employees say they feel added pressure to perform better and faster in the age of AI. Some 26% said AI tools increased expectations that they could do more work and more quickly, whether or not it was possible. At the same time, workers worried about AI are 57% more likely to feel their productivity is declining and 40% more likely to feel ineffective at work, according to recent data from the American Psychological Association.
Employers can ease the disruption wrought by generative AI in three ways:
- Providing high-quality training.
- Dispensing clear guidelines on generative AI use.
- Improving messaging about job security.
Easing disruption of AI in the workplace
1. Upskilling workers
Employees recognize the flaws and the benefits of generative AI. From the survey, 95% of workers said they believe they should be upskilled over the next five years due to AI disruption. Most said they want upskilling directly from their employers – 80% of white-collar workers, 76% of blue collars and 74% of pink collars.
Almost one in three respondents said they are actively pursuing learning opportunities in response to AI disruption; more than half said the company training on generative AI was inadequate. More than two in five white-collar and blue-collar workers said they had witnessed generative AI mistakes in the workplace.
2. Making guidelines clear
Having guidelines is one thing; thoughtfully implementing them is another.
While almost two-thirds of workers said their employers have some form of AI guidelines, workers still need to know how to use appropriate queries, identify bias and avoid sharing company information publicly. They also need to check for plagiarism.
3. Addressing the elephant in the room
To discourage workers from fleeing unnecessarily, business leaders need to communicate clearly and regularly with workers about how generative AI will affect work, which activities will be substituted, augmented or transformed and the potential implications for jobs. Some businesses have already limited hiring for positions in the wake of disruptive technology. One major tech company, for example, chose not to fill 5,000 jobs because it expected they would be eliminated in the next five years by generative AI.
Another option is to create pathways to alternative or redesigned jobs. A major furniture business, for example, is training call centre workers to become interior design advisers. Its AI bot can handle run-of-the-mill customer queries while employees can help people with more home improvement services.
Business leaders and employees are on a new journey with generative AI in the workplace. By providing ongoing upskilling, issuing clear protocols, creating opportunities for collaboration and feedback, and focusing on transparency, companies can help ensure this technology results in more productivity and less harm.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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