The attitudes of employers surrounding the integration of AI into the workforce has been characterised by some panic.
This panic isn’t necessarily linked to a fear of robots replacing jobs or causing mass layouts, or fears about what the future of work looks like – even though this still exists.
This panic is centered around whether or not businesses should be going ‘all in’ with their integration of AI into their workforce. Most business and technology experts would agree that employers should be doing everything they can to embrace this technology, on the ground that at this pivotal point in history, firms are likely to be left behind if they don’t act fast and get ahead of their competitors.
In terms of AI integration, it’s the wild west of the business world, and very few companies can say with full conviction that they know they’re integrating this tech in the ‘right’ way. Yet, fears still exist around whether employers are integrating it fast enough, or even if they're pushing this new technology too quickly in their company.
Anxiety is a fair response when thinking about the power of AI and how it will impact companies. With this in mind, is there any value in being cautious with its integration? Or should businesses be going full steam ahead in fear of not being left behind?
The benefits of cautious adoption
Research suggests that more than 50% of employers using AI are unsure of its impact, and only a third believe it can positively transform workplaces.
The integration of AI raises concerns about errors, quality, security, privacy, and job displacement, so no wonder HR practitioners are being cautious with their approach. However, when integrated thoughtfully, AI can enhance productivity, address burnout, and promote employee wellbeing.
Because we are at the infancy stages of AI being augmented with job roles, there may be value in waiting before you go ‘all in’ with AI until there’s more clarity about what works and what doesn’t, as well as what applications and programmes are leading the way. For example, companies could spend thousands on L&D training for generative AI platforms, such as ChatGPT, for a new platform to become prevalent years down the line, and their training to become redundant.
Kate Redshaw, head of practice development at law firm Burges Salmon, says: “Recently published analysis from the IMF shows that almost 40% of global employment is exposed to AI, with that figure increasing to 60% of jobs in advanced economies. Whilst these figures may be alarming to workers already concerned by predictions of job losses due to AI, the reality may not be as feared.
“Yes, AI will affect many roles but the impact need not necessarily be negative (in all cases at least). With retention of talent a continuing focus for employers, organisations who are willing to approach the deployment of AI, on a task-by-task rather than a role-by role basis, may benefit.
“By identifying which of a worker’s tasks can effectively be delivered using AI (and these tasks may often be mundane in nature), the employer can free up time to allow the worker to do other, more valuable and interesting work. Equally organisations need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater – just because a task can be done by AI, doesn’t mean it should be.”
Research shows that 40% of employees use AI tools to assist their work without telling their manager. Whether employers like it or realise it, the integration of AI is already happening in their workforce, and in many cases, completely unknown to them. If employers decide to show an awareness of the use of this technology, they would be best placed to recognise the potential for employees to lose a certain set of skills yet gain a whole new set of skills related to AI.
“In some instances, the development of valuable skills may be lost if the task in question is pushed to AI,” continues Redshaw. “Rather than assuming a task should be done by AI wherever it is more efficient to do so, employers should consider the wider context to identify any skills which might inadvertently be lost as a result and should take steps to mitigate against that. That does not necessarily mean not deploying AI but may mean introducing safeguards to ensure that the development of those skills continues, albeit in a different way. “
Ultimately, the potential benefits of AI integration, such as improved efficiency and the ability to focus on more engaging tasks, need to be balanced with the potential risks and concerns, making a cautious approach crucial.
It’s unclear what the future of work looks like in terms of AI integration – this both causes companies to hold off in their approach, but also simultaneously risk being left behind. That’s why firms should be agile in their L&D around AI, being communicative about how this technology is being used, whilst simultaneously accepting that this is bound to change in the years to come.