AI at work: why engagement matters

Engaging with people about the implications of AI for work and the reasons workers are using it, sometimes secretly, may take time and effort, but it is better than imposing diktats from on-high.

Female worker at her desk looking stressed


AI is all over the news at the moment. Mainly the reports focus on the threats of AI and the need for regulation. There are, of course, all sorts of worries about the impact on jobs, although some experts argue that AI could create more jobs. Then there are the concerns about recruitment. We ran some snap polls over the summer and found many reservations about applicant tracking software [ATS], in particular for those returning from career breaks or looking to transfer to different sectors. They fear they will not even get past the first stage in the application process unless ATS systems are programmed to be open to a wider range of people and experience.

The snap poll found that there is a wide variation in how people feel about AI at work. Twenty per cent said they are very worried about what it will mean for their job or the kind of work they do, while just over 37% are mildly worried. More people think it could have a positive impact – 36% – than those who think it will have a negative impact [29%], but many are undecided. Nearly half [47%] think it will change the job they currently do, but 28% think it won’t. When it comes to recruitment, more people are worried about the implications than are not – 23% are very worried while 31% are fairly worried.

Many of the concerns being expressed in the news this week are likely to be about the future impact of AI, but AI is, of  course, already with us and being used widely in the workplace. Even though ChatGPT only became a huge phenomenon in the last year, it is already commonplace and there are all sorts of worries about this, including concerning cybersecurity.

People are generally using it to save time. Many face ever-increasing workloads and anything that saves times and enables them to focus on what they are best at doing must be a good thing, right? I know people in my profession using it to write articles, social media posts and the like. The tell-tale signs are better grammar, a sort of bland samey-ness in posts [there is very little irony in an AI post in my experience, although maybe you can programme it in]. Articles read a bit like lift music. They hang together ok, but the writing is dull and it doesn’t say anything new because it is essentially drawing on a synthesis of what has already been written. Maybe that is what all writing is doing to an extent, but there is no spark of creativity. What it can do well is serve as a rough first draft to stimulate ideas if that is what helps get your brain working, but that depends very much on the individual.

Some are using ChatGPT openly in the office, but others are applying it on the sly and employers are increasingly concerned about the potential leakage of sensitive information and corporate secrets as a result. Apparently forums have emerged where employees share strategies for avoiding detection, such as integrating AI tools into disguised workplace apps or using privacy screens. One survey suggests that a significant number of IT decision makers are considering or implementing bans on AI tools in the workplace.

However, others argue that what is needed is better education about the drawbacks of AI tools and more advice. It’s not just about having a policy, but about engaging with people about it and understanding why and how AI might help them.

Our snap poll shows that the vast majority of participants said their employer had not spoken to them about any AI-related changes they are implementing or working on despite all the recent concerns about what ChatGPT and the like will mean for people’s jobs. Eighty-eight per cent said they had not heard anything from their employer about the implications. Meanwhile, 86 per cent said they had not received any training at work to help with using AI tools.
Engaging with people about the implications of AI involves a lot of work and technology is changing so fast so it’s hard to keep up, but the alternative is diktats from on-high which people will find ways around if the benefits of using AI in terms of workload reduction are greater than the perceived disadvantages.

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