Addressing Employees’ Fears About AI Systems: It’s About New Opportunities

3 minute read

Artificial Intelligence (AI) promises to change how companies operate from top to bottom. These changes may be the source of anxiety for many workers, but AI offers far more potential than they may realize. Here is a guide for having a constructive conversation with your employees about AI.

AI systems will bring a variety of new opportunities for your employees

Just as the mobile and PC revolutions fundamentally changed the way businesses operate, ascendant Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies hold the same promise. As with any major technological addition to the workplace, employees may feel anxious about what these changes mean for their roles — and this is particularly true with technologies as often misunderstood as AI.

To be sure, AI is a force of disruption. Not only do digital colleagues like Amelia replicate cognitive tasks that were once purely the domain of humans, she can self-learn new tasks and improve over time. However, alongside all this disruption comes employee opportunities that would have been unimaginable in a previous technological era. It’s incumbent upon those companies investing in AI platforms to explain these opportunities to their employees, so they feel empowered by coming changes, not apprehensive.

Here is a brief guide to having a constructive conversation with your employees as your company embarks on its AI journey.

Be honest, but optimistic

With each great technological paradigm shift, there have been accompanying fears of obsolescence — and yet, even in an age of unparalleled automation, the employment numbers in the US remain unquestionably robust. While AI has the potential to make human roles obsolete, that doesn’t mean humans will be. Far from it. This is why it’s important to clearly communicate to employees that changes are coming, what they mean, who they will impact, and on what timescale.

Few AI solutions are ready to go out-of-the-box. In fact, these systems learn business processes by observing human employees over a period of months. Keeping this important transition period in mind, companies should provide employees with a timeline of a planned AI implementation, and provide regular project and strategy updates. Employees can prepare for any potential changes to their current roles or job functions, while also having a chance to think about how they can apply their skills in new ways within the organization.

Engage them about new opportunities

Companies want AI to deliver increased productivity and lower overhead. This dual engine of value generation frees businesses to reinvest resources in other areas — and this is where opportunities lie for employees, particularly more experienced ones whose roles have been impacted by automation.

While some jobs will be completely replaced by AI, the more common scenario will be partial automation. This gives employees the freedom to redefine the scope of their role, particularly for seasoned employees who understand the company and surrounding business environment at an intimate level. These company veterans possess a wealth of information about processes, customers, and competition that is extremely valuable. It would be wise for both parties to engage in a dialogue about how this experience can be utilized elsewhere, if automation and AI are shifting some responsibilities.

For example, when Amelia is hired to handle routine internal IT requests, IT personnel are freed to take on complex projects they were previously too busy to execute (e.g. instead of filing tickets and fielding low-level requests, they could use their time implementing more robust digital security protocols, adding IoT “smart office” automation, recruiting new talent, or researching and negotiating better technology purchases). It is in a company’s interest to facilitate one-on-one discussions with employees and ask, “What would you do for the company if AI took over all the boring, routine tasks?”

Emphasize the opportunity for meaningful new roles

Cognitive technologies are disruptive because they replicate human tasks — particularly ones that are highly regimented, as opposed to ones that require uniquely human skillsets such as creative problem solving or soft skills (i.e. “people skills”). These skills are inherently more rewarding than repetitive administrative or transactional tasks.

For example, for user-facing roles (e.g. sales, HR, customer service etc.), companies will prioritize employees with high emotional intelligence and place less emphasis on the technological or transactional proficiency that would have been previously necessary, thanks to AI stepping in. Empathy, politeness, and social grace are no longer just qualities to look for in a friend, but attributes that will give businesses a competitive edge.

Similarly, when AI handles all the heavy lifting, employees can use their creative problem solving skills. While a digital colleague like Amelia can automate applications for insurance companies, employees can focus their creativity on devising new products to drive more business. For example, there has been a sharp rise in pet insurance in recent years. Human workers — particularly those with pets who can rely on their own experiences — can create whole new classes of competitive products for this growing customer base. Who better to take on these creative roles than employees who already know your business inside and out?

Much has been written about the inherent advantages AI can provide to businesses. However, the potential for employees is just as exciting. The AI era has begun and the companies and employees who embrace it first are sure to be the ones that benefit the most.

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