How to help your workforce overcome their AI anxiety – Employee Benefit News

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Employees may recognize that artificial intelligence is a good resource, but that doesn’t stop them from having fears and doubts they want their employers to quell. 

Seventy-five percent of employees are concerned AI will make certain jobs obsolete, according to a 2023 survey from accounting firm EY. Another 65% of workers admit they are anxious about AI replacing their job, with 72% saying they’re worried it will impact their salaries, 67% that they’ll lose out on promotions and 66% that they will fall behind because they don’t know how to use it. 

“Employers have to acknowledge that employees’ anxiety around AI is reinforced by various sources,” says Dimitris Tsingos, co-founder and President of workplace technology vendor Epignosis. “This is not the first time something like this has happened; there is historical evidence that technology will always make a few jobs obsolete — that’s just the reality.”

Read more: Don’t want to be replaced by bots? These are 8 ‘AI-proof’ businesses, according to employees

However, just because AI has the power to disrupt the workforce does not mean that it’s inherently something to be feared, according to Tsingos. Not only will the insurgence of new tech create more job opportunities — with most tech and AI experts expecting headcounts to increase by up to 9%, according to IT solution provider Avanade — but it could also lead to significant innovation that will benefit employees in the long run. 

AI has been found to improve employee productivity by 66%, according to a survey from user experience consulting firm Nielsen Norman Group. For example, support agents who used AI could handle 13.8% more customer inquiries per hour and business professionals who used AI could write 59% more business documents per hour. 

“The access to information that AI provides could bring many new possibilities to so many more people around the globe, so we can’t make ourselves blind to what’s exciting about more AI,” Tsingos says. “But first, [employees’ apprehension] needs to be met with a lot of empathy and education and respect.” 

Tsingos recently spoke to EBN about how he and his colleagues handled employees’ AI anxiety within their own ranks, and what may be in store for the rest of the workforce as companies continue to invest in more tech.

How did you and your team manage your workforce’s AI anxiety?
Our strategy is two-fold. First, we offered a service of master classes for people across all different competency levels. We wanted to explain and help our workforce understand what AI really is, because it’s very important to just demystify the word itself. Second, we increased our existing mental health support to assist those people who are dealing with the psychological pressures that came with integrating more AI. 

Read more: Half of women lack AI skills that would help them succeed

It took some time to build trust and for them to understand that our approach was not just for optical reasons and that we really did want to help them learn. It won’t be a walk in the park for employers, you have to be very serious with what you do and make sure that your efforts are carefully selected. The combination of offering educational resources as well as showing empathy worked very well for our company, and after insisting on doing things that way and proving our point of view and our philosophy, the results were fabulous and employee satisfaction increased.

What happens when AI anxiety goes unaddressed?
If you don’t do anything at all, that anxiety will grow and lead to more turnover and less productivity. So, from a strictly business point of view, it’s not wise to decide to ignore it. Inaction also significantly reduces the trust employees feel toward their organization, which eventually becomes negativity and toxicity, further impacting a business’s performance. It is vital for employers to deal with AI anxiety as early as they can.

Will the anxiety employees feel around AI recede? 
Revolutionary changes have happened many times throughout history, and there has been a very clear pattern each and every time. In the Industrial Revolution, when machines were first introduced in factories , of course manual labor was reduced, But they evolved and new jobs were eventually created in response. The outcome to these things will almost always eventually be positive.

I’ve been a programmer for many years, and in the world of programmers there has been the fear that automated tools will generate code on their own and turn programs obsolete — but that hasn’t been the case at all. I believe that other domains will see a very similar impact, one where AI will help us, not replace us. With more AI we’ll do our job better and easier in the future, and we’ll eventually yield better results.

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