AI Ethics: Fighting the Fear of AI in the Workplace

Do a quick Google search on artificial intelligence (AI) and you’ll find numerous alarmist headlines about the jobs that it’s purported to replace. It’s no wonder many employees are nervous about the creeping influence of this intelligent technology in the workplace.

Yet, most managers and HR leaders aren’t fully ready to deal with their concerns.

To help your employees adjust to a future that includes AI, explain what it will mean to them in understandable terms. Start by sharing what it will look like in your industry, how it’s going to benefit them and even how it may affect them if we all don’t proactively get in front of it.

But before you talk with them about AI, you have to understand what it is as well as its potential effects on your business and your team. Therefore, the first step to leading your employees through this period of change is to educate yourself. Do some reading about AI in your industry, and take advantage of software vendors who can give you great free advice while delivering their pitch.

Get Ahead of the Fear

Since the Industrial Age, machines have replaced jobs and people. AI will replace some jobs, but not ALL jobs. There will be new occupations we haven’t yet imagined, which McKinsey says could amount for 10% of all jobs created by 2030. The scrivener job market evaporated with the invention of the typewriter, and the cycle repeated when copy machines appeared. What we’re just beginning to experience now with AI is the latest stage in the journey of technical innovation.

AI isn’t HAL 9000, motivated by self-preservation. It’s really just an algorithm that looks at data. Jobs will evolve as human work blends with algorithms in acknowledgement of AI’s capabilities and limitations. It will make some jobs better, freeing people from repetitive tasks to handle more stimulating work. And there will remain functions requiring emotional intelligence and other human factors that machines will never do well.

We recently commissioned a survey of over 4,200 employed adults in the US, Germany, the UK, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Our data reveals that 69% of workers aren’t currently using AI-based technology tools. Therefore, it’s not surprising that most employees don’t feel AI has had an impact on their jobs … so far. However, 21% fear it could take their job within the next decade.

Demystify the Technology

The earlier you have meaningful, honest conversations about how AI may change your industry — demystifying it with simple and relatable terms — the faster you can put people at ease about the skills they need to develop to remain relevant.

While AI will not impact all industries to the same degree, or on the same timetable, it’s important for employers to explore how AI can level up your team and enhance your processes. Find some good examples and brainstorm with your employees about how the use of AI within your company could benefit them from a personal perspective, while openly recognizing that you understand the unknown can be a little scary.

For example, within the HR department, you don’t want recruiters to fixate on how AI-powered software could replace them through automated candidate sourcing. Instead, you want recruiters to ask themselves, “How can I leverage AI to help me do my job better?”

HR already uses tools that provide matches related to keywords. An AI-enabled résumé parser that makes predictions, for example, is simply the next generation of that tool set. AI also offers an advantage in recruiting when it’s trained to alleviate faulty human bias and promote a diverse slate of candidates.

Fight the Inertia

The 2019 World Bank report on “The Changing Nature of Work” finds that technology might destroy low-paying, lower-skilled jobs, but it also creates new jobs that demand more skills, for more pay.

Our survey indicated that only 47% of workers believe they possess the skills required for the AI-enabled workplace. A whopping 83% agreed that employers should have primary responsibility for providing training to meet this challenge.

Many wonder how technology might change the way their teams approach work. If you can conceive of ways AI will (or could) eliminate rote employee tasks, consider the training you can provide to prepare your team for the future.

According to the World Economic Forum “2018 Future of Jobs” report, the human qualities that a machine can’t replicate are trending in value for 2022 — skills such as creativity, leadership and emotional intelligence. Examine how you can up-level your team and leverage your people in different capacities.

Mitigate the Changes

We’re nowhere near realizing the full vision of AI. It’s the iceberg that’s only 10% visible. But we can be certain that changes are coming, even if we don’t know exactly what they will bring.

Consider developing and documenting your philosophy; AI has the potential for cross-industry disruption. This is not a one-time conversation before filing your policy in the archive. It will need to evolve as AI makes greater inroads, providing a jumping-off point for meaningful discussions with employees.

Finally, hear your employees’ concerns and bring them into solution-oriented conversations. The path to reducing fear and loathing of AI in the workplace is through demystification, change management, action and education.

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