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Embrace the “AI anxiety” of your employees

Leaders can alleviate employees' AI anxiety through clear communication and reskilling programs, writes Anbu Muppidathi.

4 min read


AI anxiety

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Since Generative AI took the world by storm, GenAI has become a common topic in employee all-hands, one-on-one meetings, conferences and symposiums. It is omnipresent now. The promises and hallucinations of GenAI have progressed to the point where employees now question their relevance, job security, and future growth possibilities. 

As AI automates some jobs completely and many leaders are eager to adopt AI to run their businesses more effectively, the effect on employment is visible already. According to an EY research report, a staggering 75% of employees are concerned AI will make specific jobs obsolete — and more so, about two-thirds (65%) say they are anxious about AI replacing their jobs. All this noise around AI leads to two specific questions in the minds of the confused employees: what happens to my job now, and how do I prepare for this new technology so that I am future-ready? 

AI anxiety in employees will cause unforeseen consequences for companies

If leaders don’t answer these questions correctly, employees will migrate to places where they feel their jobs are safe or supported, otherwise known as attrition. According to a new survey by UKG, over half (54%) of employees have no idea how their companies are using AI, while 78% of C-suite leaders say their company is using AI today. With this kind of misinformation or misunderstanding, employees will start to prepare for the perceived changes independently, and the distraction will show up in their current work outputs or productivity loss. 

Unless leaders develop a clear point-of-view on AI and its impacts on their business, these things will be challenging to accomplish: 

  1. Clear communication to their employees on their plans
  2. Appropriate planning for how AI would be adapted and scaled to achieve the leaders’ objectives so they can elevate their employee- and customer-value propositions
  3. Where to invest in training their employees for the AI realities 
  4. Adjustment of their operating model to take advantage of the AI-powered workforce, solutions and products
  5. How to measure and govern their progress toward the set future

Employee communication is a need, not a suggestion

Both real and perceived job insecurities often motivate employees to look for other jobs. In general, leaders should attempt to maintain healthy communication with their employees to understand better and address the root causes of AI-related anxieties. Communication helps ensure the well-being of individual employees overall. It improves the organization’s culture and morale, which might be more critical when AI becomes present in the workplace.

Create talent feedback loops. As AI helps to redefine work, feedback from the people who actively use it can provide crucial inputs. Regularly surveying users and managers and leveraging this insight will produce the best output. Furthermore, buy-in from the workforce is highest when employees feel they have a say and control over the use of AI-powered tools.

Reskilling programs will help ease AI anxiety

To have that buy-in, leaders must design AI reskilling programs from the employee’s point of view. Reskilling programs in and of themselves require participants to invest a significant amount of time. As a company, you must dedicate adequate time and attention to this because reskilling involves occupational change for the employee, which typically means it requires intensive learning. Employees must feel like what they’re being retrained on in terms of AI benefits their jobs. Otherwise, they will tire and not take advantage of the training as well as leaders might like. 

Easing AI anxiety effectively promotes more success overall

If companies act on the above, they give themselves a mechanism to address the core challenges of attrition, productivity loss and skills shortage that AI anxiety would lead to. Success measures that organizations would start to see when they properly address AI anxiety include: 

  1. Better demonstration of values in terms of cost-efficiency, improved revenue and/or productivity improvement 
  2. Employee satisfaction in the categories of skills upgrade will go up 
  3. Attrition should come down, and the offer acceptance rate for new employees should go up

Since the release of ChatGPT in November 2022, leaders have been racing to capture its values for their businesses, and employees, especially the younger generation, are anxious about it. The more visionary approach is to plan for GenAI adoption and workforce transformation together; one with the other will be manageable in due course. 


Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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