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February 12, 2024 | 4 Mins Read

The Future of Work with AI Report Was Interesting, But the Comments Even Moreso – Are We Listening?

February 12, 2024 | 4 Mins Read

The Future of Work with AI Report Was Interesting, But the Comments Even Moreso – Are We Listening?


A colleague recently shared a YouTube video of Wes Roth reviewing Microsoft’s 2023 Future of Work report. I was intrigued to see what Roth had to say about the report’s contents, but after watching I found myself even more intrigued reading through the comments on the video and thinking about what I feel we need to take away from them.

The video starts with Bill Gates commenting on why everyone needs to be paying attention to AI, “AI is going to raise productivity generally and you should all pay attention because it’s so dramatic how it improves white collar productivity and later with the robotics, not yet, but blue collar productivity. People sometimes lose sight of the fact that this is the biggest productivity advance in our lifetimes.”

With the emphasis on productivity here, it makes sense why many of the comments are rooted in fear or cynicism. And I think this is a point we need to keep in mind when introducing AI-based change into our organizations – focusing too narrowly on the benefit of productivity gains (especially through the lens of the company wanting/needing more productivity) paints AI into a category of technology workers will be more inclined to resist.

I’m not suggesting we don’t have transparency around both the need for productivity gains and the ways in which AI will help us achieve that. What I am saying is that we need to temper this reality with the reassurance for employees that they are still needed, their contributions matter, and we aren’t valuing productivity at all cost.

Roth goes on in his video to emphasize a number of points that provide a more holistic view than the opening productivity comments, such as that people with access to co-pilot found the task to be 58% less draining (around 4:10). There’s discussion around how AI helps highly skilled workers become more efficient through automation, but also how it helps lower skilled workers through democratization of and access to knowledge.

Then later in the video (around 9:26) the statement is made that, “Skill like leading, dealing with critical situations, navigating interpersonal trust issues, and demonstrating emotional intelligence will be very important – until we all get outsourced to AI and then there will be no more critical social situations, trust issues, and emotional intelligence of any sort.”

While I take this (mostly) in jest, do workers consuming content who fear for their jobs, don’t feel valued by their organizations, or don’t feel supported in upskilling or reskilling as AI takes hold within their industries?

Why Fuel Fear Within a Strained Talent Landcape?

Perhaps one day this fear will become more real and acute for us all, but that day isn’t on our immediate horizon. What is, however, is the realities of a talent landscape that is already challenging without the introduction of further doubt and uncertainty fueled by the focus on how AI can or will “take jobs.” Sure, really manual, repetitive roles may be consumed by AI capabilities – but with our current challenges to fill open roles and retain talent, can we not find other areas of more value-added work for these employees to take on?

Reading through the comments on Roth’s video brings to life the fear that exists in people’s minds around the topic of AI. A few examples:

  • @ariesmarsexpress – “Raises productivity" is business code for we are going to layoff pretty much everyone, including ourselves, at some point.
  • @RogueAI – Worker:  "I'm now getting twice as much work done with AI. How about a raise boss? " Boss: "Great! We're gonna fire John and give you his work. And since you're so productive we'll even throw in a 5% raise."
  • @xanders-game – The reality is this is going to allow corps to push fewer workers harder, with minimal pay increases to keep up with inflation. If one worker can do more than another with the technology, they are incentivized to lay off the least productive employees to preserve profits.
  • @christophercelmer405 – F productivity. We are humans with our own desires. Mine is not to slave away for someone else for a pittance constantly in a state of precarity so more people will work even harder or be abandoned once they are no longer needed.

To be fair, I left out some of the more extreme negative comments but there are also plenty who are taking a more positive view of these advancements. These ones speak to me, though, because they feel actionable.

What if we take the approach of honesty, but through the lens of how we augment and improve the work (and roles of employees) versus how we automate and replace?

Yes, this lens puts more onus on the company to consider what non-automated work does matter most and how to map the skills of existing workers to that work, with upskilling and reskilling as necessary. But I don’t see a short-term situation where the need for people simply disappears, and I think we need to put more focus on how we’re communicating that fact to our employees in a way that quells some of the distress they feel around their personal futures in relation to the AI wave.

What do you think of all this? How are you communicating with your employees about plans for AI in their future of work? I’d love to hear from you!