Almost daily we hear about Artificial Intelligence, or AI, or something to do with AI. AI is all over the place. From Siri to autonomous vehicles, AI is supposedly the “big” thing. Put a search in for AI and it looks like the greatest thing since sliced bread. While it certainly can help workers and the workplace, is it everything it’s being made out to be?
An article in Entrepreneur recently reported the many positive benefits of AI in the workplace for employees. AI, the article said, will be able to relieve the stress of the workplace so employees won’t need to take a day off for sickness. It also says AI can help with all kinds of things like communication, support and even coordinate employee values with organizational values that can create a better sense of well-being and relieve stress within the workplace. The article goes on to say, AI can also help with a number of other workplace initiatives including the determination of team membership based on identification of employee’s traits and predicting behavioral outcomes.
Technology, including AI, can do some great things as the article suggests, but it’s not the panacea it’s being made out to be in the article. As far as easing stress in the workplace, organizations can create positive work environments but they don’t need to rely on the results of technology to do it. Data may be derived to help but human interaction will be needed. In fact, if any employer relied solely on technology it probably would be more damaging to the workplace than helpful. For example, Elon Musk tried that for Tesla. According to a story on the Society of Human Resource Management(SHRM) website, it tells how Elon realized having the “dream” all technology manufacturing plant was not going to work. Production slowed down so much he lost customers. He needed that human element and admitted it when he said, “…humans are underrated…” Tesla has had its share of problems and that also is with humans. There have been reports about employee problems at Tesla but that’s where other human intervention needs to take place.
But referring back to using technology to determine team membership, we urge teams to consider people of different personality styles for their teams because each personality style brings a different perspective. We don’t use technology to determine different styles but we do a short personality assessment with groups to determine what style each member has. If it comes out everyone does have the same style, we encourage them to try and look at an issue through another style because we want to look at issues from different perspectives and that works. It helps team members learn how to work with others.
As far as AI improving the workplace and creating less stress, here are a couple of realistic situations. An employee can’t make it to their child’s event because they have to work, and to add to it, maybe that employee is a single parent without someone else to help out. Another scenario could be an employee is stressed because they don’t make enough money to pay bills and has to juggle multiple job schedules. AI alone can’t help with either of those scenarios but teams can help with it. They could look at flex-time as a way to help with work-life balance which can relieve stress and improve the workplace environment. One team we worked with found it was much more productive for the workplace, too. Both labor and management were happy with the outcome. It may take a combination of both human and technology when a team decides technology would help them to determine scheduling options before they actually implement flex-time. In the other scenario technology can’t be the sole determinant to make the workplace better with increased wages but it may be part of it. Unions and management can negotiate wages so people may not have to work multiple jobs or can make a living wage to pay bills. Technology can be used with this one, too, to help determine fair wages but, again, it takes the involvement of humans to help with it to ease the stressful scenario.
Technology advancements have vastly improved our lives but we must remember it also takes human interaction and that includes making work environments better. If technology changes, or any changes, are going to be made it’s important for those who implement the changes to involve people along the way. People need to feel apart and have a good understanding of why the change is needed in order for change to be successful. If data is collected on people, such as determining behavioral traits or with wellness plans, it can lead to suspicion and a less than positive work environment especially if workers are not informed about it.
Organizations need people and too much technology can be a detriment. Just because the latest trend may be AI it may not be the best thing for an organization. Another article from SHRM, tells about the many different organizations that found out what Elon Musk discovered at Tesla. They learned they cannot rely solely on technology. It doesn’t work. They need people. The best way to make workplace improvements is to first involve everyone in the workplace and let them determine if AI, or any technology, is necessary. Most people want to be involved, and when given some parameters of what they can and can’t do, they can actually make some great decisions. It’s an investment that can pay off and it’s not as costly as purchasing AI that may not work for the organization. Involving employees will be much more successful, will make a positive workplace environment and provide a big return on investment.