Surviving AI in the workplace will require engagement, passion


Artificial intelligence (AI), robots, automation, deep-learning machines — these and similar technologies already have replaced human workers across a number of industries, including retail, financial, manufacturing, transportation, and construction.

Not surprisingly, this has prompted concerns about machines taking jobs from people as enterprises seek to increase operational efficiency, lower costs, and reduce their dependence on humans, unreliable and unpredictable as we are.

And we haven’t even started talking about disengaged! The truth is that most enterprise employees are just punching a clock, literally or metaphorically. Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report paints a somewhat bleak picture of, well, the American workplace.

“The majority of employees (51%) are not engaged and haven’t been for quite some time,” Gallup concludes. “These employees are indifferent and neither like nor dislike their job. They represent a risk.”

They also represent a hidden but substantial cost to enterprises: Employees who simply mail in their performance are like untapped assets, or money left on the table.

On the plus side, 33% of U.S. employees report to Gallup that they are engaged — “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.” Another 16% say they are actively disengaged from their jobs.

That last group arguably is unsalvageable, at least to their current employers. Imagine, though, how an enterprise would benefit if a good portion of those indifferent 51% on the payroll could become engaged and even passionate about their jobs. Productivity, innovation, and employee satisfaction would skyrocket! Theoretically, at least.

This, some experts argue, is where AI and machine technologies can provide added value beyond completing assigned tasks. Mark Henley, director of transformation and digital strategy for Adobe Asia Pacific, tells Business Insider that reassigning mundane, low-value work to machines can free up employees to focus on more important and stimulating aspects of their jobs.

“A lot of people are not given the opportunity to discover what their passions actually are,” Henley says. “We’re institutionalised pretty much from the day we enter preschool. And one of the hopes of our future of work is that it gives people a bit more cognitive space to decide what matters to them.”

From an employee’s perspective, this sounds great. Again, theoretically, at least. The thing is, as Henley alludes, regimented learning leads to regimented mindsets. So some employees may not know how to turn on their internal “engaged” switch because they never really had to. Those are the employees (along with the disengaged) most at risk of losing their jobs to AI — because there’s nothing they can do that a machine can’t.

Gallup’s workplace report identifies a dozen “engagement elements,” or performance management practices, designed to boost outcomes for employees, teams, and entire enterprises. These include clearly communicating to employees what is expected of them at work, giving them the tools to do their jobs, allowing them to do what they do best on a daily basis, providing regular positive feedback, and treating them with basic human respect.

These and the other “engagement elements” cited by Gallup should help enterprises get more value and productivity out of their employees in the AI-powered, automated workplace of the future.

But workers waiting around for their employers to help them become re-engaged do so at their own peril. Rather than wait to be touched by an “engagement element,” employees should take the initiative to broaden their focus beyond the immediate requirements of their jobs to the strategic goals of the enterprise. They’ll find their vision suddenly will be aligned with that of enterprise decision-makers. There’s no downside to that if you’re trying to keep your job.

Are your workers sufficiently engaged to help your enterprise compete in the digital economy? Are you?


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