How do you reassure employees who are wary of AI?

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Some workers see artificial intelligence as a threat. Here’s how SMBs can alleviate their fears and get them on board with the new technology.

As an IT leader, you know that artificial intelligence offers incredible potential for your business’ future. In fact, you can’t successfully shift to Industry 4.0 without it. But the AI imperative is often met with fear from employees, and their reluctance can hold projects back.

Why are workers afraid of AI?

More than a quarter of Canadians are afraid of losing their jobs to artificial intelligence. This fear is partially attributable to the alarming headlines published in the media. According to a prediction made by the Brookfield Institute at Toronto’s Ryerson University in 2017, automation could replace 42% of Canadian workers within 20 years.

The first sectors that will be affected are transportation, logistics, administration and manufacturing. Eventually, AI is expected to extend its reach into service, sales and construction jobs. This means both white- and blue-collar workers are at risk, but lower-skilled frontline positions will take a harder hit.

Other studies provide a more nuanced perspective and some even contradict these pessimistic projections. According to some, AI could even create millions of jobs. So, what should we make of these contradictory numbers? What’s clear is that the change is already underway and it’s only picking up speed. The technology may or may not leave a path of destruction behind it, but AI is sure to dramatically change the world of work. And we’ll all be affected. What your teams need to know is that adapting isn’t optional.

Explain the benefits of AI

“As a machine operator, what’s in it for me?” You’ve got to be prepared to answer this question. All employees affected by your AI project will be wondering the same thing. Helping them understand the benefits is essential for gaining their buy-in.

AI is good for workers, even if most people don’t realize it yet. If machines take over repetitive and/or tedious tasks, workers will be able to focus on more rewarding aspects of their jobs. AI also helps improve workflows and processes, which can improve efficiencies for workers.

For example, in AI-assisted call centers, chatbots now handle a lot of first-level calls, such as simple information requests. This allows customer service agents to spend more time solving complex issues or managing customer emotions. As a result, workers find their jobs more interesting and customers benefit from the advantages of AI tools (such as faster response times). Meanwhile, the tool evolves by adapting to the complexity of their tasks.

Ultimately, AI makes work better for people! It will redefine job descriptions by emphasizing skills that can’t be automated, such as critical judgement, ethical decision-making or creativity. This is the key message to share with your employees, no matter what tasks AI will replace in your business.

Prepare to reorganize

Even though artificial intelligence will make life easier for workers, it will force SMBs to reorganize their processes. IT leaders will necessarily be involved to provide insights on technological aspects, and they’ll work in collaboration with HR teams.

How should job descriptions be redefined to reflect the man/machine relationship? What skills will workers need to gain or develop to make this collaboration work?

These questions point back to raising employee awareness about new tools, methods and processes. They also underscore the importance of lifelong learning and professional development. The rise of AI is often associated with the skilled labour shortage in the IT field, but it will also significantly affect which skills are in high demand across the board. It’s estimated that one-third of the skills that are essential today will no longer be needed in the AI-driven world of work. In fact, it’s hard for us to even envision what tomorrow’s jobs will entail.

But one thing is for sure: forward-looking employees should work on developing their soft skills, rather than advancing their technical knowledge—and the same holds true for business owners. Once jobs have been redesigned by AI, the abilities that matter most will be interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, creativity, cognitive flexibility, critical thinking and the ability to learn. In short, people will need human qualities that a robot can’t offer!

As with any disruptive technology, it’s up to your organization to find ways to leverage AI without forgetting the human and ethical aspects. Your employees are more likely to support the technological and strategic transition if they’re convinced that it’s good for them.

R2i helps SMBs adopt artificial intelligence by offering a series of workshops led by our experts. What’s our goal? We aim to bring all your business units to the table in order to plan your successful AI transition together. Contact us for more information.

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