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Companies should do more to encourage employees to be excited about AI
By Timo Vuori  |  May 31, 2024
Companies should do more to encourage employees to be excited about AI
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As AI continues driving wholesale change, ordinary employees and others who might lose out naturally resist such upheaval. The situation is not all bad, however, and perceptions might change if workers became more aware of reasons to be excited, argues strategy Prof Timo Vuori.

HELSINKI - American folk songs tell of John Henry, a railroad worker who allegedly won a race against a steam-powered rock drill, only to die shortly thereafter of a stress-induced heart attack.

As a symbol of strength, endurance, and dignity, the figure of John Henry has rightly garnered praise. But his story also contains an important message for managers looking to introduce new technologies in the workplace - namely, the importance of onboarding employees first.

The rapid development of applications based on artificial intelligence (AI) has opened new possibilities for businesses across nearly all industries, because AI can potentially be used in everything from automated cybersecurity systems to processing resumés and gathering market data.

Yet company employees often perceive talk of ‘improving efficiency’ as code for an upcoming wave of layoffs. One need only look at the behavior of Big Tech companies to understand these fears - which are often justified. Google, Amazon, and Microsoft alone have fired thousands of workers over the past two years.

Such concerns must be addressed if managers hope to foster a mindset of positivity and excitement about the future in their employees. There are financial reasons for doing this as well - happiness is beneficial for businesses, with research by Oxford University’s Said Business School finding that people are 13 percent more productive when happy.

The alternative - which the story of John Henry illustrates - is a scenario in which employees’ stress increases as they feel forced to compete with new technologies or develop new skills just to hang on to their jobs, with a resulting impact reflected in higher burnout rates and turnover.


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