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Employees Are More Optimistic Than Many Leaders Think Empower Your Employees to Use AI: 4 Must-Dos

Create a Culture of Innovation with AI by Adopting a People-First Approach

Artificial intelligence, no longer just the cutting edge, is now a staple in everyday work.

AI is expected to replace one-quarter of work tasks around the world, signaling a productivity boom as a result of AI’s ability to improve process efficiency, accelerate analysis, and automate complex tasks, just to name a few.

But reaping these benefits isn’t just about having the technology in place. It’s about how leaders enable their employees to use AI to its fullest.

A 2023 commissioned study, explores what workers need in order to feel empowered in using AI in HR-related processes. So while giving workers access to AI-augmented technology is a foundational step, leaders will need a plan that addresses workers’ hesitations—and our findings show that the reservations aren’t what leaders think they are. 

Employees Are More Optimistic Than Many Leaders Think

A study surveyed 1,124 HR technology decision-makers and 1,340 frontline and office workers from across the globe to get their take on how AI is reshaping employee development, recruiting, and more.

Global leaders in the survey agree: AI will be a fundamental component of HR operations going forward. In fact, two-thirds (70%) of technology decision-makers say AI will be a critical support to HR functions—from candidate matching to career and skills development—over the next five years. Breaking it down by region, leaders in North America responded with the highest enthusiasm for AI at 75%, while the Asia Pacific region had the lowest at 66%.

But many leaders are pessimistic about how employees feel about AI: just 31% of decision-makers think employees are excited about AI in the workplace.

Yet a vast majority of employees are optimistic about the use of AI: 71% say that AI can provide easier and faster access to information. And a more telling figure: nearly three-quarters (73%) of workers want their company to explore more ways to bring AI into the organization. 

While employees have bought into the use of AI as part of their jobs, the research found that employees have significant concerns about privacy and job security relative to AI, and many don’t really understand the technology. 

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Empower Your Employees to Use AI: 4 Must-Dos

Clearly, there’s a disconnect between workers and leaders around employee perceptions of AI. Leaders may incorrectly think employees’ lack of excitement in using AI is what’s holding AI adoption back within an organization. But in fact, today’s workers are interested, even excited, about the possibilities of AI. The caveat is that employees are concerned about how the data leveraged by AI is going to be used, potential job loss, and insufficient knowledge about the technology.

Reaping these benefits isn’t just about having the technology in place. It’s about how leaders enable their employees to use AI to its fullest.

Leaders must be able to effectively address those concerns in order to maximize AI adoption. That’s why leaders need to implement a change management approach alongside deploying new AI capabilities. 

While employees’ willingness to embrace transformative technology is good news, HR leaders should keep these four research-backed recommendations in mind:

1. Embrace Transparency

Employees deserve to know how and why AI may change their roles and the way their workplace operates. Consider that more than two-thirds of workers (69%) are concerned about their personal data being misused, while 53% are worried that AI could put them out of a job. 

HR leaders need to acknowledge these concerns, and then detail what the organization is doing to address them. Right now there is a big opportunity gap. Just 39% of surveyed employees say their employer has been transparent about how AI is being used and how it could affect workers. This is especially true in the Asia-Pacific region: 33% of respondents in Japan noted that their organization has been transparent, a sentiment that’s well below the 39% of European respondents and 40% of North American respondents who feel similarly.

Overall, 64% of workers say that clear guidelines on the use of AI in HR would alleviate their concerns and fears.

Transparency means honesty—including about cost-savings sought by the organization. While clearly a sensitive topic, HR leaders should take note of one surprising Forrester survey finding: two-thirds of employees agree that cost savings due to AI, potentially freeing up dollars to be spent elsewhere, could positively impact their work experience. 

While it’s impossible to know exactly how AI will reshape the workforce in the months and years to come, HR leaders should not shy away from sharing what they do know. The benefits of this approach are clear: employees who believe their organization is being transparent around AI use are more likely to feel positive about AI adoption. 

2. Ramp Up Training 

Naturally, the new and unknown can make people feel uneasy. And the reality is that most employees (66%) don’t really understand how AI works—despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of decision-makers think they do.

Training can help bridge that disconnect. Providing adequate training to up-skill workers is the most consequential factor driving the success of AI use cases in HR. A full 75% of leaders agree that when employees are trained on AI, the technology is demystified, and concern levels drop and engagement rises.

To get there, many organizations will also need to uplevel the knowledge of their leaders. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of leaders say they haven’t been given adequate training to take advantage of AI.

3. Target Communications

A cornerstone of all change management efforts is communication. But savvy HR leaders know that a one-size-fits-all approach is a recipe for disappointment, if not failure. Managing AI-related changes is no exception. The Forrester survey spotlights four personas that leaders should tailor communications to:

AI skeptics: most common in the IT sector

AI-cautious believers: most likely to be 26–35 years old and in the healthcare sector

AI indifferent: most likely to be 36–45 years old

AI enthusiasts: most likely to be 18–25 years old, and work in sales

Survey results make it clear that each persona responds differently to various types of communication. For example, about half of AI-cautious believers say transparency regarding how AI will or will not eliminate jobs within the organization would alleviate their concerns/fears about AI in HR. Just 18% of those indifferent to AI feel the same way. Conversely, while more than half of enthusiasts and skeptics said communication about how the organization is using AI would alleviate their concerns/fears, barely one-fifth (22%) of cautious believers feel the same way.

Company leaders must demonstrate that they value employees as partners and not merely passengers on the AI journey.

Improving communications around AI use and impact to address workers’ concerns can help alleviate the risk of AI resistance in the workplace. Nearly half (45%) of cautious believers and skeptics said they are more likely to leave the organization if their concerns about AI use in HR remain unaddressed.

4. Listen and Incorporate Employee Feedback

One of the simplest ways to build employee buy-in for AI-related changes is to demonstrate how the technology can improve employees’ work lives. That’s not as hard as it may seem. Employees are already hopeful that AI will make it easier to access information, boost productivity, and find a new role. And almost half (48%) say that AI could help advance their careers.

New HR tools incorporating AI can and should also help reduce time-consuming, repetitive tasks and improve employee self-service offerings. Going forward, HR leaders must emphasize the positives that AI can bring to the employee experience. And then they need to follow through and ensure that their use of AI supports a welcoming workplace as new capabilities are added.

Leaders are acutely aware of the challenges that skilled labor shortages present. AI offers an opportunity to help build the well-skilled and well-trained workforce of tomorrow. But to get there, HR leaders will need to alleviate employees’ concerns around the technology and changes to the work environment. Fortunately, they’re facing a more receptive audience than they may think: nearly half (42%) of employees believe AI could be an overall positive for them, while 29% are uncertain. 

Leveraging AI to improve the employee experience is an opportunity to boost talent retention for today and attract the workers of tomorrow. The alternative—rapid change without thoughtful change management—simply isn’t an option for successful organizations.

Thoughtful AI integration takes checking on how employees feel. In our Workday-sponsored report, an HR director survey respondent shared this advice for implementing AI: “Make sure to test with employees and get as much feedback as early as possible. Ensure that your leadership team is aligned before rolling it out to the broader population.” 

Create a Culture of Innovation with AI by Adopting a People-First Approach

We’re still at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to leveraging AI in HR-related processes. As organizations continue to build out their AI infrastructure, company leaders need to also ensure that their workforce feels empowered to leverage AI in their respective roles as well. In other words, company leaders must demonstrate that they value employees as partners and not merely passengers on the AI journey. Our recommended four must-dos and additional insights from our Workday-commissioned study show how to create a successful and sustainable AI adoption strategy with what continues to remain a company’s greatest asset: its people.

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