The powerful capabilities of AI have been unfurling at breakneck speed in recent years – culminating, recently, in the unstoppable rise of the natural language processing chatbot, ChatGPT.
Although technology is progressing rapidly, employee engagement is at a low.
Gallup’s recently published State of the Global Workplace 2023 found that just 13% of Europeans feel engaged at work. That jaw-dropping statistic lays bare the extent to which today’s workers feel detached from - and apathetic towards – their workplaces.
True, the global picture isn’t as desolate as the European one. In the Americas, employee engagement stands at 31%, while in South Asia – the frontrunner for engagement – the figure is 33%.
Nonetheless, there is a stark need for improvement. Could the answer – or part of the answer – lie with AI?
Bridging the engagement gap
The benefits of increasing engagement are enormous, both from a human perspective - increases in morale, productivity, and creativity – and an economic one. Gallup estimates that today’s poor engagement equates to a global productivity loss of $8.8 trillion.
These are big numbers. Sitting behind them is a complex interplay of factors. But boil those down, and there are often remarkably similar root causes for worker ennui. Work that lacks purpose or value-led decision-making. Poor communication. Absence of autonomy and trust.
The big answers to those issues are, of course, cultural. It takes effort, investment and time to create and embed a workplace culture that puts human connection and wellbeing at its heart.
But AI can help to support and speed up that process. Many AI tools are already woven into the fabric of the modern workplace, working to support and enhance the employee experience.
For employers, they provide a means of increasing productivity: speeding up mundane tasks to create increased time for high-value activities.
For employees, AI offers opportunities to enhance the employee experience, supporting inclusion, wellbeing, and swift access to needed information:
- Inclusion: by offering new ways for employees to connect and learn about each other and the organisation.
Examples include chatbots connecting with new joiners to create a personalised HR experience or using AI-powered analytics to support customised learning.
- Wellbeing: specifically by supporting holistic fitness activities and, more broadly, by enhancing output – freeing up time to spend on activities that enable rest and restoration.
Examples include creating prompts for suggesting workers take a break after a period of focused attention or a virtual assistant providing nutrition and exercise plans.
- Access to information: via tech’s lightspeed capacity to search through - and locate - data.
Examples include software to store and surface multiple iterations of policies and documents.
Be aware of the challenges
But while AI has a lot to offer, for its new advances to be fully effective, they need to be communicated and deployed thoughtfully. We’re seeing a quantum leap in terms of AI’s prominence: and it’s encroaching on areas once thought of as uniquely human, from communication to design.
That means there are significant sensitivities around AI. Take ChatGPT. Loved by some. Feared by others.
One reason for this is that the chatbot stores all its responses in a database that belongs to its creators, OpenAI. For employers, a significant concern is that this may put confidential or sensitive data beyond the control of their organisation.
For employees, however, the primary concern about chatbots and other evolving forms of AI is that this tech may ultimately cost them their jobs. That’s not an irrational fear. Microsoft found that 16% of business leaders are looking to AI to reduce headcount.
And there are other valid concerns around AI. Tech is only as equitable as the people who build it. What that means in the real world is that AI algorithms can perpetuate bias and problematic reasoning. So, tools that purport to boost equity may actually undermine it - at pace and in ways that are hard to identify, unpick, and counter.
Given this context, successfully using AI to build employee engagement means being sensitive, responsive, and human about which tools you choose and how you introduce and embed them.
Here’s our advice:
When adding AI, start here...
1. Carry out an in-depth listening exercise to understand how employees really feel about AI: their hopes, fears, and expectations. Find out what really supports them to be engaged and valued at work, and ask them how they want AI to make their lives easier.
2. Be intentional about AI. Think about:
- How the tech additions you plan to introduce will support your employees’ stated needs, as well as your purpose, values, and performance.
- Where there are gaps between what you want from AI and what your employees want
- How you want to bridge those gaps.
This clarity is essential in choosing the right tech to support your goals and creating the right content and tone for your future AI communications.
3. Acknowledge and address what employees have told you:
Transparency builds trust. So:
- Share employee feedback with all your employees.
- Explain how your AI goals align with that feedback.
- Make your plans personal to the needs of your talent: by showing how the AI capabilities that you want to embed will benefit both employees and the business as a whole.
- Give a top-level overview of how you plan to achieve your goals and what the framework will look like.
4. Use tech as part of a more comprehensive workplace programme for building engagement. This should focus on driving connection, community, and wellbeing: human to human.
AI already delivers – and promises more – ways to alleviate work overwhelm. But the fear that those tools may replace people is profoundly stressful for workers. So, introduce changes with care, awareness, and clarity.
It takes trust to create authentic engagement. That can only be made by people.
At Caburn Hope, we specialise in employee communication. If you’d like to discuss how we can support you to enhance engagement, get in touch today.