Addressing Employee Concerns: Navigating the Impact of Generative AI on the Workforce

To use generative AI to its full potential, employers must treat employees as collaborators with training and transparency

training the workforce on how to use generative ai

The unprecedented adoption of generative AI has sparked a multitude of reactions. Some believe the technology could substantially boost productivity, particularly in countries with less developed knowledge industries, and even reduce divides between white- and blue-collar workers. But others fear it could eliminate their jobs and undermine their self-worth. These uncertainties can adversely impact workplace performance, engagement, and attrition. As employers embrace and adopt generative AI, it is crucial for them to provide employees with the necessary training and transparency to ensure a smooth transition.

White-collars and younger employees fear generative AI most

In the last century, automation and technological advancements have typically disrupted blue-collar industries. Robots, for example, have replaced 1.7 million global manufacturing jobs since 2000, according to Oxford Economics. But generative AI is now threatening to displace millions of white-collar workers, and many are worried. A recent Oliver Wyman Forum survey of over 25,000 employees across sixteen countries shows that many white-collar workers are more concerned about automation than their blue- and pink-collar counterparts, while the future remains uncertain. 

According to the report, financial services and media are the white-collar industries with the highest levels of concern about automation, both at 67%. Transportation and retail, the blue-collar industries where employees express the most concern, sit lower at 60% and 59% of employees respectively reporting concern. Even in the same industry, white-collar employees are more worried than other colleagues about job loss because of automation. In healthcare, for example, 59% of white-collars reported concern for job redundancy versus 45% of pink-collars – a gap of 31%. 




Question: “How concerned are you about AI making your job redundant or automating it?”
Source: Oliver Wyman Forum Generative AI Survey, Oct-Nov 2023, 16 countries, N=15,227 (all collars), N=9,944 (white-collar)

This rise in automation fear from white-collar employees is a rarity in recent history, likely due to generative AI’s potential impact on knowledge work. Generative AI can automate a significant number of daily tasks, from drafting emails and pulling research to analyzing data and much more. These productivity gains from utilizing generative AI could lead to improved work-life balance for some white-collar workers. On the other hand, some experts, like Harvard Business School professor Joseph Fuller, paint a grimmer picture for white-collar employees’ future: “Once companies learn how to exploit generative AI, we can anticipate rapid restructuring at many companies that involve substantial cuts in white-collar staff.”

Younger employees, particularly those from Generation Z, are most worried about the impact of automation. Our survey shows that 72% of Gen Z employees are concerned about automation due to generative AI, which is nearly twice as many as boomers (40%), who will retire sooner and are typically more established in their careers. 

Impacts of unaddressed concerns

Employers, on the other hand, are largely optimistic about the integration of generative AI to enhance business returns. Half of CEOs already are integrating generative AI into their products and services, and 43% are using it to inform strategic decisions, according to an IBM CEO survey. However, 41% of employees in our survey report that they have witnessed generative AI being used to replace human decision-making in a manner that makes them uncomfortable. Additionally, 84% of generative AI users have leaked company data on public generative AI tools, speaking to the lack of proper training and guidelines.

The technology also is negatively impacting employee morale and retention. The American Psychological Association reports that U.S. employees concerned about AI automation are 57% more likely to experience a decline in productivity and 78% more likely to believe that they do not matter to their employers than unconcerned employees. 

Unaddressed concerns could convince employees to seek new job opportunities, leading to increased attrition rates. Our research shows that one in three job seekers globally are driven by generative AI disruption. Employees in countries with a greater percentage of job seekers who are motivated by generative AI believe that more of their jobs will be automated. In India and the UAE, the countries surveyed with the most job seekers due to generative AI, employees believe that over half of their jobs could be automated, while employees in all other countries surveyed believe only 38% of their jobs could be automated.

How to help employees

To ensure the full potential of generative AI is realized, employers must treat employees as co-pilots rather than mere passengers on the journey to success. While reports predicting mass job displacement due to generative AI abound, this technology can work alongside employees to enhance their experience without overworking them or replacing them entirely. Additionally, most businesses are still in the beginning stages of automation, meaning full generative AI integration is still years away for many. 

Employers can look to previous automation disruptions to avoid repeating the same mistakes. When robots were introduced at a General Motors plant in the 1970s, employees were stretched thin to meet new capacity demands. The integration of these robots led to a nearly month-long strike at the plant, costing GM $150 million. To avoid repeating this experience, employers must ensure that employees are not overwhelmed by the introduction of generative AI.

Furthermore, employers must equip their employees with the necessary skills to harness new technology. 98% of employees believe they will need reskilling or upskilling in the next few years due to generative AI. Yet, our research indicates that employers are already falling behind in providing generative AI learning opportunities: 57% of employees say that their employer’s generative AI training is inadequate.  

Robust training, upskilling, and reskilling programs can empower employees as large-scale adoption of generative AI occurs. For example, when IKEA introduced a new chatbot to take on the bulk of customer inquiries, nearly 10,000 call center employees were reskilled to become remote interior design advisors. IKEA balanced automation with employee well-being, leading to a successful technological transition while unlocking employee potential with AI. Ultimately, it is imperative for companies that adopt generative AI to listen to their employees’ concerns and equip their workforce with the proper skills to ensure a better future.