​How to prepare employees for AI's impact on the workforce

Ease employee's concerns about AI adoption by following the steps below.

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In December 2018, Waymo's self-driving vans were harassed by armed citizens pelting the vehicles with rocks. It did not stop there. Twenty-two separate incidents of gun wielding and rock throwing was reported in the Phoenix area where Waymo tested the self-driving vehicles.

The Waymo incidents in Arizona should not go unnoticed to those in the tech world.

SEE: Artificial intelligence: Trends, obstacles, and potential wins (Tech Pro Research)

Many individuals, consumers, and employees are nervous about artificial intelligence (AI) and its effect on them. They don't want to lose control—of their vehicles—or their jobs.

This is a valid concern.

"The growth of artificial intelligence and emerging technologies (ET) is poised to reshape the workforce. While the exact impact of AI and ET is unclear, experts expect that many jobs currently performed by humans will be performed by robots in the near future, and at the same time, new jobs will be created as technology advances," said Elizabeth Mann Levesque of the Brookings Institute.

Companies can ease employee's concerns about AI adoption by taking these two steps:

Be honest and open

In my career I've experienced many company reorganizations. The format usually consists of a consultant visit, the vice president explaining that the department is being assessed to maximize workflows and that it will benefit everyone—and then everyone goes back to their desks wondering if they will be laid off.

As a junior staff member, I was a lay-off victim in my very first IT job. I did documentation that the consultant deemed it "non-essential." Years later, I still recall the trauma of it. It wasn't getting laid off that hurt. It was going to work and not knowing what would happen next.

These are similiar feelings that employees experience when they see technology like AI "taking over" their tasks.

Managers must be sensitive to this. Be upfront with your employees. Tell employees who are likely to lose their jobs the truth—while assuring other employees that while their jobs may change, their jobs are safe.

SEE: IT leader's guide to deep learning (Tech Pro Research)

Offer support and reassurance

Many Al-equipped machines are designed to take away mundane functions from daily workflows so that humans can work in a safer, more intellectually demanding contexts with the AI as an able assistant.

However, employees may not understand this when AI is first introduced into their workflows. This is where line managers and C-level management should reassure employees that they are, in fact, valued and needed. They must educate employees that the AI will interact with them in ways that will enable them to fine-tune their skills and grow into greater responsibilities.

Verbal reassurances should also come with a shepherding in of new man-machine work processes. Management should also invite suggestions from employees who will work alongside and with AI. When employees directly plug into new workflow development, they will gain confidence in the new work processes—and relax.

Also see

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Image: PhonlamaiPhoto, Getty Images/iStockphoto

By Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...