Work is a state of flux—followed by changes in the place and when people work, changes are occurring in the content of the work itself—literally in responsibilities, tasks, and assignments. This is being fueled by AI and more recently, ChatGPT. People are unsure whether or not they will be replaced by technology – and at the same time, they are looking for more meaning from work and more flexibility in how they go about it.
But the work experience in the new digital landscape can be reimagined, highlighting what people do best and ensuring that the work experience is engaging, challenging and secure. You can inspire people with a vision for what’s next and how they can be part of helping the organization get there.
Fear Is Here
For decades, people have worried about technology replacing jobs. The famous economist John Maynard Kaynes first used the term “technological unemployment” as early as the 1930s. And in the mid-1800s, tailors were concerned about the use of sewing machines and workers who shoveled materials when ships came into port were concerned about grain elevators. In the early 1900s, lamplighters went on strike because they were losing their jobs to the newest technology: electricity.
Today, people are concerned about technology taking over their jobs, but they don’t resist fully trusting AI. In a recent MITER and Harris Poll survey, 78% of respondents were concerned that AI can be used for malicious intent, and 82% support government regulation to reduce risks. Additionally, 70% want the tech industry to do more to ensure the public is protected.
People are worried about the effects of AI in their jobs and lives.
The Value of People
There is plenty that technology does better than people. When machines are precise, humans make mistakes and are often inaccurate. Where automation is lightning fast, humans are slow and plodding by comparison. And where technology can scale, humans are largely defined by so many boundaries.
But humans also have unique characteristics that technology has no match for.
There are people creative— designing something out of nothing, intuiting, inferring, adapting and performing with nuance. People are also unique strange— imagining, inquiring and thinking. Solutions like ChatGPT can provide some of the answers, but people prefer to ask the questions in the first place.
People are uniquely good at connect, relationships and being present to others. It is the people, of course, who will be caring and show kindness, who will support compassion for others. People will develop trust within communities and encourage each other. People also bring morality and integrity, which are so important to relationships and the resilience of groups.
The Human Experience in a Digital World
So how do you create great human experiences in a digital world – optimizing everything people do best and evoking fear?
Neurologically, people prefer certainty and tend to avoid ambiguity. And when people are afraid, they are likely to lock up, shut down and lose access to their best thinking or creativity. Therefore, it is important to be well ahead through uncertain times and conditions that can create fear about jobs, work and employment.
#1 – Emphasize Identity
Many people derive a healthy sense of identity from their work. They don’t just work in the field of design, they are designers. They don’t just teach, they are educators. And they don’t just manipulate or analyze numbers, they are data scientists.
One of the scariest things about having technology take over certain parts of work is the loss of identity. If a professional is spending time on certain tasks, the value of that work may be compromised. ChatGPT takes on the tasks of writing job descriptions, answering employee questions or analyzing company data, but the HR professional will still add value to ensuring the right people are in the right jobs and creating the conditions for meaningful and equitable cultures . AI makes use of the writing of social posts, but the marketing professional will still be crucial to detect the most important topics and to examine posts for nuances that will ensure they are on brand and successful to avoid unintended consequences.
Remind people of their value and importance in the organization. Give people insight from what they are doing to what partners need and the ways in which they make a difference to the value the organization creates for people. Reassure people of all the ways that their contribution matters today and will continue to matter in the future.
#2 – Develop Skills
Fear also stems from concern about a gap in the new skills required. If the communication professional no longer needs to write, but initiate new strategies to transfer strategic information, they may need new skills.
Providing the development of new skills and competencies is a key part of advancing uncertainty. As technology takes over old tasks and people have to tackle new tasks, they need to know they will be supported to make the transition. Providing not just reassurance, but a career path and developmental steps will go a long way toward people feeling less anxious about the future and more engaged in creating it.
#3 – Build a Community
As technology takes hold, it risks becoming more transactional and less peer-to-peer. In fact, a recent Cigna poll found that 48% of Gen Zs reported that work felt transactional and lacked the opportunity to bond with colleagues. Furthermore, an analysis by BetterUp reported that only 31% of people were satisfied with the amount of social connections they have at work, and 22% do not have even one friend at work.
One of the most important aspects of work is a sense of connection—and it’s part of the value equation that not only keeps people with an organization, but also motivates people to do their best. So in the digital world of the future, making sure people feel like they have camaraderie and teamwork will be key. When people are uncertain or fearful, the human instinct is to pull together to pull through. And enduring hard times is one of the main sources of bonding. Unfortunately, distance can get in the way of deeper relationships.
It is wise for leaders not only to provide people with social time, but also to give people shared goals that require mixed skills and unique talents to achieve the necessary results. Leaders and organizations can also develop cultures where employees can connect in groups, connecting over common interests such as parenting, caring for the elderly or running. When people feel a sense of belonging, they are more likely to stay ahead of their fears as well.
The Power of Vision
In the face of uncertainty, leaders can take plenty of steps to alleviate fear—and perhaps vision is key. Let people have an understanding of what is to come, where the organization is going and what the bright future will be. You won’t be able to give certainty, but you can emphasize clarity. Let people know what you’re excited about as well as what you think. Invite people to explore, innovate and envision where things will go and how they can be a part of everything that happens.