The use of AI will result in some job losses, but the fear of AI will prompt attrition as employees look for safe employment havens. AI's effects will be uneven because employers will adopt AI tools at different speeds.
Employees who believe AI will replace their jobs reported a 27% lower intent to stay with their organization compared to employees who don't feel threatened by the technology, according to a recent survey of 3,500 global employees conducted by Gartner.
"This lower intent to stay translates into employee attrition, which can cost organizations in the millions per year in overall attrition cost and lost productivity," said Helen Poitevin, a Gartner analyst, at the firm's recently concluded ReimagineHR Conference in Orlando.
Specifically, Gartner estimates that for an organization of 10,000 employees, employee fear of AI will cost $53 million per year in total costs and lost productivity.
At a separate event this week, Eva Selenko, a professor in work psychology at Loughborough University's business school in the U.K., and other experts issued the same warning about retention. She said that employees are concerned AI may change their jobs or replace them outright.
"If they have high skills, they are very likely to look for another job," she said on Monday at a National Academies forum AI in the Workplace: Implications for Mental Health.
The dangerous AI rumor mill
One thing employers need to do is prevent rumors from happening, Selenko said. "If people feel they have no say in this, then job insecurity develops and then people are more likely to quit the job."
What employers can do to mitigate employee concerns is "be very transparent about how the organization is going to use AI," said Sue Murray, principal of organizational change management at The Mitre Corp, who also spoke at the AI in the Workplace forum.
Eva SelenkoProfessor in work psychology, Loughborough University
AI creates "almost a paradox" in the workplace, said Graham Waller, a Gartner analyst at the ReimagineHR conference. "On the one hand, it is disrupting jobs; on the other hand, it can create a much better employee experience" by freeing workers from menial tasks.
In a report this week, Forrester Research estimated that automation and AI will replace about 5% of U.S. jobs by 2030. It said generative AI "is coming after white collar jobs."
Much of the generative AI adoption in the enterprise will come through Microsoft 365 Copilot, a generative AI tool used alongside its Microsoft 365 suite of productivity software. Forrester Research said that by the end of next year, nearly 7 million U.S. knowledge workers could be using Copilot, or about 8% of the total worker population of 90 million. Forrester Research considers HR professionals knowledge workers, which it defines as people who spend about an hour per day using software.
AI won't take many jobs in the near-term but will, in time, affect office and administrative positions, according to Forrester Research's analysis.
"The history of AI and jobs is this, however: There have always been more forecasts of job losses than actual jobs lost," said J.P. Gownder, an analyst at Forrester Research and one of the report's authors.
Patrick Thibodeau covers human capital management and ERP technologies. He has worked for more than two decades as an enterprise IT reporter.