Featured in today's briefing:
- The accelerating automation potential of generative AI for management.
- The employees most likely to leave after a layoff.
- Who to add to the group to brainstorm better.
AI and Work Radar
- Widespread use of AI tools could hasten the adoption of four-day workweeks by enabling employees to accomplish more in less time, argues a memo from investment first Jefferies’ ESG team. The prediction echoes one made earlier this year by Nobel-Prize-winning economist Christopher Pissarides. “We could increase our well-being generally from work and we could take off more leisure. We could move to a four-day week easily,” he told TIME.
- A recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that the use of AI at work increases employees’ desire for human connection, which manifests in ways both positive and negative. While it can lead to increased collaboration and bonding among workers, when left unfulfilled, it can also turn into loneliness that carries health consequences including insomnia and more frequent drinking.
- One of the jobs transformed by the current AI explosion is that of AI ethicist, as their aperture of widens from preventing bias to considering the many ways in which new applications could have a direct societal impact.
- One helpful prompt to get ChatGPT to summarize a meeting, via The New York Times’: “Act as if you are my executive assistant. You are compiling meeting minutes using this transcript.” (For the best tools to turn a meeting into a transcript, see our review of AI audio transcription platforms.)
Focus on What Artificial Intelligence Means for Jobs
The question of AI’s role in shifting work is difficult to answer confidently with so much we don't know and how quickly the technology is evolving. But there’s a steady flow of research examining how AI is changing workplaces that’s vitally useful.
The latest is McKinsey’s new report, “The economic potential of generative AI,” released earlier this week. Here are key takeaways for thinking and planning for yourself, your team, and your organization:
- About 75% of the potential value from generative AI is in four areas (page 12 of the full McKinsey report has a useful graphic about the potential benefits from generative AI by business function):
- About 60-70% of workers’ time is spent on activities that could potentially be automated by current generative AI and other technology. This is up from 2017, when McKinsey had estimated that technology could automate half of worker hours worldwide.
- It expects that half of today’s work activities will be automated between 2030 and 2060, a faster timeline than earlier estimated.
- Banking, technology, and life sciences are the industries that could see the biggest revenue boosts from generative AI.
- Generative AI could have a major impact in areas such as managing, applying expertise, and interfacing with stakeholders. McKinsey’s estimate of the automation potential for management, for example, jumped to 49% from 16% as a result of the rise of generative AI. “Many of the work activities that involve communication, supervision, documentation, and interacting with people in general have the potential to be automated by generative AI, accelerating the transformation of work in occupations such as education and technology, for which automation potential was previously expected to emerge later,” the authors write. (A chart on page 41 of the report breaks this down by specific professions.)
- Generative AI can automate the work of some of the most educated workers, unlike traditional automation, which tends to most impact those with the lowest skills. McKinsey’s models show the biggest relative jump in automation potential for roles requiring graduate degrees as a result of generative AI.
The McKinsey analysis is roughly in line with other recent research, including a March Goldman Sachs report, which found that “roughly two-thirds of current jobs are exposed to some degree of AI automation, and that generative AI could substitute up to one-fourth of current work.”
Another recent AI & work research finding worth knowing about:
- “AI investments are associated with a flattening of the firms' hierarchical structure, with significant increases in the share of workers at the junior level and decreases in shares of workers in middle-management and senior roles.” —June 2023 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, “Firm Investments in Artificial Intelligence Technologies and Changes in Workforce Composition”
Download Charter’s new strategy briefing memo, “The AI Mandate for HR,” to read our seven frameworks for how people leaders can play a central role in AI’s adoption.
What Else You Need to Know
Companies are deemphasizing sustainability and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts as right-wing boycotts continue. Executives’ mentions of DEI or sustainability during earnings calls decreased after a peak in early 2022, reversing the trend of increasing public discussion of these efforts in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020.
- At the same time, “anti-woke” boycotts have continued, recently targeting brands such as Target and Bud Light that have shown support for the LGBTQ+ community, leading some companies to rethink their approach to weighing in on potentially controversial topics.
- Some employees are pushing back. The Starbucks Workers United union, which represents retail employees at the company, accused leaders of banning Pride displays in cafes and criticized the company for failing to show support for LGBTQ+ workers. The company has denied the allegations, calling the incidents “outliers.”
Layoffs can have a domino effect in attrition, especially among high performers. When researchers studied attrition at a major retailer over a two-year period, they found that while attrition rates increased among all employees after layoffs, the increase was much more pronounced for those at the top 40% of the company, from 1.5% to 2%.
- Among the lowest 40%, the attrition rate rose from 2.01% to 2.15%.
- Researchers explain this discrepancy by pointing out that high performers often have more employment options outside their current position.
- Mass layoffs are also associated with long-term changes in employee attitudes, with major hits to company confidence, commitment to the organization, and confidence in leadership, according to research conducted earlier this year by Culture Amp. It was only after employers began hiring again that they saw these engagement figures begin to improve.
The National Labor Relations Board has broadened the definition of employee, reversing a Trump-era decision. On Tuesday, the NLRB issued a ruling that returned the definitions of employee versus contractor to the Obama-era standard that classifies more workers as the former.
- As a result, the ruling grants the right to unionize and take collective action to a number of workers who had previously been classified as contractors, including drivers, construction workers, and janitors.
Focus time has replaced in-person collaboration as US employees’ main reason for coming into the office. Rounding out the current top three reasons are access to technology and scheduled in-person meetings, according to a new Gensler survey of 14,000 workers across nine countries.
- The survey also identified a gap between how workers are using the office and what they say would be its most effective use. On average, respondents globally said that spending 63% of their work week in the office would be the ideal amount for helping them be productive, but actual in-office time was closer to 50%.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Bring a newcomer to your next brainstorming session. Research has found that when small teams shake up the composition of their brainstorming groups, they subsequently generate more and higher-quality creative ideas than those that retain the same members.
- To get better feedback, ask about specific behaviors immediately after the behavior. For instance, instead of asking about how a meeting went, ask about the framing of the central question or the explanation of a particular slide. Make sure to ask right away, when the behaviors are fresh in colleagues’ minds.
- Start your week with micro-commitments. Leadership consultant James Robbins says leaders can increase team motivation and engagement by making small weekly commitments in multiple categories. For example, commit each week to delivering one piece of feedback and one piece of recognition, doing one thing to promote someone’s autonomy and one thing to promote fun, and choosing one leadership quality to embody.
- Embrace the one-minute meeting. Try extremely short meetings that last only as long as all parties have time to fully devote their attention to the conversation at hand. “Better to get 30 seconds of undivided attention than 30 minutes of distraction,” note employment lawyer Joseph L. Beachboard and workplace psychologist Dennis Alan Davis.
Putting the ‘pool’ in candidate pool. While demand for summer interns is down compared to last year, the market for traditional summer jobs such as lifeguards, swim instructors, and camp counselors is tight—so much so that one economist predicted to The Wall Street Journal that this summer will have the highest teen employment rate in over a decade.
A positive spin on your scrolling habit. A new study found that we’re more inclined to tell self-serving lies when using a laptop than a phone, likely because of the contexts in which we use each device more frequently.
- “What we ended up tapping into is the association with the device—friends and family for the phone and work and a ‘get ahead at any cost’ mentality with the laptop,” co-author Terri Kurtzberg, professor of management and global business at Rutgers Business School, told The Wall Street Journal.
The handbook for this new era of business doesn’t exist. We’re all drafting our own as we go along—and now we’d like to start doing so together. You can sign up here to receive this briefing by email.