Featured in today's newsletter:
- A researcher’s optimistic take on AI and automation.
- Tensions over the Israel-Hamas war.
- The wildest “work-related” employee expenses of the past year.
AI and Work Radar
- AI failed to crack the top 10 risks leaders are concerned about in a recent survey of executives and managers from consulting firm Aon. Cyberattacks took the top spot, followed by business interruption and an economic downturn. The authors of the Aon report argued that the business risk posed by AI, which came in at 49th place, was “underrated” by survey respondents.
- One common mistake for organizations adopting AI “is that they don’t think big enough,” BCG partner Sylvain Duranton told Fortune. He recommended that companies do an internal audit to identify the departments or functions that could be totally transformed by the technology, leading to at least a 50% uptick in productivity, and focus on implementing it in one or two of those areas.
- A framework for improving your skills using generative AI: Think of the tool “as a tutor, rather than expecting it to do your homework for you,” advises technology writer Alexandra Samuel. For example, asking a chatbot to write a piece of code may yield something buggy or ineffective, while asking it to act like a programming teacher gives you the knowledge to more quickly write the correct code yourself.
Focus on What History Says About the Risk of AI Automating Jobs Away
“People think of automation…[as] the automation of entire jobs,” says James Bessen, a lecturer and executive director of the Technology & Policy Research Initiative at Boston University. But “that tends to be a very unrealistic picture of a) technology, and b) how complex humans and human jobs are.”
Bessen argues that history offers optimistic guidance for those concerned that AI could make jobs go away. In a 2016 working paper, he looked at the 271 detailed occupations used in the 1950 Census and found that by 2010, only one occupation’s disappearance could be “largely attributed to automation”: elevator operator. Other occupations had vanished, but for reasons other than automation.
We spoke with Bessen about AI, automation, and what we should expect in the near future. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation, edited for length and clarity:
You recently published a paper looking at firms that invested in automation technologies between 2000 and 2016. What happened to the employees at those firms?
We found that when a firm automated, there was an uptick in the number of workers who left. It wasn't huge. The workers who left, for the most part, tended to get jobs similar to what they had. In other words, they didn't take pay cuts. But they were out of work for a period of time, so there was some financial burden, and that was significant. Older workers bore the brunt a little bit worse, but for the most part, they ended up re-employed. That doesn't mean that net employment went down. In fact, what we know is that at those firms, employment was growing.
The big takeaway is that the net number of jobs doesn't change very much. It may go up and may go down. We're not seeing big changes in employment, but we are seeing a lot of people making transitions. People leave, they have to get a new job, they have to acquire new skills, they may need to relocate.
AI is clearly new in some ways. The 19th century stuff was about physical tasks. With AI, we're talking about mental tasks, knowledge work. So that's a difference. But we've been automating knowledge work since the 1950s with computers. People say, ‘Oh, well now they're coming after the white-collar job.’ They've been coming after the white-collar jobs for 70 years now. Routine tasks could be programmed. Now we're in a world where less routine tasks can be helped. But even that's pretty difficult.
Charter Pro members can read a full transcript of our conversation here for Bessen’s predictions about AI’s impact on jobs.
What Else You Need to Know
The workforce participation rate for workers with disabilities is at an all-time high, driven in part by the availability of remote work. Since February 2020, almost 1.8 million Americans with disabilities have joined the labor force, an increase of 28%. The labor force participation rate for adults with disabilities is now 25%, the highest on record.
- Economists attribute this increase to a tight labor market that has pushed more employers to hire candidates with disabilities, as well as a greater number of jobs that can be done remotely.
- Some workers and disability advocates fear that hard-line return-to-office mandates will erase much of these gains. As employers step up their enforcement, workers are increasingly filing charges of disability discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and state equivalents. In many of these cases, workers are seeking access to remote work as a disability accommodation.
Nearly three-fourths of employers have adopted skills-based hiring practices, according to survey data from talent assessment company TestGorilla, compared to just over half who said the same last year.
- Some organizations, such as tech company ServiceNow, are similarly taking a skills-based approach to internal mobility.
- ServiceNow uses an AI-powered system—which it also offers to customers—to support skills-based hiring, promotions, and upskilling. The platform creates a virtual “skills marketplace,” senior vice president of talent acquisition Sarah Tilley explained at last month’s Charter Workplace Summit.
- For employees, that means new opportunities to develop individual learning plans and chart career trajectories. For managers, it means access to data to best match employees with skills with specific projects and support workers’ development goals.
Some 92,000 Americans reported work absences due to issues with child-care arrangements in October, the first month after $24 billion in pandemic-era child-care funding expired.
- By comparison, some 55,000 workers reported the same in September.
- Because the data on work absences can be so volatile, however, it’s difficult to correlate the change in federal child-care policy with the increase in work absences. While the Century Foundation has predicted that the end of pandemic-era grants could lead to up to 70,000 child-care programs to close, it is not clear how many programs have already been affected.
Internal conflict at Google over the Israel-Hamas war is reportedly reaching a boiling point. Jewish and Israeli employees in recent weeks have decried what they see as a lackluster response to offensive and anti-semitic messages on company platforms, while a group of Google employees recently published an open letter alleging “campaigns of hate, abuse, and retaliation inside Google” against pro-Palestinian viewpoints.
- Just over half of respondents in a recent ResumeBuilder survey said they think it’s important for employers to take a public stance on the war—and nearly a quarter said they would consider leaving a company whose response was unsatisfactory. Some 39% said they were at least somewhat fearful of expressing their personal opinions at work.
- "Virtually every organization that I've encountered—or heard about through friends—has had to put out two statements because no one knew how to respond to this," diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant Farah Salam-Hottle told Axios.
- The range of approaches organizations are taking to addressing internal tension around the war varies widely: Some are attempting to limit commenting on internal platforms, Axios reported, while others are hosting discussion sessions and empathy training to steer disagreement to a less disruptive place.
Here are some of the best tips and insights from the past week for managing yourself and your team:
- Do an “emotional pushup.” Building emotional fitness, which includes skills like setting boundaries and forming close connections, requires getting your reps in, argued Dr. Vaneeta Sandhu of the mental-health platform Coa during a recent session for Charter Pro members. One exercise to try, then repeat: Ask a colleague to share one thing you’re doing well as a teammate, and one way you can be a 10% better teammate to them.
- Use future-focused language to boost reskilling. When behavioral scientists studied language that made employees most likely to participate in reskilling programs, they found that pragmatic messaging about keeping their skills up to date to stay relevant was more effective than framing the programs as helpful for individual growth or company success.
- Try “dual promotion” to talk about your accomplishments. Compared to pure self-promotion, which can come off as self-absorbed, researchers have found that presenting one’s own strengths and accomplishments alongside compliments for others creates an impression of competence, confidence, and collaborativeness.
- Before creating a presentation, reflect on the change you want to see in the audience. Make presentations more engaging and relevant by starting the planning process with questions about your audience: How do they currently feel about the topic you’re speaking on? And how do you want them to feel about it once they’ve heard what you have to say?
Creative accounting department. Flight tickets for pets, wedding gifts, and Taylor Swift concert tickets are among the most credulity-straining purchases workers have expensed to their employers over the past year, according to data from the corporate credit-card platform Brex.
- Brex also reported that all expensed Taylor Swift tickets were approved.
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.