EY Report Highlights: Generational Divide in AI Adoption and Perception in the Workforce
NEW YORK, Dec. 7, 2023 -- The artificial intelligence (AI) boom across all industries has fueled anxiety in the workforce, with employees fearing ethical usage, legal risks and job displacement, according to new data from Ernst & Young LLP (EY US).
The AI Anxiety in Business Survey is based on findings from 1,000 employed US workers at least somewhat familiar with artificial intelligence (AI) about their perception of and experience with AI-backed technologies, revealing a majority (71%) of employees are concerned about AI. On the heels of a year of generative AI-fueled disruption, about half (48%) of respondents said they are more concerned about AI today than they were a year ago, and of those, 41% believe it is evolving too quickly.
"Generative AI has evolved to one of the fastest user-adopted technologies, and as regulators and C-suite leaders struggle to keep up, it's causing a sense of discontinuity, confusion, and even a loss of control among employees," said Dan Diasio, EY Global Artificial Intelligence Consulting Leader. "As businesses continue to adopt generative AI, leaders must keep employees at the center and help overcome fear-based barriers to usher in a new era of productivity and growth."
Employee Concerns Accelerating
Given the uncertainty around AI in the workplace, employees and leaders alike are bracing for disruptions. A staggering 75% of employees are concerned AI will make certain jobs obsolete — and more alarmingly, about two-thirds (65%) say they are anxious about AI replacing their job.
Employees overwhelmingly have concerns that AI will hurt their financial wellbeing and professional growth, including:
- Negatively impact salary or pay (72%)
- Losing out on promotions for not knowing how to use AI (67%)
- Falling behind if they don't use AI at work (66%)
A lack of guidance from leaders on responsible usage is also fueling new anxieties. In fact, about two-thirds (65%) of employees are anxious about not knowing how to use AI ethically, and a majority are concerned about the legal risks (77%) and cybersecurity risks (75%).
Generational Differences Impact Worker Perception of AI
Despite being the first true digital natives to enter the workforce, Gen Z employees are not the most likely to be using AI at work and significantly less convinced of its benefits compared to their Gen X and Millennial counterparts. According to the survey, Gen Z are less likely than other generations to:
- Use AI at work (63% for Gen Z vs. 74% Millennials but on par with Gen X 70%)
- Say AI will make them more efficient (72% for Gen Z vs. 89% Gen X and 85% Millennials)
"It may be surprising that the most digitally connected segment of workers are not the most likely to be utilizing AI, but unlike their older counterparts, Gen Z's concerns aren't related to safety and security but whether the technology works," said Marcie Merriman, EY Americas Cultural Insights & Customer Strategy Leader. "Building an AI-powered workforce will require business leaders to engage Gen Z employees in the integration process, educate them on the potential business benefits of the tools at their fingertips and get it right on the first try."
Workers Want Guidance, Transparency and Regulation
AI anxiety hasn't derailed excitement or growth — 90% of survey respondents work for an organization that has already adopted at least one AI technology, and about two-thirds (67%) of employees have personally pushed for AI adoption at their organization.
However, while 80% say more training/upskilling would make them more comfortable using AI at work, nearly as many (73%) have concerns about their organization not offering sufficient training or upskilling. Even more worrisome is that 63% are anxious they won't have access to AI learning opportunities.
Employees also want transparency, with the majority saying they would view an organization more positively if it:
- Offered AI responsibility/ethics training for employees (80%)
- Created an AI responsibility/ethical task force (77%)
- Had a trusted third-party review of AI built in the process (76%)
But the burden of defining guardrails isn't just on the employer: 4-in-5 (81%) employees believe AI technology organizations need to self-regulate more, and 78% say the government needs to play a bigger role in regulating AI technology.
Build a Culture of Confidence to Empower Employees
Employees play a crucial role in the successful integration of new technologies, so leaders must prioritize alleviating fear-based obstacles for their organization to harness the full potential of AI. The EY survey found employees would be more comfortable using AI at work if employees from all levels were involved in the adoption process (77%) and if senior leadership promoted using AI responsibly and ethically (77%). And employees are open to the AI opportunity despite their concerns: 4-in-5 see its value at work and believe it will make them more efficient (82%), more productive (81%) and able to focus on higher-value work (81%).
"Leaders must prioritize upskilling every employee, redefine AI as augmented intelligence and proactively reshape work processes to avoid reducing workers to interface prompts," Diasio said.
EY US commissioned a third-party vendor to conduct the AI Anxiety in Business Survey. The online survey among 1,000 Americans who work an office/desk job, either full-time or part-time, and are at least somewhat familiar with artificial intelligence (AI) was completed between October 5–16, 2023. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 3 percentage points.
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Source: EY US