By Mat Piaggi
In less than a year, generative AI has exploded into the mainstream. Chatbots such as ChatGPT and Bard are household names, operating worldwide in various contexts. However, concerns arise as experts argue that our lightning-fast progress has overshadowed the need for regulation and fair use policies, as we race toward an AI-centric future.
In the workplace, generative AI has firmly secured its spot in employees’ toolkits, emerging as a staple for millions in their day-to-day tasks. Consequently, organisations must reckon with their position: whether to overlook its use, establish guidelines, or embrace its capabilities openly. Generative AI is an opportunity to initiate these discussions, helping to further recognise how these tools can contribute to establishing a clearer and more transparent work environment for employees, as well as fostering a more open organisational culture. So, what should leaders, especially those in L&D and HR, start considering?
Generative AI has become an invaluable tool for many employees
In a survey carried out by Deloitte, more than three quarters (77%) of respondents stated that they believe that their employer would disapprove of them using generative AI for their job. Clearly, there is a widespread lack of confidence around leveraging AI within a business environment, but this does not necessarily match how it is being used in reality. The same survey found that four million people used generative AI at work between May and June of this year. There is an imbalance at play here – the deployment of generative AI is commonplace in the workplace, but honesty about that deployment is rare. An organisational culture that lacks openness and transparency when it comes to new technologies could be the culprit here.
The fact that many employees are harnessing generative AI at work is far from surprising. Data suggests that the size of the industry is set to grow by 42% over the next 10 years, with new tools launching on a regular basis. In a work environment, many generative AI applications are centred around increasing efficiencies by removing administrative burdens and freeing up time for employees to focus on other tasks. In technical roles, like software development, employees may use generative AI to generate code quickly, allowing them to create products and resolve bugs more efficiently. Such applications stand to benefit employers in the long term, as generative AI serves to assist, rather than replace, employees.
The crux of the issue hinges not around the technology itself, but rather how employees and employers are communicating about generative AI. Employees have broadly decided that generative AI is a useful tool, but they aren’t yet ready to discuss this with their managers. Generative AI is here to stay – now it’s up to senior leaders and managers to consider what role it should play in their organisation.
Introduce a generative AI policy to standardise usage
Inevitably, as generative AI becomes a norm within the workplace, organisations are considering the implementation of fair-use policies. Policies that regulate the use of the internet and social media are commonplace in organisations, so introducing a generative AI policy is a logical next step. This would ensure consistency, remove doubts, and keep everyone on the same page. The extent to which generative AI is restricted should be the reserve of individual organisations; for example, organisations working with sensitive information should factor this into their generative AI policy, to avoid any concerns around data privacy. The content of a generative AI policy will vary depending on the organisation, but all organisations should share clear language that allows employees to feel at ease about their use of the technology at work.
Once a fair-use policy is in place, HR can leverage the other tools at their disposal to ensure that all employees are comfortable using and discussing generative AI. Whilst a policy is an important first step, leaders should equally remember that employees may have different levels of background knowledge or skill with such a new technology. Communication is key in creating an even playing field for all employees: HR teams could consider running information sessions or offering training on generative AI. In doing so, leaders can be safe in the knowledge that the use of generative AI is standardised across the organisation. Additionally, when conversations about generative AI are normalised, employees are much less likely to hide their usage of the technology from their manager.
Encourage candid conversations to create a transparent company culture
Like any workplace change, especially with technology, everything begins with effective internal communication. Establishing a bridge between leaders and employees, where open discussions can take place, benefits not only the organisation but also prevents the fear of judgement that could harm employee well-being and productivity.
To navigate these changes, organisations can employ workplace coaching to support their employees. Coaching enables employees to harness emerging technologies such as generative AI, ignites creativity, and motivates employees to enhance their work. It provides them with a secure space to address concerns and hesitations, fostering growth through collaboration and offering a fresh perspective to bring back to their peers.
By providing access to one-on-one coaching for leaders and employees undergoing change, a culture of open communication and feedback can be cultivated. This helps to mitigate some of the challenges associated with change, promoting smoother transitions and improved team dynamics.
The introduction of generative AI into the workplace is a significant change, but certainly not one to be feared. Employees and organisations alike understand the real potential of generative AI for increasing efficiencies, but don’t always communicate this alignment effectively. HR leaders have an important role to play in implementing fair-use policies, offering learning and development opportunities on the technology, and facilitating honest conversations between employees and senior leadership. These strategies should extend beyond generative AI to cultivate an open culture where individuals can flourish through any innovation that comes their way.
About the Author
Mat Piaggi is a Behavioural Scientist at leading digital coaching platform CoachHub. Mat collaborates with the broader EMEA team in scientific research on coaching, learning, and professional development, with research areas ranging from the future of work to organisational change and beyond.