From ChatGPT to DALL-E and all the technologies in between, the new wave of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) systems is transforming business at a rapid pace. While employees are optimistic about how AI—and generative AI, in particular—will affect their work, feelings vary considerably by seniority and by country, according to new research released today by Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
The research, titled AI at Work: What People Are Saying, is based on a survey of more than 12,800 employees from the executive suite to the front lines across industries in 18 countries around the world, to understand how the evolution of AI has impacted the workplace.
“GenAI is a rapidly evolving space, and its transformative impact is already being felt in workplaces around the world,” said Nicolas De Bellefonds, global leader of AI and Software at BCG X, BCG’s tech build and design unit, and coauthor of the research. “We’re launching the Center for Responsible Generative AI to support our clients and partners as they leverage and build next generation AI-powered solutions to drive positive impact and competitive advantage, while also informing new ways of working, upskilling talent, change management, and culture.”
Optimism is Rising and Concern is Falling, Varying by Seniority and Geography
When asked about AI’s impact on work, 52% of all respondents ranked optimism as one of their top two sentiments, a 17-point jump from 2018 when this survey was last conducted. Concern saw the steepest decline compared with five years ago, falling from 40% to 30%.
Nipun Kalra, Managing Director & Partner, and head of BCG X in India, said, “In a country where the sheer size of data points being generated every day is enormous, AI is already demonstrating how it can have meaningful impact for businesses. And all this while making work more efficient and fulfilling for employees. Our survey also reflects this optimism. Consider this: 52% of a total of 12,800 front-line employees and managers across 18 countries ranked optimism as one of their top two sentiments, with India being among the leading countries most optimistic about the transformative impact of AI.”
Within organizations, senior leaders, who are more frequent users of generative AI, are more optimistic and less concerned about it than frontline employees. While 62% of leaders are optimistic about AI, only 42% of frontline employees share that view. And 62% of regular users of generative AI are optimistic about it, compared with 36% of non-users. A majority of leaders (80%) report that they use generative AI tools regularly, compared with just 20% of frontline employees. Further, frontline employees made up the largest percentage of nonusers (60%) of generative AI tools overall.
Sentiments about AI in the workplace also vary by geography. The most optimistic are Brazil (71%), India (60%), and the Middle East (58%). Meanwhile, the least optimistic are the US (46%), the Netherlands (44%), and Japan (40%). The geographies most concerned about AI are the Netherlands (42%), France (41%), and Japan (38%), while the least concerned are the Middle East (25%), Brazil (19%), and India (14%).
Preparing for the Impact of AI on Work
Thirty-six percent of respondents think that their job is likely to be eliminated by AI. To prepare for the new era of AI at work, 86% of respondents believe they will need training to sharpen their skills. However, only 14% of frontline employees say they have gone through any upskilling training to date, compared with 44% of leaders.
“The companies that capture the most value from AI follow the 10-20-70 rule: 10% of their AI effort goes to designing algorithms, 20% to building the underlying technologies, and 70% to supporting people and adapting business processes,” said Vinciane Beauchene, a BCG managing director, partner and coauthor of the research. “Upskilling is essential and must be done continuously. It should go beyond learning how to use the technology and allow employees to adapt in their role as activities and skill requirements evolve.”
Regulation and Responsibility is Top of Mind for Employees
Despite their concerns, 71% of respondents believe the rewards of GenAI outweigh the risks. However, they also want the risks to be managed—79% of all respondents believe that AI-specific regulations are necessary, representing a marked shift in attitudes toward government oversight of technology.
Rather than waiting for government regulation to be enacted, many companies are developing and deploying their own responsible AI frameworks to manage this powerful emerging technology in a way that aligns with organizational purpose and ethical values. Employee views on the effectiveness of these programs vary widely. While 68% of leaders feel confident about their organization’s responsible use of AI, a mere 29% of frontline employees believe their companies have implemented adequate measures to ensure AI is used responsibly.
The Bottom Line for Leaders
Employees are ready to accept AI in the workplace, but only if they are comfortable that their employer is committed to doing the right thing. The report outlines three key recommendations for leaders as they navigate their organization through the AI revolution:
- Ensure that there are spaces for responsible AI experimentation. Comfort levels with technology play a key role, and the more regularly employees use AI and GenAI, the more they recognize its benefits—as well as its limitations and risks.
- Invest in regular upskilling. Given the pace at which technology is evolving, organizations cannot treat upskilling as a one-off effort. They need to invest in training to help employees prepare for changes in their work and help them succeed in their evolving roles.
- Prioritize building a responsible AI program: Employees want guidance and reassurance that their organizations are approaching AI and GenAI ethically, and leaders want to be able to help frame emerging AI regulations.
“The level of concern among employees about the responsible use of AI is striking,” said Steven Mills, chief AI ethics officer at BCG and coauthor of the report. “Generative AI burst on the scene so abruptly in 2022 that many companies are still playing catch up, however responsible AI should be a priority for all leaders. Companies won’t achieve the full potential of GenAI if the majority of their employees continue to doubt their employer is using AI responsibly. Responsible AI doesn’t just mitigate risk, it can also increase innovation and productivity, and generate value and competitive advantage for organizations.”