How Will AI Impact Office Jobs?
Every week I will be sharing hot topics discussed in my new Facebook Community The Future If… Check out this week’s discussion here, and join the community to take part in future dialog.
This week we’re looking at another hot topic — AI and white collar jobs. There’s a lot of talk about how robots and automation will impact jobs in areas like transportation, customer service, and logistics, but what about those of us with office jobs? Will we still see the same effect?
So far, there haven’t been any big waves of layoffs in white collar jobs due to the growth of AI. This could partly be because those in at-risk positions are being moved to new areas or being re-skilled. Consider the example of Accenture, which automated 10,000 jobs but didn’t have to cut a single employee because they simply provided them with new skills and tools they could use in different positions. The white collar employees at the biggest risk for losing their jobs are the ones whose responsibilities don’t rely on high human thought and can be written down in a series of steps, like people in document processing, financial analysis, or claims adjustment. Community member Dan Keldsen pointed out that adopting AI happens over time and not all at once, so we might see some waves of jobs being replaced based on industry or company size. “In the meantime, arguably, much more meaningful and useful work will open up as more of the ‘mindless’ work can be done through AI,” he said. Before we get nervous about AI taking away jobs, consider the white collar jobs it is creating as people have to manage the automation process. Although some jobs might be lost, the net jobs created is not a concern to almost all executives. However, that could change over the next 20–25 years, says community member Rinu Vimal, who fears that increasing AI power could put more jobs at risk in the long term.
There’s also a lot of talk about robots replacing humans, where they are often just automating a task typically done by humans instead of totally replacing them. Machines may be able to automate the process of reading medical scans or skimming legal briefs, but they won’t ever replace human doctors and lawyers, for example. In many cases, AI is simply there to automate the mundane tasks and provide us more time to add human elements to our jobs. Community member Erik Ostergaard believes that AI will help us become more efficient at work by taking away tasks like scheduling meetings and creating reports. Instead of taking over, he notes, AI can be a great tool as an assistant for repetitive or process-driven tasks.
Similarly, only bad managers are at risk of being replaced with AI. Good managers are those that tap into the human side to mentor and make connections, and those are things that can’t be replicated by machines. If anything, the growth of AI is more motivation for humans to step up their game to avoid being replaced by machines. However, some community members, including Wayne Bunker, pointed out that AI could replace lower levels of management, especially in data-driven organizations.
“We’ll hopefully see the new technologies impact our professional life in a way that brings back the human factor as the crucial skill in the future of work,” said community member Jesper Simonsen. “That is, our ability to build relations based on trust and empathy, our ability to create extraordinary results by talking to each other, co-creating by connecting people, ideas and opportunity and pursuing meaningful lives and a better world for the next generation.” Many agree that in order to stand out in the competitive world of AI, humans will have to tap into their uniquely human qualities.
AI has already had a huge impact in the white collar world, and it will surely continue to grow. Most community members seem to think that AI will help us perform white collar jobs better without any widespread layoffs, but there is still a threat that things can change in the long term. We’ll have to keep an eye on technology and maintain our agility to see what happens.
Jacob Morgan is a best-selling author, speaker, and futurist. His new book, The Employee Experience Advantage (Wiley) analyzes over 250 global organizations to understand how to create a place where people genuinely want to show up to work. Subscribe to his newsletter, visit TheFutureOrganization, or become a member of the new Facebook Community The Future If…and join the discussion.