Dear [employee]…Great job!  Why AI may not give you the warm and fuzzies

Gratitude is one of the most underutilised yet most appreciated rewards within the workplace. So why get an AI to say thanks for you?I recently completed an ‘Artificial Intelligence Essentials’ course, designed to introduce me to the world of AI tools and help me become more productive and efficient in my work. As someone who is borderline-obsessed with AI and undertaking every AI course going, I couldn’t sign up quickly enough. Also, I confess, I am a total sucker for all things ‘perfect planner’, be that journal or software; any talk of productivity tools and I’m in.

As I swum around in new and unfamiliar software programmes, two long-held beliefs were confirmed. Firstly, even with no background in technology or coding, AI is becoming increasingly accessible. Having previously stared unblinkingly at pages of code which may as well have been (and seemingly were) written in hieroglyphics, suddenly I could make computers do things just by asking them. I could type a command into a small box and the computer would make it happen. Just like that. No coding, no understanding of the mechanism, just one simple prompt et voila! Result! I’m not talking Chat GPT offering a glorified Google search.

I’m talking whole memos and slide decks being generated, with my company branding, in my signature colour palette, in seconds. Something that previously would have taken me half-a-day was ready to send to a client in half-a-minute.  If I wanted to make it better, all I had to do was improve my prompt. If I didn’t like the result, I could have AI generate another one and then another one, until I had one that I did. AI technology offers unbelievably exciting possibilities and is very addictive. I cannot argue with the usefulness.

Whilst I was still buzzing from this wizardry, in awe of the tech and picturing all the time (and endless frustration) I would save, I was suddenly brought back down to earth with a bump. The next demonstration on this course showed the facilitator asking an AI tool to write a thank you letter to their employees. Wait, what?

Gratitude is one of the most underutilised yet most appreciated rewards within the workplace

Gratitude is one of the most underutilised yet most appreciated rewards within the workplace. Research shows people would forego a significant pay rise in exchange for better recognition of their work and simple acts of recognition go a long way in building employee engagement and retaining core talent. ‘Thank you’ means a lot to a lot of people and having a manager single out and reward your work on a project can make all your hard work seem worthwhile.

Why on earth then would you want to hand off that task to your computer? Why would you want to take the heart out of a heartfelt gesture? Are you really so busy that you cannot craft a simple thank you email yourself? Now I appreciate some readers will think ‘I’m not great with words, AI will do a better job’ but you don’t need to be a psychologist to recognise that a thank you is not about a perfectly worded email, but about the meaning behind it.

Just because you can use AI for a task, doesn’t mean that you should

Do you really think your employees will get the same warm and fuzzy feeling from an auto-generated email? Possibly sent without human oversight or intervention? If I know that my team is finishing a project on Friday, I could have AI send them into the weekend with a pat on their back, but would it actually make them feel appreciated? How would you feel knowing that your manager’s AI software was very grateful to you but your manager hadn’t given you a second thought? This was when my second belief was confirmed; just because you can use AI for a task, doesn’t mean that you should.

As this software becomes more and more prevalent, it is easy to get carried away. On using some of the tools I have been introduced to over the last year or so, my immediate and very natural thought has been ‘what else can I make it do?’ I think this may be even more the case if you aren’t technically-minded and computers have historically represented a bit of a battleground. There is something endlessly smug-making about being able to use technology and show off your skills, but we need to take a pause.

Whilst I found huge joy in turning my dog into an astronaut and sharing the picture on the family WhatsApp group, I had to acknowledge that responsible use was essential. Gratitude and recognition are just two of many elements of work that will always be more meaningful and powerful with human oversight. If AI makes a process easier, quicker and less hassle, then by all means consider it. But don’t replace a feeling heart with autogenerated emptiness. Your employees will know the difference and, in an increasingly AI driven society, genuine human connection will be more powerful than ever before.