Generations divide on the role of Artificial Intelligence in the workplace

Clear generational divide exists on the role of AI in the workplace

We try to avoid generalisations when describing the multi-generational workforce, but there’s no denying that younger workers who’ve grown up with digital communications appear less comfortable communicating face to face or on the phone. This is why it comes as no surprise to find that new research by ABBYY claims millennials would prefer to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to avoid speaking to colleagues and customers. While one in 10 millennials would hand over speaking to customers to robot colleagues, older generations are less keen, with only 4 percent of over-55s feeling the same. The older generation also have much more confidence in themselves as workers – half of over 55s don’t think a robot could do better than them at tasks, compared to only 1/3 of millennials. As the younger generation grow alongside technology, they are becoming accustomed to menial tasks being more efficiently conducted through automation. However, the survey highlights that this is allowing them to also hand over some tasks which require more human interaction, potentially causing a huge plug in communication.

The study also found the following when it came to communication in the workplace:

  • 63 percent of 35 year olds and over would prioritise speaking to customers, compared to only 47 percent of 18-34 year olds
  • 61 percent of over 55s prioritise communicating with colleagues and do it straight away, compared to only 34 percent of 18-34 year olds
  • 43 percent of over 55s prioritise speaking to their boss and do it straight away, compared to only 23 percent of 18-34 year olds

However, only 5 percent of those aged 18-34 believe robots would be better at speaking to customers, or communicating with colleagues (2 percent), demonstrating that millennials are aware of the importance of human involvement within these tasks. The fact there is ambition for these tasks to be handed over to robots could therefore show a lack of confidence from the younger generation in taking on these tasks themselves.

In fact, the older generation show much more confidence in themselves as workers – indeed half (50 percent) of over 55s don’t believe a robot could do better than them at tasks, compared to only 34 percent of 18-34-year-olds. The older generation are also much less willing to hand over certain tasks to robots, with 44 percent of over 55s claiming they wouldn’t delegate any tasks to robots.

Yet, in some instances this means that the older generation are prioritising doing menial tasks that COULD be delegated to a robot. For example, the results found:

  • 60 percent of over 55s would prioritise electronic filing and do it straight away, compared to only 21 percent of 18-34 year olds.
  • 62 percent of over 55s would prioritise maintaining databases and do it straight away, compared to only 43 percent of 18-34 year olds.

Neil Murphy, VP Global Business Development at ABBYY says, “Our survey shows that millennials are keen to hand over valuable tasks, such as human interaction, yet the older generation aren’t yet willing to give up the tasks that could be delegated to robots. What’s important to understand therefore is which tasks require human-to-human interaction and which don’t, and educating staff on how best to make the most of their time alongside automation.”

There is a huge value in humans being involved in tasks which include other humans – a personal experience for both colleagues and customers alike builds relationships and trust, and there is a large demand for this type of interaction, with robots unable to improvise during conversations and lacking emotional intelligence.

Murphy concludes, “Once staff understand how to work in partnership with robots, they will be able to spend more time adding value to their business where it matters most and building their confidence in tasks which require their involvement – such as communicating with customers and colleagues. The administrative tasks, such as content automation, can therefore be taken by content intelligence solutions, for example, without replacing workers.”