Professor Yufei Huang, Trinity Business School, together with co-researcher Dr. Joan Cahill, Trinity College Dublin, share their current research into the impact of AI on employees, their wellness, and how firms can re-imagine work in a healthy way, bolstered by intelligent technology.
AI, Employee Performance and Wellness: Towards a Law of Robotics in the workplace. With kind acknowledgements to Ian Dunne and Prof. Yufei Huang, Trinity College Dublin.
The scene of humans and robots working together is a popular concept explored in many science fiction movies, and this technological advancement is perceived as a long way away from our real life. In fact, this day has already come.
Aidan Dillon and Stephen Ralpha at Zarion – a software company based in Dublin – and a research team comprised of Dr. Joan Cahill, Trinity College Dublin, and Professor Yufei Huang Trinity Business School, are currently undertaking research to investigate how operational and HR managers and workers can collaborate with artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in more humane and intelligent ways. And this, with support from Enterprise Ireland, with the goal of improving worker wellbeing and increasing the company’s long-term revenue.
AI and Intelligent Technology Adoption
Work has an impact on wellness and wellness has an impact on work. For an enterprise, work presents a significant cost related to resources. Most enterprises offer commodity products, so operational efficiencies are critical to the business model and a fundamental KPI for all stakeholders. Recent developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI) have brought many positive changes to the workplace, with AI and machine learning applications having been adopted in the business processes to improve performance and productivity. For example, when a customer contacts the customer service department, a Chatbot may handle the customer first before a human agent takes over. In financial industries too, AI applications are widely used to screen financial reports and enter data into systems before a human analyst starts his or her job.
The Impact on People: AI and employee wellness
However, automation and AI technologies have been introduced without looking at the impact on the workforce (i.e. the human role in the system). Many such systems exclusively focus on process states/outputs (for example, on-time delivery and worker efficiency/productivity) yet fail to address the worker and customer experience. How these changes affect workers’ wellbeing, the consequent impact on the customer experience and the company’s revenue remain neglected. Further, the broader socio-technical context of work – i.e. interactions between people, process, tools, environment and culture – is often overlooked.
The recent Covid-19 pandemic has changed the location of work (i.e. home), and how people and teams members interact. Traditional face to face interactions are now computer mediated. Overall, workers are spending more time interacting with computer systems – impacting on team relations and worker mental health.
Healthy Work: Towards a law of robotics
Future work and human resource management requires better safeguarding in relation to human assets and the application of AI and machine learning to ‘human in the system’ problems – the link between performance management, operations management, wellbeing protections and data analytics. It is important for us to investigate how to augment automation so that work is healthy, workers are healthy, and workers are set up for success. Moreover, we must address the potential barriers to the adoption of advanced AI systems, and issues pertaining to stakeholder acceptability and organisational change. This will lead to a new definition of work and the workplace – changing the role of the worker and how work is undertaken with AI.
We believe that in addressing these issues both in terms of a ‘intelligent work’ definition, and how it might be supported by automation and AI systems, we will improve wellness in the workplace while also helping companies to establish and maintain a productive, intelligent and healthy workforce. Having more engaged and satisfied employees results in benefits in relation to employee productivity, the quality of work, and the customer experience. As such, this delivers value to the company in the long run (i.e. employee loyalty and lower turnover rate).
There is a need to advance new ‘Intelligent Work’ models and technology systems, which go beyond the existing ‘state of the art’. We believe that future ‘Intelligent Work’ models and systems should support the following functions:
- Enable organisations to realize benefits across the triple bottom line (i.e. economic, environmental and social).
- Address worker diversity (ability, attitudes to work, nature of work contract)
- Promote a wellness culture – promotion of psychological wellbeing in the workplace and addressing stress (work and non work related stress)
- Enable new models of trust (i.e. employee autonomy and flexibility, enabling employees to self-monitor and self-manage their own work)
- Change roles and relationships (supervisor as coach, team member contributing to team and individual targets)
- Provide a more intelligent picture of work performance (i.e. including measures of work quality, team interaction and customer satisfaction – and not simply the number of work items completed).
It is now time for us to set up the “Laws of Robotics” in the workplace. The “Future of Work” has graduated from a concept to a reality, and now presents a significant opportunity for enterprises to re-imagine work in a healthy way, bolstered by Intelligent technology.
- Link up with Professor Yufei Huang and Researcher Joan Cahill via LinkedIn
- Download more features from Professor Yufei Huang in Global Voice magazine #14 and #15
- Read a related article: AI and the Rise of the Robots: A taxing question
- Discover Trinity College Dublin and Trinity Business School
- Study a full-time MBA or part-time EMBA at Trinity Business School.
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