Kathy Gibson reports – Employees at all organisational levels recognise that artificial intelligence (AI) is here to stay and will fundamentally change or even supersede their jobs. But there is a generally high level of optimism about the positive impacts of the technology.

These findings are from a BCG X survey of almost 30 000 respondents from large organisations in 13 countries. The study follows on from one conducted five years ago, and aimed to understand the perceptions of staff at different levels of responsibility.

“The first key message is that respondents today are much more optimistic about how AI and generative AI will affect their work,” says Nicolas de Bellefonds, MD and senior partner and global leader of AI at BCG X. “Overall, employees feel that AI will save them time and promote innovation.”

One of the biggest drivers for this is around AI use. “Optimism grows with familiarity, and respondents who have used generative AI regularly are far more bullish than those who have never tried it.”

But that level of excitement varies considerably by seniority and, to a lesser degree, by country. Company leaders are much more positive than frontline employees, who tend to be more worried about the technology.

Steve Mills, MD and partner and chief AI ethics officer at BCG X, points out that leaders are more positive (62%) than managers (54%) and frontline employees (42%).

Survey respondents also voiced some deep-seated concerns about the technology, including that companies are not necessarily taking enough measures to manage AI responsibly.

Frontline employees are the most concerned (39%), followed by managers (28%) and finally leaders at 22%.

Other concerns include upskilling, where it’s felt not enough has been done, and a lack of regulation governing AI.

One way to address these concerns is to encourage employees to use generative AI responsibly, says De Bellefonds. “Comfort level plays an important role, and using generative AI tools boosts positive sentiments about AI at work throughout the organisation.”

The survey demonstrates this, with 80% of leaders polled having used generative AI tools regularly, compared to 46% of managers and just 20% of frontline employees.

Upskilling and training efforts and investments at all levels will also help to ease employees’ fears, as will setting responsible AI policies and guardrails, especially where regulation is still playing catch-up

Geographically, optimism varies with country: The most optimistic countries are Brazil, India and Middle East, while the most concerned at the Netherlands, France and Japan.

Vinciane Beauchene, MD and partner and global leader for talent and skills at BCG X, shares that 36% of respondents think their job is likely to be eliminated by AI.

Meanwhile, a massive 86% of employees believe they will need upskilling to address how AI will change their jobs. Just 14% of frontline workers have already gone through upskilling, while 44% of leaders have done so.

“What these numbers show is that, while employees realise that AI will be a revolution, companies are not yet ready to undertake what they need to do to adapt to this revolution,” Beauchene says.

“We are talking about being able to anticipate more, to understand the impact of the tech on the job, and how skill requirements will change. This is the kind of training and upskilling that will be required.”

Most leaders (68%) are confident about their organisation’s responsible use of AI. However, just 29% of frontline employees believe their companies have implemented adequate levels of control.

Having said that, companies still want to see specific AI regulations in place, with 79% of respondents across all the countries survey believing they are necessary.

Moving forward, De Bellefonds offers some advice for organisations:

* Ensure there are spaces for responsible experimentation with AI: the more regularly employees use AI and generative AI, the more clearly they will recognise the benefits, limitations and risks.

* Invest in regular upskilling: this cannot be a once-off effort, but companies should invest in training that will help employees adapt to the ways AI will change their jobs.

* Prioritise building a responsible AI programme: employees want reassurance that their organisations are approaching AI and generative AI ethically, while leaders want to be in position to help frame AI regulations.