Slack blog illustration - Workforce Index Spring Summer 2024
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Despite AI enthusiasm, Workforce Index reveals workers aren’t yet unlocking its benefits

By the team at SlackJune 27th, 2024

Quick take: Using AI tools at work is associated with a host of positive outcomes, from improved productivity to higher employee satisfaction. But executive urgency to incorporate AI is outpacing its use among employees. A new global survey of desk workers from the Workforce Lab at Slack, a Salesforce company, finds that two-thirds of workers have still not tried AI tools and 93% do not consider AI outputs completely trustworthy for work-related tasks.

Read on to learn about the top AI blockers for workers, the surprising AI gender gap emerging among Gen Z, and why we believe the AI hype cycle is just beginning.

Key findings

  • Executive urgency to incorporate AI tools into business operations has increased 7x over the past six months and is now a top concern, above inflation or the broader economy.
  • Among desk workers who use AI tools, 81% say it’s improving their productivity. And those who use AI show higher employee engagement and experience scores across the board, including 22% higher overall satisfaction.
  • And yet more than two-thirds of desk workers have never used AI at work, and nearly 2 in 5 say their company has no AI usage guidelines.
  • Just 7% of desk workers consider the outputs of AI completely trustworthy for work-related tasks, with 35% of desk workers saying AI results are only slightly or not at all trustworthy.
  • There’s an AI gender gap emerging, and it’s largest among Gen Z. While young people are most likely to have experimented with AI tools, Gen Z men are 25% more likely to have tried AI tools compared with Gen Z women.
  • Desk workers report spending a third of their day on average on tasks they consider low-value. But troublingly, instead of allocating the time saved by AI toward strategic or high-value activities like learning and skill building, employees are likely to spend 37% more of their time on routine administrative tasks.
  • Even so, the AI hype cycle shows no signs of slowing. Seventy-three percent of desk workers say that AI hype is warranted and the technology “will have a big impact,” and those who have used AI tools are even more convinced.

In its latest survey of more than 10,000 desk workers around the globe, the Workforce Lab from Slack, a Salesforce company, finds that nearly all executives (96%) now feel an urgency to incorporate AI into business operations. The share of leaders aiming to do this “in the next 18 months” has grown 7x since September 2023, rising from 5% to 35% of all executives. And AI innovation now tops the list of executives external concerns, above inflation or the broader economy.

At the same time, AI use among desk workers is up 23% since January and 60% since September. Thirty-two percent of desk workers have now experimented with AI tools and half of that group is using AI at work at least weekly.

Most AI users (81%) report that AI tools are improving their productivity. And notably, those using AI show higher scores across the board on all measures of employee engagement and experience, including:

  • +13% Level of access to relevant people, files and resources
  • +18% Work-life balance
  • +23% Ability to manage stress
  • +24% Overall satisfaction with work
  • +25% Flexibility
  • +29% more likely to say they feel highly passionate about their work

Workforce Lab Spring Summer 2024 - AI and employee engagement

“The data shows that employees using AI are having an all-around markedly better time on the job. They’re not just more productive; they’re experiencing greater excitement, fulfillment and pride in their work,” says Christina Janzer, head of the Workforce Lab. “Leaders should take note that using AI at work is correlated with a host of positive associations.”

That said, the data also shows that there’s a gap between executives’ urgency to incorporate AI tools and actual AI use among employees: the majority of desk workers —more than two-thirds—have still not tried AI for work.

So what’s stopping more employees from experimenting with AI tools? Concerns about privacy and data security followed by mistrust of data quality and accuracy top the list of blockers that desk workers cite as limiting factors. Just 7% of desk workers consider the outputs of AI completely trustworthy for work-related tasks, with 35% of desk workers saying AI results are only slightly or not at all trustworthy.

“Companies have urgent, ambitious goals for AI in the enterprise and our research shows there are huge productivity benefits to be gained—but many leaders are still figuring out how to kickstart adoption among employees,” says Denise Dresser, CEO of Slack. “While this is truly a seismic shift in the future of work, there are simple steps every business can take starting today to help onboard employees on AI while maintaining trust.”

What should leaders do to encourage uptake? The PET plan: Permission, education, training

Step one to boost workplace AI use is to clarify permission by establishing clear usage guidelines. This may sound obvious, yet nearly 2 in 5 desk workers (37%) say their company has no AI policy. Desk workers at companies that have established permissions for AI use are nearly 6x as likely to have experimented with AI tools.

The next step is education and training. Only a small percentage of global desk workers (15%) strongly agree that they have the education and training necessary to use AI effectively. Unsurprisingly, the more training and education workers have, the more likely they are to use AI tools, and those who are trained to use AI are up to 19x as likely to report that AI is improving their productivity.

Workforce Lab Spring Summer 2024 - Training Matters

Education and training are fundamental to building trust in AI tools; desk workers who are well trained in AI are 7x as likely to trust AI tools to assist them with work-related tasks compared with desk workers lacking AI training.

Another significant factor in a desk worker’s likelihood to try AI and to consider it trustworthy is whether that worker feels their manager trusts them as an employee. Desk workers who feel trusted by their employers are 94% more likely to have tried AI for work-related tasks, and they’re also more trusting of AI’s accuracy and reliability.

Forecasting the AI future: Three predictions for leaders

The AI hype cycle is far from peaking—it’s just gearing up.

You might think AI couldn’t possibly garner more hype. But sentiment from global desk workers indicates the buzz is just getting started. Today, 47% of global desk workers express enthusiasm for AI to handle tasks from their job (compared with 42% at the start of the year). The majority of desk workers—73%—believe the fanfare around AI is justified, saying they expect it to have a substantial impact on their work lives. This sentiment is even stronger among those who have firsthand experience using AI tools.

This trend is set to intensify as Gen Z and Gen Alpha enter the workforce. The youngest workers show the most enthusiasm for AI, with 55% of workers ages 18 to 29 saying they’re excited for AI and automation to handle parts of their work, compared with 33% of workers over age 60.

Our take: “AI fervor shows no signs of stopping,” says Nathalie Scardino, Salesforce’s Chief People Officer. “At Salesforce, we’ve seen how integrating AI into our workforce strategies can have massive benefits for employees and companies alike. Freeing up employees to focus on more impactful work is good for morale and for business.”

 

Mind the gap: AI could further marginalize women in the workforce—or give them a competitive edge.

There remains a small but stubborn gender gap in AI uptake, with more men trying AI for work (35% of respondents) compared with women (29% of respondents). Even though younger workers are most likely to have experimented with AI tools, the AI gender gap is largest among Gen Z, with men ages 18 to 29 25% more likely to have tried AI tools compared with women in the same age group.

One bright spot is that AI use is accelerating at a faster clip among workers of color, with 43% of Hispanic/Latinx desk workers, 42% of Black desk workers and 36% of Asian American desk workers having tried AI tools at work, compared with 29% of white desk workers. And there’s little to no gender gap among Hispanic/Latinx or Asian American employees.

 

Our take: “As we embrace our future with AI, it’s imperative that we continue to provide access to those who have historically been left out of technology shifts,” says Alexandra Legend Siegel, Salesforce’s Chief Equality Officer. “It is encouraging to see some of the findings on workplace AI tools and we’re committed to continuing to upskill and empower every community to leverage this technology for good in their workplace, careers and lives.”

 

AI is at risk of increasing busywork rather than reducing it.

AI promises to transform our work lives, and the latest Workforce Index survey shows there’s room for improvement: the majority of desk workers (64%) experience burnout once a month or more, about a third say they regularly feel stress about work, and 30% do not feel passion for their job. At the same time, desk workers estimate they spend about a third of their day, on average, on tasks they consider “low-value” and “not meaningful to their job.”

The top three most commonly cited low-value tasks are unnecessary meetings or work events, managing low-value emails, and excessive paperwork or data entry. In a perfect world, we’d minimize these tasks with the help of AI, creating more time to focus on more meaningful work.

But when asked how they would prioritize the time they get back from AI, “more admin” topped the list, while innovating and creating, learning and skill-building, and networking with colleagues fell to the bottom.

Our take: “AI could really open up a lot of time for workers, but it would be a shame if we waste that time on more busywork,” says Janzer. “If we want to make the most of what AI can offer, it’s up to us as leaders to help our people prioritize the most rewarding work.”

AI fast facts

Workforce Lab Workforce Index Spring Summer 2024 - Fast Facts 1

Workforce Lab Workforce Index Spring Summer 2024 - Fast Facts 2

Methodology

The survey included 10,045 workers in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany, Japan and the U.K. between March 6 and March 22, 2024.

The survey was administered by Qualtrics and did not target Slack or Salesforce employees or customers. Respondents were all desk workers, defined as employed full-time (30 or more hours per week) and either having one of the roles listed below or saying they “work with data, analyze information or think creatively”: executive management (e.g. president/partner, CEO, CFO, C-suite), senior management (e.g. executive VP, senior VP), middle management (e.g. department/group manager, VP), junior management (e.g. manager, team leader), senior staff (i.e. non-management), skilled office worker (e.g. analyst, graphic designer).

For brevity, we refer to the survey population as “desk-based” or “desk workers.”

 

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