It began in the industrial revolution. Seemingly overnight, swaths of manual laborers were automated away by technology capable of working twice as fast for half the price. Those in the realm of knowledge work have been spared this sweeping shift for the past few centuries—but will the advent of AI change all of that?

All signs point to: maybe. The potential opportunity AI offers to enhance growth and reduce costs is hard to deny—one survey found that AI can improve business efficiency by as much as 40% and decrease operational spend by up to 30%. There have also been dire predictions like one earlier this year from a major investment bank claiming that 300 million jobs globally may be at risk of automation. However, our experts say that while AI’s integration into work is inevitable, the reality of its impact on workers may be more nuanced.

We surveyed over 200 senior leaders on this topic, and one-in-three said that the future will involve people collaborating with AI rather than being completely replaced by it. AI might additionally benefit employees by providing them with better work-life balance. “When you give employees the autonomy to leverage AI, they can win some of their time back,” says Tessa Misiaszek, Head of Research with the Korn Ferry Institute.

A significant investment in upskilling, however, will be required to get there. Our data shows that when senior leaders were asked to name the biggest obstacle to AI integration, four-in-ten pointed to a lack of AI-related knowledge and skills within their HR staff. There's a gap between what CEOs are acting on and what CHROs feel their employee organizations can actually handle, says Misiaszek. This is one area where IT leaders may be able to proactively step in and support HR teams through this transition by filling in knowledge gaps—thus improving AI’s chances of company-wide adoption.

Although AI conversation, predictions and strategies are developing rapidly, implementation within businesses will take time. For example, the process by which some firms are attempting to train their large language models and protect personally identifiable information can be laborious—requiring humans to painstakingly review the content that the AI model is generating until it has enough information to operate effectively on its own.

Also, with one major AI chatbot’s so-called ‘hallucinations’ (i.e. false information) occurring at a rate of 15% to 20% according to one estimate, a steady human hand may still be required. “There will be efficiencies from AI,” says Michelle Seidel, a Senior Client Partner in Korn Ferry’s Global Technology Industry team. “But there is going to be a lag in how long it will take before these models have a really significant impact.” 

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Despite fearful headlines, accelerating AI’s integration into the workplace may be an agenda that workers support wholeheartedly. One recent survey of digital workers had 92% of respondents claiming that AI is having a beneficial impact on their work. Perhaps even more compelling is the employee perspective on AI’s potential to boost innovation—over one-third of respondents claimed the technology enables them to do things they could never do before.

Tech leaders might even look to AI to get greater usage out of the software systems that they've already implemented, according to Marco Mingolla, Korn Ferry’s EMEA Practice Lead for People Strategy and Performance. For example, employees who find certain software platforms cumbersome to use might be more likely to adopt those platforms with the assistance of AI. “AI may not only make employees’ lives easier but also improve the value of software that your company is already paying for,” says Mingolla.

Looking to find the right balance between artificial intelligence and human intelligence in your organization? Talk to us.