Robot Mentors: Better than Humans?

One-third of workers are shunning managers for career guidance in favor of AI, according to a new study. Why do they think it is better?

Sarah joined the investment bank as an analyst right out of college. Ambitious and talented, she immediately began seeking advice on where she could take her career in finance. But instead of her manager or a mentor within the bank, Sarah turned to another source for guidance: ChatGPT.

A new study shows that employees looking for developmental opportunities and career guidance are increasingly getting it from artificial intelligence instead of human beings. According to the study, one-third of employees across all age ranges say they’ve received better career advice from AI than from their managers. Among Gen Zers, almost half—47 percent—feel that way.

The study, experts say, is the latest example of two distinct and potentially disturbing new workplace phenomena—the lack of interaction between employees and managers due to remote work, and the privileging of digital media over humans as a primary source for information. “This is part of the underbelly of how work is done now,” says Emilie Petrone, a vice chairman in the Global Human Resources practice at Korn Ferry.

To be sure, the study is yet another example of how AI can serve an important role in the workplace. More than one third of senior leaders Korn Ferry recently surveyed said that AI tools will be great collaborators. Others believe AI can perform many management-related tasks. One recent analysis, for example, found that ChatGPT can handle 70% of the skills most management roles require. Ironically, many of the management skills for which ChatGPT scored “good” or “excellent” are distinctly human in nature, among them communication, problem-solving, information synthesis, continuous learning, and team collaboration.

Petrone says the study raises red flags about the ability of firms to develop leadership pipelines for the future. AI, she notes, is raising the bar for what’s expected of managers at a time when they are already stretched thin. Two-thirds of Gen Z employees say their manager is too busy for the career discussions they’d like to have. Relatedly, managers, particularly overworked ones, are loath to move high-performing members off their teams—59% of employees in the study say their companies rarely or never help them pursue opportunities outside of their current departments. Forty-five percent say their managers have played a small or no role in helping them grow their careers. “There needs to be room in the system for managers to develop people as well as do their own work,” Petrone says.

Experts question the quality and usefulness of the mentoring AI can provide. Tamara Rodman, a senior client partner in the Culture, Change, and Communications practice at Korn Ferry, says AI can be helpful for general industry information, advice on career pathing, or information around sensitive questions employees may not feel comfortable discussing with managers. But in terms of knowing such things as an individual’s strengths and goals or suggesting people to network with at the firm—the nuts and bolts of mentoring—it likely can’t replace actual managers. “AI can’t help people navigate those nuances,” says Rodman.

As firms have done in other areas of work, experts say, they can blend AI with human mentoring to help guide employees’ careers. Petrone says firms can use AI as a tool to improve the employee experience by personalizing career journeys, making access to opportunities more transparent, and providing learning and upskilling programs. “It isn’t about AI versus managers,” says Petrone, “it’s about using them both to put all the pieces together to guide people in the best way possible.”


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