The Idle AI Workday

AI tools are making some tasks so easy that workers can wrap up key tasks much more quickly. Why firms need to restructure some roles.

A year ago, the list of key tasks might have taken up a full day of the sales manager’s time. This time around? More like 30 minutes.

She prompted AI to develop a fifty-page presentation, summarize a meeting she couldn’t attend, figure out an ideal selling price for her firm’s new service, create a dozen new sales pitches to potentially use on tough customers, and compose a cordial email about those ideas to her boss. She finished all of it faster than she did her morning coffees, leaving her with only one more question: Now what?

The sudden emergence of new AI tools has left many workers fretting about the future of their jobs. But there’s a more immediate concern: AI idleness. For workers who have done the hard part of learning how to use it, the new technology may bring some unexpected free time and even boredom to roles that were formerly complex and demanding. The result, for companies, may be a workforce that is neither particularly engaged or particularly efficient.

The problem, say experts, has less to do with the workers and their empty hours and more to do with leaders who have been slow to modify employee roles affected by AI. “AI might not be creating much idleness yet, but it is definitely creating a need for structure around jobs,” says Michelle Seidel, a senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s Global Technology practice.

To be sure, some experts say workers using AI may find their workdays extended: The technology can produce an enormous volume of research materials for a worker to sift through, or bring to light otherwise unrevealed opportunities that can’t, now that they’re out in the open, be ignored. 

But there’s already evidence that AI and other recent technology is reducing how much time people are working. Compared to last year, employees are clocking 37 fewer minutes per workday, according to a new report from ActivTrak Productivity Lab, marketers of a device that tracks workers’ activity on apps and websites. The company attributed the shortened workday not to decreased productivity, but rather to improved workload balance.

Since its introduction less than a year ago, the large-language AI program ChatGPT has been used by more than 100 million people seeking help with such disparate tasks as software coding, developing a model for pricing products, and writing a compelling résumé. Millions more have used similar consumer-facing AI programs from Google, Adobe, and other large software firms.

That doesn’t count the use of industry-specific programs that have been filtering through the corporate world over the last several years. For example, 87% of marketers and 85% of communicators surveyed have used AI in some form, with 68% in marketing and 60% in communications now using it at least “sometimes” in their daily work, according to a September survey by The Conference Board and Ragan Communications.

For the most part, workers are doing their experimentation with the consumer-facing AI on their own. Less than a quarter of them say they’re using their company’s AI-skills training programs. In either case, if the technology has showed them how to get an entire day’s work done in 30 minutes, no one’s talking. Still, this type of experimenting is something leaders should encourage, says David Ellis, Korn Ferry’s vice president of global talent acquisition transformation: “Let’s experiment and see if we can become both more efficient and elevate our performance.”

At the same time, employees want to know how the company envisions AI being used. In an August survey by the workplace-research firm Charter, 62% of managers and individual contributors say that when it comes to AI, what they want most from their bosses is clear communications about planning for the technology as it relates to their roles.  

Some CEOs say they have no plans to lay off anyone as a consequence of AI’s advent, while others have paused hiring or cut staff specifically because of it. In general, however, most companies haven’t really addressed—at least not in a systematic way—how AI will transform workers’ roles. Going forward, what a company does will likely depend on “whether leaders view AI as a way to reduce costs or improve innovation,” says Korn Ferry associate client partner Andy Holmes.


Learn more about Korn Ferry’s Future of Work capabilities.