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Workplace AI and machine learning harms employee wellbeing, finds new study

Written by Wed 13 Mar 2024

Frequent interaction with workplace artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) software, robotics, and wearable technology negatively affects the quality of life of employees, a study by the Institute for the Future of Work has found.

The Briefing Paper ‘What impact does exposure to workplace technologies have on workers’ quality of life?’ discovered employees experience different levels of quality of life based on their exposure to various workplace technologies. 

Employees generally experienced a better quality of life when they frequently used ICT like laptops, tablets, smartphones, and messaging tools. Over 60% of respondents reported interacting with digital ICTs often or always. The Insititute said these technologies likely contributed positively to their work experience.

Under 25% of respondents often or always interacted with newer types of technology with 20.2% interacting with wearables, 20.8% with AI software, and 23.7% with robotics. 

“We found that quality of life appeared to be positively correlated with the frequency of interaction with ICTs increased, whereas a negative correlation was observed between quality of life and the frequency of interaction with newer workplace technologies rose,” said the Institute’s report.

Newer technologies were discovered to contribute to heightened stress, decreased job satisfaction, and feelings of disempowerment, as well as exacerbating task intensity and anxiety. 

“This pioneering study shows clearly how new technology can damage workers’ wellbeing unless employers explicitly ensure it does not,” said Lord Richard Layard, Programme Director at the Centre for Economic Performance, and Co-editor of the World Happiness Report.

The Institute said understanding these dynamics underscores the importance of further investigation into the mechanisms behind the beneficial and detrimental effects of technology on employee well-being.

The Institute conducted an online survey from 22 May to 30 June 2023. It targeted UK residents aged 18 and above who were currently employed. Based on a sample of 4,802 respondents, the analysis aimed to ensure representation across various demographics including age, gender, education, and employment status. 

Technology Intersects with Wellbeing

The Insititute stressed research and public policy have treated technology and wellbeing separately, and have disproportionately focused on job loss and employment. 

“Far less attention has been given to how workplace technologies are impacting job quality and workers’ quality of life,” said the Institute in the report. 

Co-founder and Co-Director at the Institute for the Future of Work, Anna Thomas, said the nation is at a critical juncture, when Government, policymakers and business leaders are struggling to understand the social and wider impacts and implications of new technologies.

“The report has significant implications for technology, health and work policy in the run-up to the General Election, inviting a much more nuanced, joined-up, participatory, and systematic approach to policymaking,” said Thomas.

In September, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) launched a new AI task force to safeguard workers’ rights and draft new legal protections for fair AI regulation at work.

The TUC called for new legislation after workers and employers cried out for certainty over how AI should be used in the workplace. The task force will bring together technologists, lawyers, academics, and politicians, to publish an AI Employment Bill in early 2024. It will lobby to have the bill incorporated into UK law.

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Written by Wed 13 Mar 2024

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