Generative AI adoption at work hasn’t yet led to productivity gains, report says

Despite quick adoption of generative AI tools in the workplace, major productivity gains haven’t been realized so far, according to a Jan. 16 report from the Oliver Wyman Forum.

Released at the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the report indicates that more than half of employees worldwide now use generative AI at work, with even higher rates in some countries. However, most employees still need training to fully realize productivity benefits, and senior-level leaders are concerned about losing their jobs to junior employees with AI training.

“The adoption rate of generative AI has been nothing short of remarkable,” John Romeo, CEO of the Oliver Wyman Forum, said in a statement

“ChatGPT achieved mass adoption in less than one year — a stark contrast to the internet, which took 17 years, smartphones 21 years and electricity which took three decades,” he said. “But training is not keeping up and we are facing an AI productivity disconnect.”

In a survey of 25,000 people across 16 countries, India appears to lead in terms of employee adoption, with 83% of respondents reporting daily or weekly use of generative AI. In contrast, weekly use in North America and Europe is below 50%.

Even as consistent use increases, the full potential of productivity gains could be 6-10 years away, according to the report. About 20% of employees who reported that generative AI hasn’t increased their productivity also said they’re held up by corporate guidelines and “unsatisfactory output” from AI tools, which adds review and editing time to their projects. 

Training could help. Employees at all levels are asking for more upskilling than their employers currently provide, according to the report. Among white-collar employees, 80% want more or better AI training, but only 64% say they receive it. 

In addition, across the industries and job types included, 60% of employees expressed increasing concerns about job replacement. Globally, 30% of job seekers said generative AI is motivating their job search.

“Automation is no longer just a narrative of blue-collar workers. Many white-collar workers fear their roles will become displaced with generative AI, and this anxiety is having a direct impact on productivity,” Ana Kreacic, COO of the Oliver Wyman Forum, said in the statement.

“It’s a misconception for businesses to wait a year or two and hope to hire a fully generative AI trained workforce,” she said. “Companies need to reskill the employees they have now by focusing on areas with the most near-term applications.”

To encourage adoption, HR teams should approach AI with enthusiasm and allow workers to experiment, said Emily Dickens, chief of staff for the Society for Human Resource Management. Early adoption can boost efficiency with certain HR tasks and improve talent acquisition, she told HR Dive.

In particular, talent teams can leverage AI to improve diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in hiring. Although people have expressed concerns about potential bias, AI tools appear to be able to account for human bias, says Lucy Beaumont, solution lead at software company SHL.

The demand for job candidates with generative AI skills has boomed, increasing more than 1,800% from about 500 job postings in 2022 to more than 10,000 throughout 2023, according to a report from labor analytics firm Lightcast. The most in-demand roles include data scientists and software engineers who focus on developing new AI applications.