Gallup: Rising number of college-educated workers admit ‘FOBO’ due to AI

Dive Brief:

  • While most U.S. workers aren’t afraid their jobs will be replaced by technology, the fear of becoming obsolete, or “FOBO,” has grown more in the past two years than at any time during Gallup’s polling of the issue since 2017, the analytics firm said about the results of an August telephone survey.
  • Fewer than 1 in 4 of the more than 1,000 workers surveyed are concerned about being replaced by AI, but the number of those who are rose by 7% since 2021. The increase is mainly due to college-educated workers, Gallup said: One-fifth say they’re worried, a jump from 8% two years ago. Concern among workers under 55 has also risen. Almost 3 in 10 of those ages 18 to 34 and more than one-fifth of workers ages 35 to 54 expressed concern, both groups up from 17% in 2021.
  • Income is also a factor: 27% of those who make less than $100,000, compared to 17% of those who make $100,000 or more, are uneasy about technology making their job obsolete. Even so, retaining pay and benefits remains workers’ biggest concern. According to the survey, about a third, 31%, fear they’ll lose their job benefits in the near future, and nearly a quarter, 24%, worry about having their wages reduced.

Dive Insight:

With the release of ChatGBT last November, the stereotype of what computers can do in the workplace is no longer focused on robots replacing warehouse and assembly line workers, Gallup said.

Instead, generative AI “has expanded to online programs conducting sophisticated language-based work,” understandably making some workers, particularly those with college degrees, worried about what the technology means for their careers, the firm said.

Employers can address this concern in several ways. For one, they can embrace AI in their learning and development initiatives, crucial for building organizational resilience, a talent exec recently stated. Also, as many companies plan to do, according to research by TalentLMS, employers can invest in AI training tools to help with upskilling and reskilling, another source of employee stress.

One finding from the research should boost workers’ confidence: “Human” skills, such as interpersonal and cognitive skills, which include problem-solving, originality and imagination, are some of the most critical skills for success in the AI era, two-thirds of HR managers surveyed by TalentLMS said.

In addition, workers may find inspiration from the HR and tech pros who recently told Robert Half they believe generative AI will create more demand for their skills. The firm’s survey found that the technology has allowed respondents to automate time-consuming tasks and increase efficiency and productivity, benefits that may free workers up for more time spent on needed cognitive skills.

That seems to be the goal of a generative AI program Walmart rolled out recently, according to a company announcement, CIO Dive reported. Besides boosting employee productivity, the program is intended to increase creativity and innovation, the announcement said.

Walmart’s organizational approach is an alternative to the “bring your own AI” model, in which employees apply publicly available tools to everyday tasks — often without their boss’s knowledge, surveys have shown.

There are risks to both approaches, experts say. The latter raises security concerns inherent in feeding sensitive organizational data into an AI tool, as well as the likelihood that some programs will provide inaccurate or false information in response to a user prompt.

Organizational AI programs can present issues with authenticity, one expert said. Also AI technology lacks judgment, has a limited understanding of context and is only good as the data it’s trained on, Walmart executives noted.

As a result, it’s crucial for any company planning to implement an AI program to train employees on how to properly use the technology, the expert said.

Companies should also follow four key steps, attorneys wrote in a recent op-ed to HR Dive: Understand what an AI tool does and how it achieves its output; don’t rely on claims an AI tool is “bias free;” monitor and validate the results; and make sure a human is involved in every decision.