For decades, I have studied the impact of technology on the future of work. In my 2001 book, Work 2.0, I found that the future of work would be driven by our ability to deliver MyWorkMyWay — tailored and deeply personalized info-flows and learning to each individual. Now, with AI, we are on the cusp of finally realizing this powerful capability.
Since then, I have witnessed the battle for the soul of the future of work.
One of my standard CIO presentations asks leaders to consider how far they will go with AI. Whether, on their watch, AI will be used to create a dystopian or utopian future: overly focused on controls, efficiencies, and risk mitigation … or intensely focused on deep empowerment, trust, freedom, and amazing MyWorkMyWay tools.
A new frontline battle just emerged for the soul of the future of work. It creates a window into one of AI’s most crucial measures.
The US Congress just proposed a bill, Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, HR 1313. If approved, this bill would allow employers to impose hefty penalties on employees who decline to participate in genetic testing as part of workplace wellness programs. It would allow a workaround, bypassing the 2008 Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act, GINA. And it would allow employers to recoup almost one-third of the cost of their contribution to each employee’s healthcare.
Pause for a moment. Let that sink in.
Our own DNA (or refusal to give it up) is now entering the corporate balance sheet war for cost control and risk mitigation.
Which brings us to the most crucial future of work AI measure…
The AI Workforce Cost: Asset Ratio
All future of work measures will revolve around how much we value our workforce as assets vs. how much we track and manage them as costs. And how we allocate budgets accordingly.
Some AI budgets will see the workforce mainly as costs and will be allocated to greatly reduce those costs and/or risks. For example … If we’re fully honest: Every AI investment in automation, robotics, self-driving vehicles, and more, is marching us toward the projected 47 percent loss of jobs within two decades. And even without genetic testing, we will soon know every employee’s and contractor’s weight and body mass index, and likely their number of steps every day — which will be used to manage and reduce corporate healthcare costs.
Some AI budgets will see the workforce mainly as assets and will be allocated to enhance the organization’s investment in that asset. For example, IBM Watson is one of the leaders in making personalized learning (part of MyWorkMyWay) a reality. And various market segments, such as healthcare, are already benefiting from personalized workflows with Watson Care Manager. We are also seeing an uptick in training and development designed to help people keep their jobs when robots take over.
Both sides of the AI ratio are important. We need investments in continually reducing costs and increasing efficiencies… as well as in continually improving the effectiveness, success, happiness, and engagement of our workforce.
The key to the future of work is in the ratio’s balance. How budgets — and therefore, corporate priorities and values — are allocated.
If your AI Workforce Cost: Asset ratio is 1:1 — where reduced-workforce-cost investments are balanced by workforce-as-asset investments — then the future of work is looking so bright, you’ll need sunglasses at night. (Important Note: The more difficulty you have in finding and keeping the highly skilled and agile workers that you need, the more your AI ratio should tip towards workforce as assets.)
The more your AI Workforce Cost: Asset ratio tips in favor of treating the workforce as costs, the more you’ll be building a workplace where nobody wants to work, and where disengagement and turnover reigns supreme, and where execution missteps will be a regular occurrence.
The future of work at your workplace will be determined by your AI ratio. And it’s fairly easy to track using AI! The only question that remains: Does your organization have the leadership will to focus on, and make changes using, this ratio?
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