5 Mistakes That Undermine Employee Trust in an AI-Powered Workplace

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Trust will be an ingredient for success in adopting AI across the organization. Consider these traps to avoid.

The coming AI revolution will put your relationships with employees to the test, as evidenced by the missteps of one of the most successful developers of AI in the market.

It’s a mistake to believe you can avoid the challenges posed by AI. In a recent UKG survey of 4,000 employees, 78% of C-suite leaders say their organization uses AI. Only 42% of employees globally think they use AI in their day-to-day work.

The gap shows that top leaders and the frontlines are not on the same page about the use of AI in the workplace. The good news is that employees are very open to adopting AI.

Three out of four employees said they would be excited about using AI at work if their company was more transparent about how AI could improve their workflow (78%) and how their organization was using AI (75%).

“Fifty-four percent of people say they have ‘no idea’ how their company is using AI, and that lack of transparency is a real problem,” says Dan Schawbel, managing partner at the firm Workplace Intelligence, which partnered with UKG for the study. “Organizations must be more upfront about how they’re using AI in the workplace, if they want a competitive advantage and want to earn, and keep, the trust of their employees.”

Here are some of the biggest traps your company must navigate to build trust in the coming AI-powered workplace:

1. Assuming employees and consumers already trust you

Your employees might love experimenting with new AI tech in their own time. That doesn’t mean they are ready to trust leaders to implement generative AI tools in the workplace.

“As you embark on GenAI, check how much confidence your employees’ have in their executives’ judgement,” says Marcus Erb, vice president of data and innovation at Great Place To Work®. Consider how confidence levels change across roles, departments, and personal identities.

“Weak confidence means more doubt, slower progress, and less enthusiasm shared with customers,” Erb warns.

2. Underestimating the change management process

If you don’t pursue a rigorous change management process, you might not bring your workers with you as you embrace new AI tools.

“Leaders might see AI as the ‘next big thing’ and focus all their attention on how that will affect their business,” says Julian Lute, senior strategic advisor at Great Place To Work. “They will need to give equal attention to communicating how AI will positively impact employees, and create opportunities for growth.”

The time required for employees to adapt will be longer than you think, Lute says. Be prepared to increase your investment of both time and resources to keep people engaged and excited.

3. Overlooking the risks when moving fast

Moving too slowly to adopt new technology poses real risks for your business, but well-meaning enthusiasts can also cause problems by jumping the gun.

“Excitement might be as big a challenge as fear,” Erb says. “Tools like ChatGPT can make life easier and employees more productive, but the technology also can hallucinate answers, or collect sensitive customer and company data.”

Missteps will break trust with employees and customers, among other serious consequences.

Researchers found that when a large language model (LLM) was tasked as a stock trader and then received an insider tip about a lucrative stock trade, the AI made the trade despite knowing insider trading was forbidden (and illegal). When researchers pressed the LLM on its genuine reasons behind the trade decision, the AI attempted to hide the insider tip, demonstrating the need for careful testing as AI is given important jobs within the enterprise.

“Companies will need to provide guardrails for employees using AI — and upskill people quickly to successfully and rapidly realize the benefits,” Erb says.

4. Failing to consider employee concerns

Including employees in the decision-making process can surface important challenges and avoid costly mistakes.

“Cultivate a sense of ownership among employees by giving them a voice,” Erb suggests. When given the opportunity to influence how their company uses AI, employees can provide helpful feedback and also reduce the fear and stress caused by a lack of transparency.

“Check if your employees feel they have meaningful opportunities to try new and better ways of doing things,” Erb recommends. If more employees report having the chance to innovate, your company will more quickly adapt to new workflows and technology.

5. Losing touch with your organization’s purpose

“New technology does not mean a new you,” Erb says. How you add AI to the workplace should be guided by your core values, your employee value proposition, and your commitments to stakeholders.

Don’t assume that everyone understands how your AI strategy connects to your company’s purpose. “Talk about the new technology through your organization’s values, how it supports your purpose, and how it will benefit your customers and employees,” Erb says.

The conversation should be a two-way street.

“Leaders will need to be more adept at listening, developing their people, and caring for them with a sincere interest in who they are as people,” Lute says. Without a new leadership model, your company risks falling behind in the race to bring AI to the workplace.

Get more insights

What does growth and embracing the era of generative AI look like in 2024? Read our Managing Director, Evelyn Kwek’s message ‘It’s a Matter Of Trust’. 

Ted Kitterman

Ted Kitterman is a content manager for Great Place to Work®. Ted has experience covering the workplace, business communications, public relations, internal communications, work culture, employee well-being, brand purpose and more. His work shines a light on the unparalleled data and insights offered by Great Place to Work’s decades of research, helping the company share its vision of a great place to work For All™.

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To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.

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