workplace and business, education and training

Knowledge workers are rushing to use generative AI at their jobs and aren’t waiting for their companies to put policies in place, even going so far as to bring their own AI tools into the workplace.

Those are some of the key findings Microsoft found in its fourth Work Trend Index, which focused on the rapidly growing impact that generative AI is having in both the workplace and in the labor market. The upshot is that workers are accelerating their use of AI even though many of their companies are slow in adopting the emerging technology because of pressure to show an immediate ROI, despite the inevitable trend toward it.

That said, the desire to use generative AI tools like OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Copilot is such that employees are embracing a BYOAI (bring-your-own-AI) approach and often keeping it hidden from the higher-ups, in part because using it for their important tasks could make them seem replaceable.

“We’ve come to the hard part of any tech disruption: Moving past experimentation to business transformation,” Microsoft wrote in the report. “Just as we saw with the advent of the internet or the PC, business transformation comes with broad adoption. Organizations that apply AI to drive growth, manage costs, and deliver greater value to customers will pull ahead.”

For the 38-page report, Microsoft and LinkedIn surveyed 31,000 people in 31 countries, poured over labor and hiring trends from LinkedIn, and analyzed trillions of productivity signals in Microsoft 365 cloud services. They also conducted research of Fortune 500 companies.

AI Saves Time, Improves Job Enjoyment

In all, 75% of knowledge workers surveyed said they use generative AI products at work, and 46% of them started using the technology less than six months ago. The benefits are significant. About 90% said using generative AI saves time and 85% said it allows them to focus on their most important work. In addition, 84% said they can be more creative and 83% said that using the technology lets them enjoy their work more.

A lot of time can be saved. According to the report, the heaviest users of the Teams collaboration tool – the top 5% – were able to summarize eight hours of meetings using Copilot in March, essentially saving an entire work day.

Other surveys have found similar results. A report by UiPath almost a year ago found that among workers already using AI on the job, 83% said the technology can help with burnout and job satisfaction. A SnapLogic study found that 67% of workers surveyed said generative AI saves them one to five hours a week, with 24% saying it could save six to 10 hours.

Business Leaders Move Slowly

However, what they’re running up against is business leaders who understand that their organizations have to use AI but are under pressure to show the immediate ROI of the technology, which is making them move slowly. In all, 79% said they know they need to adopt AI to remain competitive, but 59% are worried about quantifying gains in productivity.

This somewhat freezes organizations. About 60% of business leaders are concerned that their companies don’t have a plan or vision for implementing AI.

“As AI becomes ubiquitous in the workplace, employees and businesses alike are under extreme pressure,” Jared Spataro, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s AI at Work unit, wrote in a blog post. “The pace and intensity of work, which accelerated during the pandemic, has not eased, so employees are bringing their own AI to work. Leaders agree AI is a business imperative — and feel the pressure to show immediate ROI — but many lack a plan and vision to go from individual impact to applying AI to drive the bottom line.”

Employees Go BYOAI

Given the sluggish pace of adoption at the corporate level – and the ongoing worries about the long-term impact of AI on jobs – 78% of workers are bringing in their own AI tools, a number that reaches 80% in small and midsize companies. It’s consistent among all generations – 85% for Gen Z workers and 73% for baby boomers.

However, 52% said they’re reluctant to admit they are using it for their most important tasks, with 53% worried that it will make them look like they could be replaced. They are using BYOAI for multiple reasons, from struggling with the pace and volume of work (68%) and feeling burned out (46%) to meetings and after-hours work – still high post-pandemic.

There’s also the ongoing communication through the work day. In Microsoft 365 apps, users spend 60% of their time in meetings or on chats or emails, with only 40% used in such creative apps like Word and PowerPoint.

AI Roils Job Market

“We also see AI beginning to impact the job market,” Spataro wrote. “While AI and job loss are top of mind for some, our data shows more people are eyeing a career change, there are jobs available, and employees with AI skills will get first pick.”

Which is good, because companies are reporting a growing inability to fill positions in such areas as cybersecurity, engineering and creative design. Over the past eight years, organizations have hired technical IT talent at a staggering pace, with hiring up 323% during that time. Now they’re looking for non-technical people who have an aptitude for AI to use generative AI products.

Those skills are in high demand, with 66% of leaders saying they wouldn’t hire anyone without them and 71% saying they’d choose a less experienced candidate with AI skills over one with more experience but not AI capabilities. In addition, 77% said that with AI, younger candidates will be given greater responsibilities.

And workers are looking for new jobs, with 46% – the most since the rapid job changes during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 – considering new jobs. It actually may be higher, with Spataro noting another LinkedIn study earlier this year indicating 85% are considering new jobs.

Business Can’t Wait

Companies need to start taking advantage of AI now, according to Microsoft, adding that one way is to choose a problem and apply AI to it. The company noted in the report that “there are efficiency gains to be had across every function.”

The report’s authors also wrote that organizations need to engage everyone from the CEO down to entry-level employees. Finally, they should prioritize training.

“AI power users aren’t doing it on their own – they receive ongoing training, both on universal tasks and uses more tailored to their role and function,” the authors wrote.