Wharton Webinar Series

AI Horizons

AI and the Workforce

When deployed correctly, generative artificial intelligence can help employees become more innovative, free them from mundane tasks, and improve their communication skills.

That’s the message from three scholars who shared their research during the “AI Horizons” webinar, “AI and the Workforce” which streamed live on February 16.  The webinar series is hosted by AI at Wharton to showcase emerging knowledge in the field of artificial intelligence.

Each panelist presented research on a distinct aspect of labor, yet the overarching theme was clear: Rather than fearing AI as a threat to human capital, it can help employees bring their best selves to work.

For example, allowing AI to perform repetitive banal tasks boosts employee morale.  A co-authored study by Xueming Luo, marketing professor at Temple University’s Fox School of Business found that when chatbots and voice-assisted AI handled low-level customer service calls at a telemarketing company, the employees showed greater commitment and ingenuity with callers who had complex requests.

“They have a stronger interest and motivation. They feel much better, even their pride is higher. They have more energy because they have more mental power to think about creative solutions.”

The study also found that highly skilled workers feel more positively about AI because it can help them achieve more, whereas lower skilled workers feel more negatively about being limited by AI-enabled scripts.

Luo said that difference is a key takeaway: employers need to communicate clearly to employees the intended use for AI.

“Lower skilled workers always feel threatened that the company is rolling out technology that is going to lay them off,” he said. “The company should indicate that the technology can be used to help [employees perform better].”

A co-authored study from Cedric Xingchen Xu, doctoral researcher at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, showed how the release of ChatGPT prompted a significant decline in the number of freelance jobs posted in an online marketplace. With competition intensifying, freelancers who are incorporating large language models (LLMs) into their services are reaping the benefits.

“They are getting more transactions over time compared with other people, so there’s clearly opportunity,” Xu said. In the paper, the co-authors recommended that gig platforms and policymakers provide resources to help freelancers adapt and thrive in the changing market.

Some job applicants are writing better resumés with the help of LLMs.  A co-authored research study from Emma Wiles, doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that candidates who utilized “algorithmic writing help” on their resumés were hired 8% more often than those who did not.

Wiles said the curve will flatten as more and more job-seekers use such tools to polish their resumes, and interviews will become more critical to the hiring process in the future.

“As AI-enhanced or generated writing materials become more common, writing is likely to become an even less reliable signal of job performance,” she said.

Mary Purk, Executive Director of AI at Wharton and moderator of the discussion, said the research presented by the scholars demonstrates the deep impact AI will have on hiring, retention, productivity, creativity, and job satisfaction.

“Admittedly, AI is a disruptor in the marketplace. But instead of viewing AI as a threat to human capital, employers, employees, and gig-workers should consider leveraging AI to excel at work. By delegating repetitive, boring tasks to AI, we can increase morale and energy and allow individuals to focus on tasks that truly showcase their capabilities.”

– Angie Basiouny