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AI in the workforce: Generational differences and organizational planning

As the race to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) at work heats up, business leaders are considering the best ways to prepare for workforce transformation. But there’s one obstacle standing in the way: how generational differences affect organizational planning and what workers of different ages feel about AI.

While the business opportunities with AI are well-documented, leaders believe that not every generation in the workforce is prepared for the change, as we found in our research.

Successful deployment requires a high level of adoption and standardization. And to enable workforce transformation, employees of all ages need to be open to using AI at work, how they will use it, and what they hope it will do for them.

In this article, we’ll use findings from our research to explore the outlook for AI deployment across different generations of workers and suggest how different opinions could affect long-term organizational planning.

Businesses are investing in AI for workforce transformation

Looking at the big picture, we see a clear interest in introducing AI into the workforce. Four in five (82%) business leaders invested in generative AI, machine learning, robotic process automation or another form of AI in 2023. But what factors are driving this interest the most?

Competitiveness is the largest influence. Orgvue data shows that 82% of business leaders expect AI to increase productivity over time and 73% believe it will help them cut costs. Leaders also recognize AI as a workforce enabler, capable of creating new opportunities for human workers.

As a result, 69% of leaders cite AI as the main driver of workplace transformation over the next three years, outstripping factors such as workforce upskilling (52%) and serving customers better (50%).

But younger workers are more prepared for AI than older workers

Business leaders are optimistic about AI and its applications at work, but they do have reservations about how generational differences could affect organizational planning and how workers of different ages might respond to AI.

Leaders believe that Gen Alpha (2010 to 2024) and Gen Z (1995 to 2009) will join the workforce ready to work with AI (77% and 76% respectively). In contrast, they think Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964) and Gen X (1965 to 1980) will be unprepared and need more support (47% and 35% respectively).

To stay competitive, businesses will need to address this generational divide. So, what can leaders do?

Organizations must prioritize cross-generational planning

Businesses are already taking steps: 74% plan to introduce specific training programs and tools to help older generations use AI at work, while 57% say they will prioritize hiring from a younger talent pool instead.

But while it might be tempting to exclusively hire ‘digital natives’ who are more prepared for AI, this approach is short-sighted.

Older generations will remain in work for years to come, and many have soft skills that are useful when working with AI, such as cultural sensitivity, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking.

It’s not enough for organizations to rely on younger workers to apply AI; they also need the ability to evaluate it and recognize its limits. So, the answer to closing a knowledge gap is in part not to exclude workers from certain generations.

Instead, leaders should plan for a human-first approach that enables all generations to implement AI effectively. They might partner with employees across generations to encourage mutual upskilling. Younger staff can develop their knowledge of intellectual property, process, and soft skills, while older staff can acquire skills in using AI.

Leaders are optimistic about AI-assisted workforce transformation

Business leaders are confident in their roadmap for delivering AI deployment. Currently, 71% say they’ll be taking full advantage of AI by the end of 2024 and 69% say they’ll have deployed AI in core operations by 2025.

At this stage, identifying workflows that AI could enhance will help organizations manage role redesign or role development.

However, even for technologically adept workers, the pace and scope of change that AI will bring about could become challenging to manage.

Leaders should take generational differences into account to best understand where the immediate impacts are, forecast how AI will change roles, and adjust their processes and structures accordingly.

Thorough preparation will help organizations and their leaders deliver the greatest returns from AI  and support each generation within the organization to develop and succeed.

Download Orgvue’s report Human-first, machine enhanced: the role of AI in workforce transformation, to learn more about the practicalities of introducing AI into organizational structures.