Employee engagement is low right now, with a recent report stating that less than a quarter of employees (23%) feel actively engaged at work. It’s really no surprise, given the ongoing economic turbulence, political turmoil and global tensions.

Instability and uncertainty often have a negative impact on our feelings towards work. On top of this, employees now have to get to grips with AI – from understanding its implications and how it will impact their role, to taking the time to educate themselves on how best to use it.

The adoption of AI technologies is accelerating fast. Early insights from our Future of Work survey reveal that 53% of businesses are in the early stages of AI implementation and have begun to pilot AI tools. Another 30% feel either moderately or highly prepared to begin integrating further AI technologies into their operations.

It’s no wonder that businesses are so excited by the dawning age of AI. The technology has the potential to dramatically improve employee productivity, efficiency and work-life balance, as well as reduce business costs and increase profitability.

However, it’s a double-edged sword. AI can also lead to reduced human interaction at work, privacy concerns, and feelings of job insecurity. The UK government believes that approximately 7% of UK jobs could be lost to AI by 2026, and indeed, telecommunications giant BT Group has already laid out plans to potentially replace as many as 10,000 roles with AI by 2030.

In fact, job displacement was a significant concern for 33% of our survey’s respondents.

Security, wellbeing and trust in leadership are the very foundations of employee engagement. AI has the potential to put these foundations at risk. So, what can businesses do to keep employee engagement up as we enter this new era?

Upskilling & reskilling

Investing in upskilling and reskilling employees is going to be key to engagement moving forward. AI can create new roles and tasks, but it can also eliminate or modify existing ones. Employees must acquire new skills and competencies to work effectively with AI and stay ahead of changing demands.

According to LinkedIn, one billion people will need to reskill in the next decade – almost one-third of all jobs worldwide. That’s because skills gaps – particularly in technology and AI – pose a serious barrier for all businesses seeking growth in this coming age.

Many companies are already looking at reskilling to improve their AI capabilities. McKinsey’s global AI survey this year found that reskilling existing employees was the most popular strategy businesses use to source AI talent, with nearly half reportedly doing so. The benefit is two-fold. Not only does providing reskilling and upskilling opportunities help fill any skills gaps within businesses, but employees are now actively seeking out these opportunities when considering job opportunities.

In our 2023 Census of the creative, digital and tech industries, almost three-quarters of respondents (74%) said learning and development (L&D) was a key factor when considering their current role and next career move. In addition, a recent LinkedIn survey found that 93% of employees are willing to stay with a business for a longer period if it invests in their learning and growth.

Over the last year, we’ve seen the ‘Great Recalibration’, where employees are increasingly focussing on how they can re-energise their current roles. And with AI casting a dark shadow over feelings of job security, it has never been more important that businesses can reassure their employees that they are invested in them in the long term.

Coca-Cola is one company which has started on this journey. To help employees use AI in their daily work, the business has launched an HR knowledge hub and its own enterprise version of ChatGPT. It has also released a ‘Leveraging AI’ series on its internal social network to teach employees how to use AI tools.

Meanwhile, software firm Salesforce has reimagined its Futureforce summer intern program, infusing AI throughout and allowing students to work on genuine AI solutions. A commitment to upskilling and internal mobility is not only a key driver of organisational success, but it also serves as a testament to a company’s dedication to its employees and its reputation as an attractive workplace for top talent.

Communication & transparency

Communication and transparency around AI and how a business plans to use it are also critical to prevent employee disengagement. Currently, over half of employees (54%) say they have no idea how their company uses AI. Employees need to understand the purpose and impact of AI initiatives, the changes and expectations they entail, and the support and resources they can access.

Leaders and managers should therefore communicate clearly and frequently with their colleagues, using various channels and formats, such as town halls, newsletters, podcasts, webinars, and workshops. They should also solicit employee feedback and address any questions or concerns.

Microsoft is currently doing this well. The tech company constantly communicates with its employees through its company blog, with a February post outlining the opportunities and risks the company sees in an AI-driven future. The post also laid out exactly how Microsoft plans to approach AI, the three goals underpinning its efforts, and a promise to act responsibly.

Lean into humanity

From brainstorming ideas with ChatGPT to using Adobe Firestorm to create creative concepts in seconds, AI will undoubtedly be a powerful tool for businesses to streamline and improve the efficiency of their efforts. But it also has the potential to replace natural moments of human interaction in a person’s working day.

Employees need to feel part of a team effort; otherwise, it’s easy to begin feeling isolated and disengaged. So businesses must ensure they don’t get swept up in all the new technology available and continue to lean into humanity. People – both employees and customers – still want and need interaction with real human beings, and that’s not going to change.

Collaboration & empowerment

AI is not a substitute for human intelligence. It’s a tool that should be used to complement and work in synergy with your human employees, combining both strengths to achieve better outcomes than either could alone.

For example, AI might be able to process large amounts of data and provide insights and recommendations that humans may not be able to discover on their own, but it cannot account for ethical, social, and contextual factors that may affect decisions. Humans must evaluate AI outputs and apply their judgment, creativity, and emotional intelligence to make informed choices.

Likewise, although AI can automate repetitive tasks prone to human error, it cannot replace the human skills essential for innovation, problem-solving and communication. Understanding this and ensuring employees feel empowered to work with AI is therefore vital to both employee engagement and the successful adoption of AI technologies.

Leaders and managers need to facilitate and support collaboration by providing the right tools, platforms, and processes while empowering employees to make the ultimate decisions.

Adapting for the future

As AI adoption ramps up and becomes an increasingly embedded part of our lives, maintaining employee engagement is an ongoing imperative for businesses. Machines can do a lot for us, but it’s people who bring companies to life.

Upskilling and reskilling employees so they can thrive in this new era is vital, as is ensuring they understand your company’s vision and values around AI. From there, it’s about continuing to prioritise the humanity in your business and encouraging that all-important culture of collaboration and empowerment.

By addressing these areas, businesses can not only enhance engagement but also attract top talent. In the age of AI, employee engagement is a dynamic challenge, but businesses that adapt will be the ones to thrive.

Joanne Lucy, Majar Group
Group Managing Director at Majar Group | + posts

With over a decade of experience in building progressive businesses, Joanne is passionate about creating inclusive work environments that encourage open, collaborative, and engaging processes.

Since taking the role of Managing Director in 2018, Joanne has been instrumental in introducing these values to Major Players & Arrows, pioneering industry-defining campaigns such as “Earn Your Worth” which championed fair pay for all. Most recently, Joanne led Major Players to achieve B Corp status in 2022.

Out of the office, Joanne lives these values as a transformational coach, working to explore people’s limiting beliefs and empowering them to implement positive transformation.

As a leader in recruitment and talent solutions, Joanne is passionate about her responsibility to lead and support organisations and individuals in navigating the future of work. This covers a wide range of topics including employee experience, technology, AI, digital transformation, sustainability, leadership and LGBTQIA inclusion.