Artificial intelligence systems are evolving at a rapid pace. Although AI has been on the rise for years, the launch of accessible tools like ChatGPT has sparked anxiety among many workers about their futures.
AI is able to mimic human function – albeit not perfectly – and it can problem-solve, reason, learn, perceive and easily do day-to-day admin tasks. And with this in mind, it’s not uncommon for workers to feel anxious about how this technology may affect their own jobs.
According to a Forbes survey, 77% of people are worried that AI will lead to job losses in the next year. Two fifths (43%) of HR managers say they’re worried they'll lose their job to automation. Last year, PwC’s annual global workforce survey showed that almost a third of those polled said they were concerned about the prospect of their role being replaced by technology.
“Some people are saying that AI can help reduce our the amount of work we have to do by taking away day-to-day tasks, but it does make you worry about your value in the future,” says Jemma*, whose name has been changed to protect her identity. “I definitely think workplaces need a human touch, despite the convenience of AI. But it’s scary to think how much the technology has moved forward so quickly.”
Not all of the concerns come from AI replacing humans. Some workers may be anxious about how to use this new technology as a resource at work, especially if they’re expected to learn how to use it effectively, quickly. Counselling Directory member Georgina Sturmer, a therapist registered with the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy, says people might feel overwhelmed by fast paced developments in technology.
“They may feel embarrassed or insecure about their level of skill or knowledge about AI, or fearful about their job security or prospects – including that AI might render them obsolete,” she says.
The rise of AI has also sparked a more existential set of fears about what our society and workplaces might look like in the future, Sturmer adds. “There may be excitement or anticipation about this. But there may also be a sense of worry or powerlessness.”
According to recent research by the meditation and mindfulness app Calm, nearly a third of adults (29%) are feeling anxious about AI. However, even those who said they were optimistic about artificial intelligence said they felt uneasy about a future defined by AI.
Aside from the potentially very real concerns about automation and job loss, the proliferation of AI in the workplace marks a big change – something we find hard to adjust to. We struggle with change because it can mean uncertainty, something we are biologically hardwired to try to avoid because it can leave us vulnerable to risk.
Change at work can also be anxiety-inducing because our sense of worth and purpose is often tied to our jobs. “Work can play a key role in our sense of purpose, self-worth, and self-esteem,” says Sturmer. “This is about more than just our salary. Our sense of identity is often tied up in what we do for a living, and how well we do it. Change at work might feel like a threat to our sense of who we are, and how others see us.”
We also look to our work to give us a sense of what our future will look like, Sturmer adds. “If AI could potentially change our future career path, then this might leave us feeling pessimistic, scared or helpless.”
Whether or not your workplace brings in AI may be out of your control. However, there are steps you can take to help reduce feelings of anxiety. Firstly, remember that most employers will be reluctant to replace staff members with AI tools as a human touch is always necessary at work.
It’s possible that new technology will create different types of jobs in the future, rather than just causing displacement. “Be curious about the positives,” says Sturmer. “Is there a flipside that might make it easier to do the parts of your job that you enjoy?”
Sturmer adds it may be worth voicing your feelings at work, although she acknowledges that this might be challenging. “However, you may find reassurance – or solidarity – among your colleagues,” she says.
And although it’s easy for worries to take over, Sturmer says it’s important to step back and consider the reality of the situation. “Ask yourself whether your worries are realistic. Are you catastrophising about your future at work? Try to stay present and focus on your everyday challenges and successes, rather than spiralling into worries about the future,” she says. “Remind yourself that some elements might be in your control, but other elements might be out of your control.”