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The Pros and Cons of an AI-Driven Workforce

In the 1970s, the rise of the electronic checkout system put fear into the hearts of cashiers everywhere. Cashiers played an important role in the business – they forged relationships with customers, made key calculations for purchases, and helped humanize the appearance of the business. With new electronic systems in place, cashiers believed that it wasn’t long before they would be out of a job completely.

That obviously did not happen in the 1970s, but 50 years later it has become a reality. Supermarkets, drug stores, and even other retailers have begun implementing automated self-check-out stands en masse. The number of human cashiers has dwindled in these locations and may someday be eliminated altogether. 

Cashiers are just one example, but more and more workplaces have begun introducing Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) into their workplaces – some just to enhance workflow and improve productivity, but others with the ultimate goal of reducing human headcount. There may be advantages to introducing AI, but there are other challenges and drawbacks which should be top of mind for employers as they move forward.

The Pros

There’s no question that machines, when running well, can get things done quickly. Automation of processes is nothing new, and that automation can mean a significant increase in output in a fraction of the time. 

That improved output is ultimately going to be good for a business’ bottom line. When officers are answering to a board of directors striving to find efficiencies and improve profits, even small increases can have a big impact. A straight overview of the numbers might view a reduced headcount as a decrease in costs, and improved productivity as even more reason to keep automating tasks. 

The other major driver towards automation is a reduction in errors. Humans make mistakes. Even with oversight, output is not always perfect, and something may pass review that should not have passed muster. Automation, when done properly, is supposed to bring that quality control to a precise science. Nothing should leave the facility without being perfect, and if it is imperfect, there should be enough checks and balances to take it out of production.

All of these may be beneficial from a business owner’s perspective. Yet from an employer’s vantage points, there are serious challenges with the move towards AI that should not be ignored.

The Cons

For those owners who are set on automation as the way of the future, a human workforce probably sounds like a significant liability. However, it can also be one of your strongest assets.

One benefit for employers is the degree of control over how the office is run day-to-day. Employers have the luxury of setting out policies and procedures which, while they protect employees, are also intended to give an employer freedom. If employers want to restrict social media usage, enforce a uniform dress code, or even ban a certain colour of coffee mug from the office, they are allowed to do so just as long as no policies discriminate against human rights.

A human workforce also helps to build a workplace culture, in more ways than one. Humans are dynamic and social, and we’re generally built to function well in groups. Teamwork and collaboration often help to generate new ideas, or new ways of doing things, and injects a spark of creativity into the work environment and workplace procedures that computers simply cannot.

The other element of culture is the diversity of the workplace itself. Every employee enters the workplace with their own history, their own culture, and their own background of experience. That inherently makes the company richer and more vibrant, and more and more organizations have leaned into realizing that the diversity of their workforce is an asset, not a liability. Becoming a desirable employer makes a business stand out in a crowded marketplace – something that AI continues to struggle with. 

Final Thoughts

AI has come a long way, but don’t throw your human staff out with the bathwater anytime soon. At their finest, employees are one of the greatest assets that any business has, and great talent cannot be easily replaced. 

Ensuring that you have the right team in place is crucial, and an employment lawyer can assist with that process. We regularly work with employer clients throughout the Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo Region at drafting fair employment contracts, creating attractive compensation structures, writing policies that help the workplace operate smoothly, and solving any issues that arise before they balloon out of control. 

Need a hand in keeping your workplace running smoothly? Count us in as part of your team. Contact us today to set up a consultation.