Staff don't share leaders' love for AI

A huge international survey reveals the surprising truth about how we really feel about AI

Hello, and welcome to Issue 3 of The AI Writer, your weekly update on workplace AI.

This week, we report on a huge survey that reveals what we really think of AI in the workplace. The answer should worry many leaders.

Plus, we check out an app that transcribes and transforms your messy voice notes, help you write clearer prompts and reveal where to start when transforming your team with AI.

It will take you 5 minutes 38 seconds to read in full – or a mere 24 seconds if you read only the summaries in italics.

Let’s dive in.

– Rob Ashton

In this issue

  • Staff don’t share leaders’ love of AI

  • An app that summarises voice notes

  • Transform your team with AI

  • Five steps to better prompts

  • Why we’ve created The AI Writer


Leaders in love with AI are leaving frontline staff behind

Man in early thirties working at a computer in an open plan office

An international survey of more than 13,000 people at all levels reveals regular users to be more optimistic than concerned about AI. But leaders are far more likely to have used it and to view it positively.

With all the talk of the potential for AI to lead to widespread layoffs, you could be forgiven for thinking that most people are pretty worried about its impact. But a huge survey involving almost 13,000 people from 18 countries suggests the true picture might actually be a lot more positive.

The research by the Boston Consulting Group shows that most workers are more optimistic than concerned. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there are vast differences between how leaders and frontline employees view the new technology.

The survey found that one in two companies (50%) are now using AI, compared with just one in five (22%) in 2018.

But whether this worries or excites you depends on two key factors: your seniority and whether you’ve actually used it.

Bar chart showing proportions of employees who are optimistic or concerned about AI, according to whether they are non-users, rare users or regular users. Optimistic: non-users (36%), rare users (55%), regular users (62%). Concerned: non-users (42%), rare users (27%), regular users (22%).

Use it, love it: AI optimism builds with familiarity

The two factors also appear to be connected. Leaders are both much more likely to have experimented with AI and to feel optimistic about its use in the workplace. And more than three times as many leaders (44%) have been trained in how it will affect their jobs compared with frontline workers (14%).

An astonishing 80% of leaders say they’ve already incorporated it into their current role to some degree. That compares with just 20% of frontline staff.

AI love is blind

This creates a risk that many leaders could be so blinded by their new-found love for the bots that they’re leaving behind their less senior colleagues, who just aren’t ready to commit yet.

Vinciane Beauchene, who coauthored the research, says that organisations should focus most of their effort on supporting people and adapting business processes. ‘Companies must move quickly to build their employees’ trust and to equip them with the necessary skills,’ he advises. ‘It should go beyond learning how to use the technology and allow employees to adapt in their role as activities and skill requirements evolve.’

A mere 14% of frontline employees have received training to address how AI will change their jobs, even though 86% of employees say they’ll need it.



AudioPen logo and screenshots. Text reads: 'The easiest way to convert messy thoughts into clear text. AudioPen transcribes and summarises unstructured voice notes Into text that's ready to share.

Just hit record and start rambling, then watch as this app cleans things up and converts messy thoughts into clear text.

Why you need it

Good ideas rarely run to a schedule. That’s because creative thought uses the brain’s mind-wandering mode (its default mode network), which allows unrelated ideas to collide and make new ones.

These are when we have our real ‘aha!’ moments. The trouble is that this mode is active only when it’s most difficult to act on them – such as when we’re loading a dishwasher or taking care of our daily ablutions.

Ideas are fleeting and fragile. Recovering them when you need them – say, working on a high-stakes proposal or report – is often all-but impossible. It’s like they belong to a totally different person, perhaps because they almost do.

I’ve tried many ways to get around this problem. Typing notes on my phone while out walking my dog, for example, is slow and difficult. Voice notes would be better – if I ever listened to them. But ideas that are locked up somewhere in a five-minute voice note can feel as unreachable as if they were locked up in my brain.

What it does

Now, thanks to AI, there is a solution. AudioPen is a free app that captures voice notes in all their natural messiness and converts them into clear text. Just hit record and start rambling. The app will clean things up in seconds once you're done.

Using it feels like having an assistant with you 24/7, ever ready to type out, complete and summarise whatever you want to capture.

It keeps not just the summaries but a full, cleaned-up transcript of each note. It will even create a fully searchable private database of all your ideas, tag your notes and learn your own writing style, although those functions are available only as part of a prime membership ($60 a year).

I’ve been using this app for a few weeks now and I have to say, I’m impressed. Check it out here.


Use AI to replace tasks before jobs

Man and woman both in forties sat on a sofa looking at an Apple laptop. Man looks pensive.

Use AI to help your team rather than rushing to slash headcount. It will free them up to do their best work and save you from automating poor processes.

Recruiters run a real risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water in the rush to make the most of the AI revolution.

As we reported last week, some organisations are already using AI bots to slash headcount. But decimating talent that’s taken them years to recruit and develop before human employees have fully explored how to get the best from the bots could be a costly mistake.

The key is to get more granular instead.

‘AI will completely replace some tasks and augment others, such as basic research and preliminary analysis,’ according to Julia Dhar, a behavioural economist at the Boston Consulting Group. ‘A machine can perform a task that will then be validated by a human, or a machine can refine and challenge a human’s creative thinking.’

So, for example, AI can screen job applications quickly and increase diversity by helping eliminate human bias. But because it’s so efficient, it frees up time for HR professionals to spend more time assessing candidates face-to-face.

Recent research has shown that AI can also help workers on support desk to find better solutions as they interact with customers and enable less experienced agents to acquire new knowledge at a faster rate.

Part of the problem with using AI to replace jobs completely is that we’re viewing those jobs in the way that humans have performed them in a world without AI. So it squanders a chance to improve bad practices and even risks repeating them on an industrial scale.

‘Managers need to get to know AI like a colleague,’ Dhar says. ‘They need to appreciate what generative AI can do but recognise that it comes with complexities and limitations, like all of us.’


Write with clarity to get more from AI

Writing simple and specific step-by-step instructions will give you a much greater chance of getting a useful response when dealing with AI.

Generative bots like ChatGPT can be dazzlingly impressive, but they’re no more telepathic than humans are. So clarity matters as much when writing prompts as it does when communicating with colleagues and customers.

Changing how and what you write can make a big difference to whether or not you get what you want.

Five steps to clearer AI prompts

Follow these five core clarity* principles to make your prompts more successful:

  1. KISS – Keep It Short and Simple The more convoluted your instructions, the more room you leave for bots like ChatGPT to misinterpret your request. So edit down your sentences before you submit them.

  2. One sentence, one idea Breaking down your instructions into simple steps will generally be much easier for an AI to follow. If in doubt, you can also ask it to confirm that it understands each one before you add another step.

  3. Be specific The more detailed you are about what you want, the more likely you are to get it. Don’t just ask it for ideas, tell it how many you’d like, for example.

  4. Give examples Similarly, copying and pasting specific examples of the kind of response you’re after can work wonders.

  5. Important information last Psychologists have long known that we tend to be biased towards the last piece of information we were given. It turns out that bots are too. While the entire prompt is important, pay particular attention to the last thing you tell it.

IMPORTANT: Hit [Shift+Return] to start each new line in your prompt, to avoid submitting your request before you’ve finished writing.

Act as a [insert persona]. 

I am writing a report on [subject]. 

Here are the topics I could write about: [topics]. 

My audience is [audience].

Give me the top three topics from my list that my audience will care most about. 

For each of these top three topics, provide three reasons for your selection. 

Adding background information as context can also help, especially if your topic is complex. You can even include links to references you would like the AI to base its advice on, to reduce the chance that it will just make them up. If in doubt, ask it for reference links and check them. (As it often makes those up too.)

*You can grab a free book on writing with clarity using the button at the bottom of this email.

Why The AI Writer?

When I founded Emphasis, 25 years ago, it was just me, a cat and a kettle. It’s since grown to become the most trusted provider of business writing training in the world and helped more than 80,000 people, from 32 countries. We’ve worked with tech giants, top 10 law firms and major financial institutions, as well as at the highest levels of government. (We’ve even sent trainers to work with clients in the Himalayas.)

I would not claim that we’re experts in everything, as we’re certainly not. But, after working with the authors of around 100,000 documents, it’s safe to say that business writing is something we do know a thing or two about. And that includes witnessing all the various ways in which organisations get it wrong.

Now, we’re at the forefront of using AI to help them get it right.

Of course, I’ve seen nothing like the AI revolution that’s hitting us. Nobody has. But I do feel a responsibility to use our experience to help people navigate this brave new world of communication bots.

So here’s the deal. You get on with your job, while we immerse ourselves in the latest developments in workplace AI. We’ll worry about keeping up so you don’t have to. Then we’ll tell you exactly what you need to know to stay ahead of the curve.

Found this useful? Hated it? Either way, hit reply and let me know. The AI Writer is a work in progress so your feedback will help me help you.

Do spread the word if you can. Each issue of The AI Writer takes three days to research and write, so I’d really like it to help as many people as possible.

Until next time, have a great week.

– Rob

PS. I’m pretty active on LinkedIn if you want to connect or follow me.