Layoffs, Artificial Intelligence, and the threats to the 2023 workplace
The power is shifting once more between employers and employees. With renewed demands on employee time and presence, stoked fears that artificial intelligence will replace jobs, and rescinded job offers at tech companies with some of the deepest pockets, 2023 is poised to be a consequential year for the workplace.
Today, even after three years of remote productivity, many bosses believe their employees aren’t really doing anything. Now that it’s possible to bring people back to the office, they ask, “If I can’t see you, how do I know you’re working?”
And it works both ways. Many employees think that they’re being manipulated by their companies, and that companies aren’t doing things in the employees’ best interests. The trust gap between knowledge workers and their employers grows wider every day, and it must be repaired if companies want to weather the next phase of work.
We wanted to understand the impact of technology on a work culture that is once again remaking itself. We talked to 1,000 knowledge workers (people who spend 6+ hours a day on the computer) to understand how they view truth and trust at work today.
How layoffs in the news compound distrust
Gaining and maintaining employees’ trust isn’t just nice to have, it’s essential to retaining talent. Of the employees we spoke to, 77% of people have left or would leave a job if they didn't feel trusted. Many of those people are in danger of leaving, as 74% of the people we surveyed have felt distrusted by their employer.
According to Layoffs.fyi which tracks tech company layoffs, more than 70,000 employees have been laid off in the first 31 days of 2023 alone, many at Goliath companies whose management blames the economic downturn and overconfident projections during the pandemic. This news has had a destabilizing effect on job confidence for everyone. 36% of people we surveyed are worried about being laid off this year, with nearly half (47%) of men and 43% of all employees aged 25-35 expressing that concern.
As staff sizes are shrinking, employees are being asked to do more with less (what's being called “quiet hiring”) without being compensated for it. Nearly 65% of people feel they’re being asked to do work outside of their job description or what they’re being paid for. Hybrid workers are most impacted, with 71% saying they’re doing work beyond their job responsibilities.
Being trusted means autonomy and flexibility
Any company that wants to survive an economic downturn must retain their top talent and provide them with job satisfaction. 95% of workers say it’s important to be trusted and autonomous in their jobs, with 71% telling us that it’s very important.
Our survey made clear that autonomy matters most—57% of employees feel the lack of trust when their employers micromanage them, and 67% want employers to show trust by giving them the power to make decisions. Managers who think they trust their employees should be aware of asking for too many updates—58% of people said their manager/boss checks in at least two-three times a week when they’re working on a one-month project.
Flexibility is essential in a high trust organization, and it applies to both when and where people work – 58% of people prefer choosing their own hours, compared to 32% who would rather work during the same hours as their colleagues, and 70% of employees say asynchronous work is important to their job satisfaction. Employers should have the confidence that employees are getting their work done, regardless of when they’re logged on.
Releasing people from inefficient meetings, a crutch for real work, can also increase flexibility. In particular, employees with children want employers to cut out the meetings to preserve their time – 43% feel keeping meetings to a minimum would demonstrate trust. For all people who want fewer meetings at work, the majority of workers (53%) say it’s because meetings aren’t productive.
Artificial Intelligence: friend or foe?
There’s real fear that artificial intelligence could be weaponized to spread misinformation widely. Of the people we spoke to, 86% feel very or somewhat concerned that artificial intelligence could spread lies across tech platforms such as Instagram and TikTok.
Despite this fear, we also found that those workers would trust AI enough to delegate certain duties at work. A whopping 90% would like to see AI handle at least one of their work tasks, with a surprisingly large share of delegation going to communication tasks such as writing emails (53%), answering questions from customers and clients (49%), and writing documents (48%).
Do employees think that AI will do a better job than people at these tasks, or do they think that mediocre performance from AI would be “good enough” for such unimportant tasks? If it’s the latter, perhaps some of these tasks don’t need to be performed at all. We plan to look into this in further research.
Though it may seem counterintuitive, employees understand the value in using AI where its output is good enough, which can free their time to do the work that can’t be entrusted to ChatGPT and other large language models. And they have confidence that their work is essential, as over 90% of workers we polled believe their work and actions matter to their companies’ success.
Employees understand the value they bring, and the strongest teams will be those that trust each other.
mmhmm is a workplace tool that makes video communication easy for remote and hybrid teams.
Founded in May 2020, mmhmm is a fully distributed, global company that builds products and services to make team video easy and effective for high trust, high performing teams.
mmhmm is available in 13 languages and is used by employees at Netflix, Nike, Amazon, Microsoft, Adobe, Roche, the BBC, Accenture and Toyota.
In October 2020, mmhmm raised $31M in an A round, led by Sequoia, and raised $100M in Series B, led by Sequoia and SoftBank Vision Fund, in July 2021. Combined with mmhmm's seed round in June 2020, the company has raised a total of $136.6M.
mmhmm is an All Turtles company. Founded in 2017, All Turtles is a globally distributed product studio that solves meaningful problems.
mmhmm surveyed over 1,000 knowledge workers in the United States, aged 25+, at companies with 20 or more employees. This survey data was collected in January 2023.