Workers are secretly using AI on important tasks over fears it makes them look replaceable, new Microsoft and LinkedIn research finds

Millennials, who weathered the 2008 financial crisis, face further challenges as they contend with job market shifts. Their traditional career trajectories are being reshaped by digital-savvy Gen Zers armed with AI expertise, according to the 2024 Annual Work Trend Index by Microsoft and LinkedIn.

Surveying 31,000 individuals across 31 nations, the tech titans reveal a shift in employer preferences: “Managers say AI aptitude could rival experience.”

Significantly, 71% of leaders preferred hiring candidates with AI skills over those with more conventional experience.

Compounding the issue, employers show little inclination to train existing staff in AI. Despite 66% of leaders insisting on AI skills for new hires, a mere 25% of firms plan to provide training in generative AI this year.

This trend implies a burgeoning advantage for younger applicants, as employers must cast a wider net for talent beyond their organizations.

Furthermore, Gen Zers with AI acumen not only stand to secure prime positions but also accelerate their ascent up the corporate ladder. The report reveals that 77% of leaders intend to delegate increased responsibilities to early-career hires with AI proficiencies.

Gen Z is in the driving seat

Karin Kimbrough, LinkedIn’s chief economist, tells Fortune that employees—not their bosses—are driving the push to integrate AI into their jobs.

That includes entry-level employees, like Gen Zers, who are still gaining their career footing.

“AI is at work; employees are not waiting for their employers to set up official business processes to use it,” she said. “They’re already experimenting, learning, and trying it out because they see the value proposition.”

In the report, Microsoft and LinkedIn call those particularly AI-inclined workers “power users,” because they’re the most adept at finding ways to use AI to save time and improve their own performance—and while younger workers historically skew more pro-tech, the report finds that power user employees aren’t limited to one generation. 

“As much as we want a narrative that Gen Zers are the tip of the spear, it’s actually employees of all ages,” Kimbrough says. “The ones who are most curious are voting with their feet, saying, ‘Hey, I’m agile, I’m willing to learn, I’m productive.’ It’s an incredibly strong signal.” 

While it may not be Gen Z exclusively, they still do lead the pack.

Eighty-five percent of Gen Z respondents to the report say they use AI at work, compared to 78% of millennials, 76% of Gen Xers, and 73% of Boomers. 

In the same way, Gen Zers are not the only ones leading the AI force, neither are tech workers, Kimbrough adds. In fact, the upskilling has been most pronounced among workers in creative roles like marketing, writing, and design.

“There’s always a question of: Is this actually going to provide more productivity growth?” Kimbrough says.

“As economists, we know that’s the golden ticket—how to insulate wages from inflation. Productivity growth is magical for the economy. If AI can deliver it, that’s a plus.”

Plus, workers need not mourn the loss of their original jobs as AI continues to advance.

“Your job is a collection of tasks; some are rewarding, some don’t give energy at all, but you have to do them,” Kimbrough says.

“As much as possible, we want to rotate towards the most fulfilling and complex tasks. That’s where the fun part is; it’s where you bring your special human sauce.”

 AI usage in the workplace is at an all-time high with workers determined to get ahead of their busy schedules, but concerns about the nascent technology replacing jobs are still there, according to new Microsoft and LinkedIn research.

Microsoft and LinkedIn released their Annual Work Trend Index Wednesday which looked at the effects of AI on the labor market by surveying 31,000 people across 31 countries including the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, India, Singapore, Australia and Brazil.

It found that although 75% of workers are using AI in the workplace, over half of respondents don’t want to admit that they’re using it for their most important tasks. This is because 53% of those who are using AI at work on their most important tasks are worried that it makes them look replaceable.

Additionally, nearly half of professionals are concerned that AI will replace their jobs and are considering quitting their current postings in the year ahead.

Colette Stallbaumer, general manager of Microsoft Copilot and co-founder of Microsoft WorkLab, told CNBC Make It that workers need to get over their fears and start embracing AI.

“The more you can as an employee lean in and learn, the better off you’re going to be,” Stallbaumer said.

“I think that’s where people have to get over the fear hump a little bit and move into optimism, move into a growth mindset, taking the opportunity to learn these skills because all of the data shows it’s going to make them more marketable, whether you’re inside your company today, or looking to make a move or get hired.”

Bosses are keen to hire workers with AI aptitude

Hiring for technical AI talent has skyrocketed 323% over the last eight years, according to the research. But workers from non-technical backgrounds who know how to use AI tools like ChatGPT and Microsoft Copilot, are also in high demand.

The study showed that 66% of leaders said they wouldn’t hire someone without AI skills and 71% of leaders would rather hire a less experienced worker with AI skills rather than a more experienced person without them.

Although bosses value AI knowledge in the workplace, they’re not taking an active approach to developing employees’ skills. Nearly half of U.S. executives are not currently investing in AI tools or products for employees, and just over a quarter of companies are planning to offer training on generative AI this year.

Meanwhile, only 39% of people globally, who are using AI at work, have received AI training from their employers.

“What’s interesting about the data is it feels like employees are getting it in terms of the adoption of AI but it feels like companies are not yet fully getting it,” Aneesh Raman, vice president and workforce expert at LinkedIn told CNBC Make It.

“The big call-out is if you’re a company, you are either falling behind or getting ahead. There’s no standing in place and so you should be having conversations about what is your point of view on AI and how it’s going to grow the business.”

Workers are using AI to get ahead

Despite some of these fears, workers are aware of the advantages AI tools provide and are using them to progress their careers.

Over three-quarters of professionals say they need AI skills to remain competitive in the job market and that it will give them access to more job opportunities. Just under 70% say it can help them get promoted faster.

“I think the key for everyone is realizing for most of us, our jobs will change and new categories of jobs will emerge and what people can do to deal with that anxiety, is think skills-first,” Raman explained.

“Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has this line: ’It’s the era of the learn-it-all, not the know-it-all,” Raman said.

The cost of living has spiraled, the threat of layoffs (thanks to AI and overhiring) looms, and flexible working arrangements won before bosses started issuing return-to-office mandates are now like gold dust.

That’s why, after three years of workers quitting their jobs at a record pace—about 47 million Americans left their jobs in 2021 alone—experts have reassured employers that 2024 will be the year of the “Great Stay”.

Even the professor who coined the term “Great Resignation” predicted that it would fizzle out by New Year’s Eve 2023.

However, new data from LinkedIn and Microsoft shows that they might have been overly optimistic. The two tech giants surveyed 31,000 individuals across 31 countries and found that the percentage of people (46%) who want to quit their jobs in the year ahead is actually higher than in 2021 (40%).

Adding to the alarm, American employers are in for a rough ride: Around 85% of professionals in the U.S. are eyeing up a new job this year. Meanwhile, LinkedIn has already witnessed a 14% surge in job applications per role since the fall.

Although previous reports have suggested that bosses are back in charge—and using their renewed power to claw back employee-first initiatives like working from home—LinkedIn and Microsoft’s report reveals that they shouldn’t get too cozy just yet. And they know it. 

Nine out of 10 organizations globally are concerned about employee retention and half of the hiring managers in Europe predict an increase in employee turnover in 2024. This means that keeping workers happy might just climb back to the top of managers’ to-do lists.

Workers feel burned out and undervalued

LinkedIn and Microsoft told Fortune that three reasons behind the sudden uptick in workers eyeing up the exit were burnout, a lack of learning opportunities, and artificial intelligence.

LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index found that 59% of U.S. employees who are actively job-seeking agree that they feel stuck in their job (vs. 35% of those who are not job-seeking) and 51% feel burnt out from their job (vs 37%).

Likewise, Microsoft’s Work Trend Index echoed that 68% of people globally struggle with the pace and volume of work, and 46% feel burned out. 

“While it’s easy to mistake low attrition for contentment, in reality, many employees feel stuck and wish they could do something new, but haven’t (yet) made the leap,” LinkedIn COO Daniel Shapero recently wrote in a blog post on preparing for The Great Reshuffle 2.0.

It perhaps explains why LinkedIn found that learning opportunities are seen as a top retention strategy.

The networking platform’s 2024 Workplace Learning Report showed that globally, companies with strong learning cultures enjoy higher retention rates, with more internal mobility and people moving into management roles.

Plus, with AI threatening to displace workers, workers are placing more importance on learning than ever before—and if they aren’t getting help on fine-tuning their AI skills with their current employer, they may start looking elsewhere.

LinkedIn research shows that people want to learn how to use AI in their work, with two-thirds insisting it’ll help with their career progression. 

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side

As Shapero points out, history often repeats itself, and periods of low attraction are usually followed by high attrition.

A simple reason for this pattern could be that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. 

Those who switched jobs in 2022 are now reporting being less satisfied at work than those who stayed put, according to a survey from the Conference Board.

Meanwhile, the HR platform, Paychex surveyed employees who quit during The Great Resignation and similarly found that 80% regret it. 

In the end, money can’t fix everything. Both studies highlighted that those who were lured by big pay bumps during the pandemic may have failed to consider other key aspects of working. 

Essentially, you can’t put a price on work-life balance, job satisfaction and good company.

Three out of four "knowledge workers" around the world are using generative AI — but many of them are hiding it from their employers, according to a new joint report from LinkedIn and its parent company Microsoft.

The 2024 Work Trend Index on the State of AI at Work reveals that employees across industries are embracing AI but simultaneously worry it's coming for their jobs.

Because employees are using AI outside of official company strategy and rules, bosses are struggling to measure AI benefits and adjust their AI investments accordingly.

  • All generations of knowledge workers are bringing their own AI tools to work, ranging from 73% of boomers to 85% of Gen Z, and a slim majority (52%) admit to using it on even their most important tasks.

Zoom in: 53% of AI users surveyed said they worry that if their employers know they're using AI to be more productive or creative, it will signal that they're replaceable.

  • 66% of leaders surveyed said they wouldn't hire someone without AI skills — but employees say they're not being helped to get those skills. Only 39% of employees said their organization provides AI training.
  • AI "power users" — defined as those who use generative AI at least several times a week and who save 30 minutes a day through that — have started to fundamentally reorganize their workdays around AI use, they told LinkedIn.

How they did it: The survey that forms the basis of the report included 31,000 people across 31 countries — and the results were combined with deep dive research with Fortune 500 companies, hiring trends from LinkedIn, and "trillions" of anonymized Microsoft 365 data points.

 While workers are happy to dive into AI use and told the pollsters they feel the productivity benefits, their bosses are struggling with AI.

  • 79% of leaders believe their company needs to adopt AI to stay competitive — but 59% are worried they aren't effectively quantifying productivity gains from AI, and 60% worry their AI plans are insufficient.

 "The AI moment is here" and "it's arriving from the bottom up" in workplaces, LinkedIn CEO Ryan Roslansky told Axios in an interview.

  • "Ignoring the technology is not an option right now," he said, advising CEOs, CIOs, and human resources chiefs to work together on plans for skills and guardrails for AI use.
  • "Leaders who build for agility instead of stability and invest in skill building internally will give their organizations a competitive advantage," he said.

Stop equating roles with job titles, Roslansky advised. Instead, break roles into sets of tasks  and from there figure out which tasks will be automated, and what new skills you might need to remain competitive.

  • Roslansky said that LinkedIn estimates that, on average, 25% of the skills needed to perform a given job have changed since 2015. He's predicting that will rise to 70% by 2030.

He advises his own teenage daughter that "learning how to learn" and "a growth mindset, where you always learn new skills" are the best ways to stay competitive.

 LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, operates at arm's length from its parent company — but generative AI is one instance where Roslansky has eagerly tapped into Microsoft's expertise.

  • "We have access to cutting-edge tech inside the Microsoft ecosystem, and this is year three for us integrating generative AI. Now every part of LinkedIn is being GenAI-ified," he said.

Gen Z risks starting further and further behind previous generations building a life for themselves as soaring rents chew into their disposable income, leaving them deeper in a financial hole they are still digging.

Housing inflation has proven to be one of the stickiest components to drive up the cost of living, with rents outpacing salaries in all but six of the top 50 metropolitan areas. Rising food prices and heavy student loan debt also factor in as young Americans are forced to tighten their belt by reducing expenses for their essentials.

According to new data from credit reporting agency TransUnion, these higher costs matched with their entry-level salaries have forced young Americans born between 1997 and 2012 to rely much more often on expensive forms of revolving lines of debt—such as credit cards—to make ends meet. 

“This is a generation that is feeling financial stress in a more acute way than millennials did a decade ago,” Charlie Wise, head of global research at TransUnion, told the Wall Street Journal.

The average open balance on U.S. credit cards for Gen Z consumers grew to $2,834 last year versus $2,248 a decade earlier. The added $586 is a figure that has been adjusted to take account of inflation.

Debt burdens in general have become harder to shoulder for Americans as a whole, with U.S. consumers’ median minimum monthly debt payments growing by 32% between 2020 and 2023, according to Wise’s company. This easily surpassed the 18% rate of inflation over that same period.

But the crunch has been felt disproportionally by Gen Z as they leave college and enter the workforce. While Boomers aged 60 and above saw their monthly payments only rise by 11%, below the overall cost of living increase, for Americans ages 18 to 29 that figure was a staggering 74%.

This confirms earlier data from Bank of America that Zoomers live precariously, with roughly a quarter ending up having to borrow money from friends and family because they don’t have enough to live off of in an emergency.

Significant declines in happiness

In Bank of America’s annual Better Money Habits survey published in October, nearly three out of four said they have changed their spending habits to offset higher living expenses, by doing such things as cooking at home more frequently, limiting groceries to essential purchases, and spending less on clothes.

Should this persist, their finances could create a structural impediment to longer-term U.S. economic growth. An inability to build a financially secure foundation is often a reason to delay plans for starting a family, inadvertently contributing to a further drop in U.S. fertility rates, now at their lowest since records began a century ago.

Last month, market research firm Gallup partially blamed negative sentiment from Americans below the age of 30 for the U.S. falling off the list of the world’s top 20 happiest countries for the first time in the list’s 12-year history.

“Generation Z, the future of our country, has witnessed significant declines in happiness, and we must learn why,” Arthur Brooks, professor at the Harvard Business School, and a Gallup study partner, said last month

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