Could automation lead to a three-day week?

Two fifths of employees spend more than a third of their working day on jobs that could automated, study reveals

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A quarter (23 per cent) of UK workers spend the equivalent of more than half their working year on manual, computer-based jobs that could be automated, according to Kore.ai’s Employee Experience Benchmark Report 2023.

The research found that 34 per cent of the 1,000 UK workers surveyed had already automated email replies, and a further 32 per cent felt it should be automated. 

In addition, 35 per cent of respondents said basic HR requests had already been automated at their company, while nearly half (44 per cent) felt they should be automated. One in five (18 per cent) said legal advice should be automated. 

In fact, more than a fifth of UK workers (23 per cent) said they would like to have a personal AI digital assistant at work to ease workloads.

Serkan Ibrahim, VP of Europe at Kore.ai, said: “Bill Gates's recent prediction for a future where we see a three-day work week thanks to artificial intelligence is entirely possible.” 

He noted that advanced large language models – like ChatGPT – and generative AI can provide quick, reliable and contextual answers to enable employees to get tasks done quickly, efficiently and accurately to enhance their productivity and wellbeing.

“As global businesses brace themselves to compete in an increasingly unstable economy, more investment into AI automation needs to be made,” Ibrahim said. 

“The scope to upskill staff to make the most of AI and use the extra time they will have to generate new ideas and opportunities for their employer is also an exciting prospect.”

If automation enabled workers to save 20 per cent of their time each day, 47 per cent of those surveyed said they would like to see a four-day week introduced, 34 per cent said they would use the time to have a better work-life balance and 26 per cent said they would use the time to complete more training or learn something new.

A quarter (24 per cent) said they would do more creative or strategic work and one in five said they would use the time to have a proper lunch break.

Russell Miller, director of learning solutions and innovation at Imperial College Business School, told People Management: “AI can help free up time, enabling human beings to better focus on the tasks that AI currently can’t do as well as humans.” 

He said this included diary management, note taking and building presentations. 

However, Miller warned that many of the newly automated operations would still require human intervention: “The challenge is knowing which, and ensuring that this evaluation doesn’t negate the upsides in efficiency gained in the first place.” 

Jon Boys, senior labour market economist at the CIPD, added: “Our jobs contain plenty of tasks that are amenable to automation. As these findings rightly show, making use of AI tools will free up time to concentrate on other tasks or could result in a four-day week.

“But it’s more than just automation. Other research suggests there is also a boost to the quality of outputs when using AI; however, many in the HR profession are yet to try it as they don’t know how to access it.”

Boys also said that, by this time next year, he expected these tools to be embedded in the programmes and browsers that we use “every day”.

The research said large language models and generative AI could be used to reduce the time spent on labour-intensive microtasks and “better support employees and give them more time back to concentrate on more strategic or creative work, or take time to relax”.

Miller said: “Many existing functionalities in tools such as ChatGPT are quite underleveraged. The majority of workers could find significant efficiency and effectiveness gains within the realms of existing technology. 

“Education in this area is key and the UK lags other nations in making commitments to train.” 

Toby Hough, people and culture director at HiBob, told People Management: “By setting up AI to take over repetitive tasks, businesses can achieve faster completion time and a reduction in human errors, propelling the business towards greater success.” 

However, he added: “To achieve this success, it is crucial that businesses do not rush in with an AI proposition to solve a problem that they haven’t properly identified, and where AI may not in fact be the fix.” 

Hough said that another challenge many businesses would face was concerns around job security. “Research by Resume Builder found that a quarter of companies have already replaced workers with ChatGPT, so you can’t blame employees for worrying about whether their job will be made redundant by the integration of AI,” he said. 

Hough added that this is where HR teams needed to step in to offer reassurance: “HR leaders should help employees integrate AI into their normal flow of work, showing the benefits of the technology to boost efficiency and productivity, while optimising processes to make their lives, and workloads, easier.”

To view the CIPD's resources on the use impact of AI in the workplace, click here