An American Psychological Association research paper predicts that as workers interact with AI systems (and rely more on them), this could lead to social disconnection at work, feelings of loneliness, and even insomnia and alcohol consumption.
Work-Related Interactions Being Altered & Creating Social Disconnection
The research, entitled “No Person Is an Island: Unpacking the Work and After-Work Consequences of Interacting with Artificial Intelligence,” published in the Journal of Applied Psychology says that as AI systems are increasingly integrated across organisational functions and into the work lives of employees, the coupling of employees and machines is fundamentally altering their work-related interactions.
Your New AI ‘Colleague’ Could Have Negative Effects
The researchers say that people have evolved internal systems to gauge the quality of relationships with others and these systems have remained effective in a workplace that, just as in primitive tribal communities, prioritised social interactions with coworkers. The advent of digital, asocial AI systems and their incorporation into employee work has, however, threatened to upend the operation of these systems. The research shows that employee interactions with their new AI ‘colleagues’ may lead to an increased need for affiliation as well as feelings of loneliness.
In essence, the research states that AI interrupting old-style work relationships leads to mixed consequences, i.e. (adaptive) affiliation – more helping behaviour toward coworkers at work, or a feeling of ‘maladaptive’ loneliness which affects employees after work in ways like more insomnia and alcohol consumption.
The research showed that the effects are more pronounced for those with higher levels of attachment anxiety (the tendency to feel insecure and worried about social connections), i.e. they respond more strongly to working on AI systems with both positive reactions, like helping others, and negative ones, like loneliness and insomnia.
Human Consequences Of The “New Industrial Revolution”
Lead researcher and professor of management at the University of Georgia Pok Man Tang said, “Humans are social animals, and isolating work with AI systems may have damaging spillover effects into employees’ personal lives”. Tang highlighted how “The rapid advancement in AI systems is sparking a new industrial revolution that is reshaping the workplace with many benefits but also some uncharted dangers, including potentially damaging mental and physical impacts for employees.”
Four Experiments But Consistent Findings
The research was conducted using four experiments in the U.S., Taiwan, Indonesia and Malaysia with co-workers and family members offering feedback on the behaviour of subjects. The findings proved to be consistent across cultures, showing that basic human interactions and relationships are changed by overexposure working alone with just AI.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Although AI can be human-like in its responses (e.g., generative AI like ChatGPT), it is not human or sentient (yet). Having too much interaction with AI at work seems to come at the expense of the human social interaction and although it has some positive consequences, it appears to have some damaging consequences in the lives of employees both at work (loneliness) and at home (insomnia and drinking).
Ways that businesses could help manage and improve this situation include limiting the frequency of working with AI systems, offering opportunities for employees to socialise, and even offering mindfulness programs and other positive interventions. Developers of AI technology could help by equipping AI systems with more social features, e.g. a human voice, to emulate human-like interactions.
How AI impacts on the social, informal, cultural, and ‘softer’ factors at work could, therefore, be another area that businesses need to monitor and manage going forward as AI plays more of a role in daily work lives.
By Mike Knight