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Social Innovation

AI and Happiness - How Artificial Intelligence is changing the Workplace AI and Happiness - How Artificial Intelligence is changing the Workplace

How AI Is
Making Workers Happier

By Kazuo Yano,

Fellow and Corporate Officer, Hitachi

Artificial Intelligence in the workplace

In business, happiness matters. Unhappy workers don’t stay long at their jobs, they take more time off while they’re there, they provide poor customer service and they tend to be less productive. All of this costs workplaces dearly, not only in opportunity costs related to what they’re not getting from their unhappy employees, but in the increased expenditures that are necessary to continually recruit and train top talent.

Seventy-one percent of senior executives recognize this issue. They believe that employee engagement – a key factor in happiness – is very important to achieving overall organizational success.1 Despite this wide recognition, 67% of full-time employees in the United States report that they continue to feel disengaged at work. Of those disengaged workers, 16% report being “actively disengaged,” meaning that they resent their jobs, complain to co-workers and drag down workplace morale.2

It may be tempting to blame the workers or accept as unavoidable that some workers, perhaps even most workers, will not thoroughly enjoy their work. But a deeper look at the issue of worker unhappiness uncovers another reason for the especially high rates we are seeing today: Performing the same mundane, repetitive tasks in a seemingly endless cycle is a waste of human talent – and the humans know it and feel it.

How Worker Happiness Affects Your ROI

When placed in unhappy circumstances, people become unproductive. And a disturbingly high number of workers in America today are unhappy:

  • The Pew Research Center found that for 47% of Americans, their job “is just what they do for a living.”3
  • A recent Gallup poll found that actively disengaged employees cost American companies $483 billion to $605 billion each year in lost productivity.4

But there is hope: Forward-thinking companies are working to improve their employees’ happiness, and they are reaping significant benefits, improving ROI while making their factories and offices more enjoyable places to work. Higher workplace engagement is leading to:

  • 41% lower absenteeism
  • 58% fewer safety incidents
  • 40% fewer quality defects5

At the leading edge of this movement is Hitachi’s “people analytics” technology, which was the focus of a recent Harvard Business School case describing Hitachi’s investment in helping companies track and improve their employees’ happiness and improve their ROI.

20th Century Work Models in a 21st Century World

The systemic processes that were core to the success of industry in the 20th century have created a workforce that is unhappy most of the time. In the 20th century, people were forced to comply with rule-bound, standardized ways of working. From assembly lines to scripted sales calls, workers were expected to conform to machinery and systems in the name of greater efficiency. Individuality, diversity and creativity were pushed to the side in service of mass-produced, uniform products and services.

This model worked, to an extent. People can conform to systems and routines. They can obey commands that make no sense to them, and they can perform identical tasks over and over again, day after day. However, this type of work takes a toll on people, increasing their levels of stress and reducing their happiness, which ultimately leads to problems and costs for the organization.

More to the point, this 20th century model is no longer necessary. The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has given us a better alternative that enables workers to perform higher-order tasks that are more engaging and satisfying while leaving happiness-subtracting chores to technologies that utilize AI.

The AI

AI and the Future of Work

From the last century to this one, consumers have changed right along with technology. Consumers now expect more choices and faster product development and refinement. They are no longer satisfied with cookie-cutter solutions; they want products to be customized for them and available on demand.

To meet these increasing demands, organizations require more flexibility, rapid innovation and creative thinking — all things that humans do better than machines. And, as it turns out, the same tasks that require skills such as creativity and higher-order thinking to please modern customers also make workers happy.6 Organizations that employ AI in the workplace to perform mundane, repetitive tasks can thus improve productivity and reduce errors – and in doing so, they can also release workers from the tasks that make them unhappy, freeing them to move more, invent more and engage more.

Technologies that utilize AI and data create and foster diversity – in products and in the processes that create them. And it is this diversity that increases job satisfaction and happiness. AI technologies free people to do what we do best, making full use of the unique characteristics, history and skills that we bring to the workplace, and to life.

Measuring Happiness – and Improving It – With a smartphone-Based AI App

AI in the workplace can do much more to promote happiness than freeing up workers: In 2018, Hitachi’s innovators introduced a smartphone app called Happiness Planet, which helps individuals identify changes in their work style that can improve their happiness level or on-the-job satisfaction. The app also uses sensors to measure the results. Workers report higher levels of happiness when they can work and grow in the way that best suits the individual’s personal and cultural traits and the type of work being done. Not surprisingly, workplaces with high happiness levels also have high levels of productivity. The Happiness Planet app allows workers to set small daily challenges related to their work styles and get feedback on the results in the form of objective indicators such as level and variety of activity and personal interaction. The game-like interface makes participation fun and even allows workplace teams to compete. The end result is a happier and more productive employee.

Kazuo Yano Fellow and Corporate Officer, Hitachi

Kazuo Yano is a Fellow and Corporate Officer at Hitachi Ltd. He is known for his pioneering work in the semiconductor field and was instrumental in the invention of the world’s first room-temperature single-electron memory device in 1993. In 2003, he pioneered the measurement and analysis of social big data with a wearable sensor that was publicized in the Harvard Business Review. His successful techniques for quantifying happiness have been used in more than 30 companies. His recent work is on multipurpose artificial intelligence, which has been applied to over 60 cases. He has won numerous awards, his work is cited in more than 2,500 papers, and his book, The New Invisible Hand, was one of the top 10 business books in Japan in 2014.

Kazuo Yano

Fellow and Corporate Officer, Hitachi
Gallup, “The Relationship Between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes,” 2016 Q12® Meta Analysis: Ninth Edition, April 2016.