AI + Accountability: Does AI Boost Workplace Wellness?

What does workplace wellness look like?

In the past 50 years the workplace has changed drastically. Not too long ago the phrase “workplace wellness” was unheard of. Now it’s an important part of most organizations and something that is important to those searching for a new job. Workplace wellness varies and can include fitness centers where staff can take a break, smoking cessation programs,healthy snacks and lunches, along with yoga, paramedical insurance and different transit options. 

Taking time for yourself to do some meditation, yoga or getting a massage is very helpful in maintaining a healthy life. We have gone from a culture that frowned upon taking naps to one where it is encouraged at work.  All of these different programs offer the individual the best opportunity to take care and be well.

In this article a number of great suggestions are given for organizations to support their staff in creating a healthy work environment; none of which happen to be through implementation of AI.  Human connection is key to human wellness and since one third of most people’s days are spent at work it’s imperative that you feel safe, supported and valued where you work. Without this our mental health is affected and this leads to general health problems as well. 

Workplace wellness then can be defined as a work environment that is conducive to the health and well-being of all employees and others within it. 

How does AI play a role in workplace wellness?

AI has helped with taking away mindless, tedious tasks so that you are less stressed and can focus on larger projects. For example, programs and apps are set up to make it easier to schedule meeting times with multiple people, instead of lengthy conversations or emails trying to figure out everyone’s availability. Another helpful use of AI is through spreadsheets and different internal platforms that can house reference material so employees are not asking the same questions over and over again. 

Other areas that are newer and play a role in workplace wellness are programs that can monitor everything from employee productivity, workplace relationships, body temperature and heart rate, give health recommendations, or implement wellness chat boxes. 

With good intentions these apps look to aid staff in their overall wellness. However, there are obvious concerns with using AI to interpret and read staff’s body language. This takes away the accountability for an individual to pay attention to others and what’s going on around them. It is likely that people will pay less attention to others and miss key information through engaging in depth conversations that AI can’t replace. 

Another concern is that if you are using AI to read someone’s heart rate, body temperature etc. this breaches their medical confidentiality and autonominity. Trust needs to be earned between staff and their employer. Let’s say you are doing your job and your boss reads the latest data on your health, then comes to you and says, “Hey, I think you need to change your diet.” This is very problematic for many reasons. One, it’s not their job to tell you how to take care of yourself and two, it’s your private information that you choose to share when appropriate. This crosses the boundaries of job roles and blurs the line between private and professional information.

Other programs use chatbots that suggest Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) techniques, which is also problematic. CBT is a catch-all type of therapy that often doesn’t address the root cause of a habit, belief or someone’s trauma. Sharing your deepest concerns with a computer takes away the human experience. This human experience of connecting with someone else, being vulnerable, and having the opportunity to be seen, heard and heal is the most powerful aspect in the process of therapy and cannot be replaced by AI. 

Each human is unique and to give generic suggestions based on a pattern of responses  or algorithms reinforces the cultural one size fits all strategy that focuses on quick fixes rather than meaningful long term solutions. 

How does AI in the workplace affect individuals being accountable?

Like any type of technology it can be used as a tool to aid in changing a current situation. When looking at accountability in the workplace AI can be used as a starting point. However, it’s really important to include staff and get them involved so that they are more likely to follow through. This is key in any type of situation where you are creating and changing  work dynamics. 

AI is leaving out the input of the employees. It’s taking away their accountability and relying on technology to pay attention to their surroundings, people they work with and the cues to know when something is not working. Emotional Intelligence is very beneficial in the workplace because it means you can be aware of your emotions, regulate them, deal with them and support others. If we rely on AI for emotional recognition then we take away the opportunity for staff to grow and further develop their humanness with themselves and others. Taking away people’s responsibility to pay attention makes them less accountable and focuses more on their productivity rather than their overall contributions as a unique individual. 

Having managers and CEOs read input from AI programs rather than directly going to the source creates an even further gap or opportunity to connect. It takes away the chance to develop real genuine work relationships where you communicate your needs clearly and professionally to create healthy relationships that flourish with trust, collaboration and mentoring.

Although AI can provide programs that make simple tasks easier and give way to collaboration in new exciting ways, it’s important to see when the line is being crossed. 

Questions to ask for boundaries and accountability around AI in the workplace:

  • Is this use of AI taking away  your humanness to be replaced with a machine?

  • Does the AI collect information that is irrelevant to the workplace?

  • Are employees in full control of deciding what information to share?

  • Does using this form of AI take away the opportunity for personal growth?

  • How does it affect the ability to build trusting relationships in the workplace?

  • Is this form of AI making people feel watched?

Like any technological tool, it’s all about how you use it, your relationship to it and how you use the information collected. Slowing down, remaining critical and curious helps you better engage in the world and be accountable to yourself and others. 

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