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Could AI lead to the rise of mediocre work?

Could AI lead to the rise of mediocre employees and mediocre work featured image

A 2023 survey by the professional network app Fishbowl involving over 11,700 workers found that 43% use AI for their work tasks. [1] This statistic raises various questions about the impact of AI on employees, businesses, and the future of work

A question at the forefront of our minds is: Could AI lead to the rise of mediocre work?

Our conclusion: absolutely, depending on how your employees use it

TestGorilla’s Senior Product Manager, Gustavo Imhof, sums up our position: “AI, when not leveraged properly, fosters mediocrity. Yet, when used intelligently and strategically, AI has the potential to significantly amplify our capabilities.”

In this article, we look at how AI is used in the workplace and its potential impacts. We also provide several strategies for properly using AI without falling into the mediocrity trap.

How is AI used in the workplace?

Artificial intelligence (AI) aims to replicate human intelligence and capabilities. 

Over the last few decades, businesses have used AI to automate processes, handle large volumes of data, and improve decision-making. These uses were often limited to specific industries, like IT, manufacturing, and finance, with many businesses priced out of implementing AI in their daily operations. 

However, generative AI has recently made the technology much more accessible and applicable to many workplaces. 

Generative AI is trained on patterns and data to produce new content – like text, code, and images – based on a user’s instructions. Everyday use cases for generative AI in the workplace include:

  • Operating sales chatbots

  • Generating social media content

  • Writing interview questions for a hiring process

  • Translating languages when communicating with colleagues or customers in different countries

  • Generating code for programming tasks

  • Creating stock-like images to use on promotional materials

The benefits of using AI in the workplace

AI presents various opportunities for businesses and their employees. 

Democratizing knowledge and skills

The widespread use of AI in the workplace gives workers access to skills and information previously beyond their reach. This allows employees to upskill quickly and work cross-functionally. 

The democratizing potential of AI is revolutionary for so-called ‘low-skill’ workers. For example, generative AI allows users with no coding experience to generate basic code. It can help workers communicate in languages they don’t speak fluently. Employees don’t need to be data analysts to understand large volumes of technical information. 

Jobs that previously required specific technical skills or expert knowledge are now open to low-skilled workers, lowering barriers to entry for employment. This not only helps employers tackle skills gaps – it could also profoundly impact social mobility and workplace diversity. 

Enhancing human potential with automation

One of the most common uses for AI in the workplace is automating routine tasks. This application frees workers to focus on other higher-level tasks, creativity, and critical thinking – enhancing their abilities rather than reducing them. 

Reade Taylor, founder of Cyber Command, gave us an example from the cybersecurity sector. “AI can take over monotonous, repetitive tasks such as monitoring networks for security threats or analyzing vast datasets for potential vulnerabilities,” he says. “This automation allows cybersecurity professionals to devote more time to complex strategy formulation and innovative problem-solving – skills that AI cannot replicate.”

A recent National Bureau of Economic Research study examined the gradual introduction of a generative AI tool based on data from 5,179 customer support agents. The first to look at the impact of generative AI at this scale, the study found that the tool increased the productivity of novice and low-skilled workers by 34%.

AI’s potential to increase the productivity of low-skilled workers is immense. According to a poll by Slack’s Workforce Lab of over 10,200 people across 6 different countries, 41% of desk workers spend time on tasks that are “low value, repetitive, or lack meaningful contribution to their job functions.” AI can free up employees’ time to focus on meaningful tasks, fostering a more engaged, motivated workforce.  

Helping businesses stay competitive

AI offers businesses various ways to gain and maintain a competitive advantage. It can help you identify opportunities for innovation and ways to differentiate your product or service from competitors. You can quickly identify and respond to market trends and opportunities with AI-powered insights. AI also helps deliver a personalized customer experience, improving customer loyalty. 

You'll be left behind if you fail to consider how to use AI for competitive advantage. Gartner projects that by 2026, over 80% of businesses “will have used generative AI…or deployed GenAI-enabled applications in production environments.” 

Mediocre work and AI

While AI presents several opportunities, if not used optimally by teams and employees it can lead to average, mediocre work.

Don’t deskill your workforce

When incorporating AI into your business, you must ensure workers don’t lean too heavily on it. When workers start to rely on AI to replace their skills, rather than complement them, they stop developing essential skills like critical thinking and problem-solving.

This risk is especially relevant to highly skilled workers. The National Bureau of Economic Research customer support agent study we mentioned above found that while AI increased productivity for new and low-skilled workers, it had a limited effect on experienced and highly skilled workers. In fact, the study suggests AI may have had the opposite effect on the most competent agents, decreasing the quality of their conversations. 

The erosion of originality

Due to its design, AI is inherently unoriginal. Generative AI, for instance, creates content based on programming algorithms, emphasizing logic and efficiency over creativity and originality. While AI can produce somewhat novel output with the right prompts, it will never give you any “light bulb” moments – only humans can do that. 

As a result, the overreliance on AI to complete creative tasks can potentially make your work similar or even the same. This flatlining undermines your employees’ work quality and deprives them of chances to exercise their own creativity. 

We spoke to the former founder of Grooveshark and fractional Chief Growth Officer, Sam Tarantino, about his experience with this. 

“The challenge arises when businesses rely too heavily on AI for tasks that require nuanced understanding or creative strategy,” he explains. “For instance, while AI can analyze customer data and predict trends, it might miss out on subtler shifts in consumer behavior that a keen human marketer could spot and leverage for strategic advantage.”

Impact on employee well-being and engagement

AI can also demotivate employees by impacting their mental health. 

A briefing paper by the Institute for the Future of Work examined the impact of workplace technologies on employees in a survey of 4,802 individuals. The report revealed that while interactions with technologies like laptops and smartphones improved workers’ quality of life, newer workplace technologies – including AI – had a negative impact on their well-being

The paper's authors explained that working with newer technologies like AI worsened “feelings of disempowerment” and “increased sense of insecurity, task intensification and stress and loss of meaning, as well as anxiety and poorer overall health.”

One aspect of this is workers’ fear of becoming obsolete due to AI, a phenomenon coined “FOBO” that impacts many US workers. In a recent Gallup poll of over 1,000 US residents, 22% are concerned that technology will put them out of a job. 

Workers who experience these feelings are likely to feel less engaged, which can impact their productivity and the quality of their work. 

5 strategies for leveraging AI and avoiding mediocre work

The impact of AI on worker performance depends entirely on how you use it. Here are some strategies for using AI to maximize its benefits. 

1. Understand the limitations of AI

While AI offers many potential benefits and opportunities, you must understand its limitations in the context of your business. 

For instance, generative AI tends to “hallucinate” or make up information when it doesn’t know the answer. 

A widely reported example of this was a New York law firm that used ChatGPT to write a court filing. ChatGPT invented several cases to cite in the document, but the lawyers failed to check these before filing. Despite questions about their accuracy, the lawyers continued to rely on these citations, resulting in a $5,000 fine. 

The judge in the case highlighted the importance of using AI to complement human abilities rather than replace them. “Technological advances are commonplace and there is nothing inherently improper about using a reliable artificial intelligence tool for assistance,” he wrote. “But existing rules impose a gatekeeping role on attorneys to ensure the accuracy of their filings.”

By understanding the limits of AI, you can strategically use it to your business’s advantage. This was highlighted in a study conducted by researchers from Harvard Business School involving 758 consultants at Boston Consulting Group. 

The study found that consultants who used AI to complete tasks “within the frontier of AI capabilities” were more productive and produced better quality results than those who didn’t. However, consultants who used AI for a task outside its capabilities were “19 percentage points less likely to produce correct solutions compared to those without AI.”

2. Have a clear vision for how you’ll use it

Worryingly, many business leaders take an ad hoc approach to using AI. 

An IBM survey of 3,000 CEOs worldwide found that less than one in three have assessed the potential impact of generative AI on their workforce despite already using it. According to IBM, this results in businesses “acting without a clear view of how to help their workforce with the disruption and inevitable transitions AI will bring.”

Introducing AI to your workplace requires a strategic approach like any other business decision. You should back it up with research, using a clearly defined plan that considers:

  • The potential impacts of AI on your workers, client base, and the wider community. Stakeholders expect organizations to use AI ethically. 

  • Ways your workers can use AI to augment their skills, creativity, and critical thinking rather than undermining them. Humans should always be the captain in charge of the plane – with AI as a co-pilot. 

  • Clear timeframes and plans for piloting and rolling out AI in your business. This is essential for planning purposes and for managing employees’ expectations. 

  • Any relevant laws. For instance, the EU Parliament recently passed the world’s first comprehensive use of AI law, and many countries are considering following suit. 

This approach helps you avoid using AI in ways that negatively impacts your workforce, reducing the risk of mediocre work. 

3. Consult and communicate with your employees

When developing a plan to introduce AI to your workforce, involving employees in the consultation process is crucial. Employees are less likely to feel threatened or disenfranchised by technology if you’ve consulted and supported them in its implementation. 

You can consult with your employees in various ways. For example, you can send out online surveys or ask employees to nominate representatives who take part in AI decision-making. Kirk W. McLaren, CEO of Foresight CFO, recommends creating employee-led AI Curiosity Teams to look at how AI is used elsewhere and proactively identify opportunities for your business. 

It’s equally important to ensure your workers have full information about the AI you plan to use, including how it will work and impact their work. By communicating clearly with your employees and encouraging feedback, you can understand their fears and concerns and how best to address them. 

Leslie Hammer, Ph.D., emerita professor of psychology at Portland State University and co-director of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center at the Oregon Health and Science University, explains why clear and honest communication is essential to the successful implementation of AI:

Fear of the unknown and loss of a sense of control are directly related to psychological distress, occupational stress, and strain, as well as negative physical health outcomes. Providing information about the use of AI and allowing employee input into such changes will significantly alleviate these outcomes.

The more your employees know about AI and how to use it, the less likely it is to impact their work negatively. 

4. Ensure you’re hiring people with the right AI skills

While AI is becoming more accessible, it pays to bring in experts to help you navigate its use in your organization. 

This requires hiring candidates with the necessary AI skills, such as prompt engineering, AI modeling, and data analytics. 

But technical skills aren’t all you need. AI experts also need to have the vision to identify how employers can leverage AI and communication skills to explain these technical concepts in a way that’s easy to understand. 

All employees who engage with AI must also possess what we think is currently an underrated soft skill: AI ethics – using AI in ways that “align with societal values and ethical standards.” 

This puts skills-based hiring at the front and center of the effective use of AI in your workplace. You can use talent assessment platforms like ours here at TestGorilla to help you assess candidates' technical and soft skills so you can discover the right people.   

The challenge, however, is that demand far outweighs supply regarding specialized AI skills. McKinsey recently reviewed 3.5 million tech job descriptions, finding that “many of the skills in greatest demand” – including applied AI – “have less than half as many qualified practitioners per posting as the global average.”

As a result, you must ensure your hiring and retention strategies make you stand out as an employer of choice for candidates with the necessary skills. These strategies include delivering a premium candidate experience, offering unique employee benefits, and creating a positive company culture

5. Invest in training and development (especially soft skills)

The AI-age requires employers to provide employees with continuous learning opportunities to develop specific AI-related skills and enhance the skills AI can’t replicate. 

Training your employees on how to use AI properly is essential for avoiding mediocre work. This includes covering topics like prompt writing, fact-checking, reviewing AI content for bias, and more. Throughout the training, emphasize that AI is a tool for enhancing, not replacing, their skills and talents. 

When your workforce understands these fundamental principles for using AI, they can maximize its benefits, like increased productivity, without compromising the quality of their work. 

It’s also crucial to help employees develop skills that complement their use of AI. 

For its 2023 Annual Work Trend report, Microsoft surveyed 31,000 workers worldwide. It found that the top skills employees need to navigate an AI-powered future are:

  • Analytical judgment

  • Flexibility

  • Emotional intelligence

  • Creative evaluation

  • Intellectual curiosity

  • Bias detection and handling

Enhancing these skills through employee training is essential for developing resilient and exceptional workers who deliver high-quality work. 

Our product designer Gustavo Imhof explains the importance of employee training when it comes to AI:

AI tools, like ChatGPT, inherently operate on the principle of averages, as a starting point. If we begin with the assumption that average is acceptable, then we're building on a shaky foundation. Relying solely on it without striving for more signifies a lack of expertise to push beyond mediocrity.

Leveraging AI for excellence rather than mediocrity

AI in the workplace is a double-edged sword. While offering potential benefits for productivity, narrowing the skills gap, and competitive advantage, AI can also undermine your employees’ skills, originality, and well-being. 

The key to preventing AI from leading to the rise of the mediocre worker is knowing how to use it. By developing a clear plan, consulting with employees, and investing in ongoing training, you can take advantage of all that AI offers while mitigating its risks. 

Mediocrity thrives in organizations that take a complacent approach to AI. Learn how to harness its potential – and watch your workforce excel


  1. Fishbowl. “70% Of Workers Using ChatGPT At Work Are Not Telling Their Boss; Overall Usage Among Professionals Jumps To 43%.” (2023) https://www.fishbowlapp.com/insights/70-percent-of-workers-using-chatgpt-at-work-are-not-telling-their-boss/ 


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