Wharton professor says employees are hiding A.I. use—and potentially transformative productivity gains—from employers

Artificial intelligence is enabling new ways of accomplishing tasks, and at many companies employees are taking full advantage of it to do their jobs better. There’s just one problem: They often keep quiet about it. 

Ethan Mollick, a management professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, described the problem Sunday on his blog One Useful Thing. He knows first-hand about A.I. productivity boosts: Earlier this year, he gave tools like ChatGPT 30 minutes to work on a business project and called the results “superhuman.”

“People are streamlining tasks, taking new approaches to coding, and automating time-consuming and tedious parts of their jobs,” he writes. “But the inventors aren’t telling their companies about their discoveries.”

Employees have reasons to keep quiet about their A.I. use, he notes. Mostly they want to stay out of trouble. 

“Many companies have banned ChatGPT use, often because of legal concerns that remain somewhat vague, based on uncertainty over the technology and regulatory worries,” he writes.

A.I. on the sly

In some cases, bans are “causing employees to bring their phones into work and access AI from personal devices,” he writes. “While data is hard to come by, I have already met many people at companies where AI is banned who are using this workaround—and those are just the ones willing to admit it.”

Employees might also want to hide the fact that A.I. produced some or all of their work, fearing how it might be perceived and judged differently if supervisors knew about it.

Some workers could also be worried that they’re training their own replacements. As Mollick writes: “If someone has figured out how to automate 90% of a particular job, and they tell their boss, will the company fire 90% of their coworkers? Better to keep usage secret, and avoid any risk.”

Earlier this year, a leaked video showed the CEO of a marketing firm telling staff, “Many content writers today are now exclusively using A.I. to write. I can do that in about 30 minutes of an eight-hour workday. So what do we need to do? Let’s put out 30 to 50 times our normal production.” 

The trust advantage

Mollick believes companies must find ways to encourage workers to come forward with their A.I. use. That could mean promotions, cash prizes, or corner offices. “These are small prices to pay for truly breakthrough innovation,” he notes.

Bosses should also guarantee that nobody will be punished or fired for coming forward with their A.I.-enhanced work methods, he believes.

“This is where organizations with high degrees of trust and good cultures will have an advantage,” he notes. “If your employees don’t believe that you care about them, they will keep their A.I. use hidden.”


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