Business leaders, lawmakers meet about AI, Employers dare workers to quit

Plus, why some return-to-office mandates might be “layoffs in disguise”.

Greetings, comms pros! Let’s take a look at a few news stories from the past week and see what lessons we can learn.

1 . CEOs go to Capitol Hill, discuss AI regulation with Congress

Some of Silicon Valley’s leaders went to Washington this week and, in a rare moment of agreement on Capitol Hill, they agreed with lawmakers — artificial intelligence needs guardrails.

According to Axios:

More than 60 senators showed up to the closed-door briefing — with (Elon) Musk, Bill Gates, Sundar Pichai, Mark Zuckerberg and Sam Altman among 20 tech and civil society leaders in the room.

Senator Chuck Schumer told reporters, “I asked everyone in the room, does government need to play a role in regulating AI? And every single person raised their hands, even though they had diverse views. That gives us a message — we have to try to act, as difficult as the process is.”

With the glacial pace at which things often move in the halls of Congress, AI regulation isn’t likely on the immediate horizon. But it’s certainly something to watch for going forward. There’s plenty to be concerned about with AI, particularly its relationship to intellectual property, which we touched on last week. Additional concerns surrounding privacy and how it might affect the workplace (which we’ll explore shortly), add to the number of reasons why regulations may be needed sooner than later. If new guidelines do go into effect, communicators will need to carefully monitor them to ensure that their applications of AI fit within them.

2. 3 of 4 American employees think AI might replace them, report says

AI isn’t going anywhere. That much is clear. But that fact is causing some consternation among the workforce about their job security and whether they trust their organizations to use AI in a responsible fashion.

According to a study by Gallup and Bentley University, 79% of polled workers don’t trust their companies to use AI responsibly. In addition, a research paper related to the study revealed that 75% of employees think AI might replace them in their roles.

Communicators need to know that it’s imperative to ensure managers are having conversations with employees about AI. AI is great, but it’s a tool, one that works best when wielded by skilled, knowledgeable employees.

There’s also a generational gap to contend with here — the paper states that younger generations are more optimistic about the future of AI at work than older ones. This further underlines the importance of smart, open communication about AI at work, and how it’ll affect different employees. Just because we’re at the beginning of the age of generative AI doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to talk about it in a smart fashion.

3. Return-to-office mandates — are employers daring workers to quit?

In recent weeks, many offices across the country have sought to have their employees return to the office on full or part-time schedules. But what if this is just a tactic to trim staff that don’t want to go back to their physical desks? According to some experts, it may be.

According to CNBC:

While a whopping 90% of companies plan to implement return-to-office policies by the end of 2024, flexibility remains a top priority for employees —- and the lack of it might push them to seek other opportunities.

However, that is exactly what some companies want, according to workplace experts that CNBC Make It spoke to.

Companies would never come out and say it because of legal implications,” said Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Workplace Intelligence and New York Times bestselling author.

“A company might use a return-to-office mandate as an opportunity to restructure its workforce.”

The hope for employees here is that any organization that’s planning to return to the office doesn’t have any backhanded intent. It’s a communicator’s duty to be clear, transparent and available for questions employees might have, especially for something as big as a return to the office. Using something that can shift people’s lives just to shake up a company? That’s not an aim to strive for. Making cuts because of a short-term aim to get employees back to their desks risks long-term cultural and reputational damage.

4. How about some good news?

Have a great weekend comms all-stars!

Sean Devlin is an editor at Ragan Communications. In his spare time he enjoys Philly sports, a good pint and ’90s trivia night.

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