Amazon workers stage walk out, AI industry leaders express major concerns over its capabilities

Plus, what employees want from a flexible workplace.

Greetings, comms pros! Let’s look at some news stories from this week and see what lessons we can learn from them.

1 . Amazon workers walk out, protesting job cuts, leadership

More than 2,000 Amazon workers walked off their jobs in protest earlier this week. The employees cited recent layoffs, the organization’s record on the environment, and a perceived sense of lack of leadership as a reason for the walk-out.

According to CNBC:

Workers gathered on a grassy lawn, surrounded by office towers and next to an airstream providing officegoers with free bananas, and held signs with messages like “Amazon strive harder” and “Earth’s best employer? Stop the PR and listen to us.” One employee spoke about how remote work had allowed her to spend more time with her family, while coworkers told her it enabled them to care for newborn children and relatives with special needs.

“Today looks like it might be the start of a new chapter in Amazon’s history, when tech workers coming out of the pandemic stood up and said we still want a say in this company and the direction of this company,” said Eliza Pan, a cofounder of AECJ and a former program manager at Amazon. “We still want a say in the important decisions that affect all of our lives, and tech workers are going to stand up for ourselves, for each other, for our families, the communities where Amazon operates and for life on planet Earth.”

When your employees are perturbed enough about your communications to walk away from their work in protest, it’s important to resist the first urge to be defensive and instead be strategic. Amazon’s been caught up in several public relations issues over the last few years, between rounds of major layoffs and less-than-ideal treatment of employees coming to the forefront. When employee communications are lacking, those in the function should make a very clear, plain and relevant business case for why employee comms needs more budget. When it comes to how that budget is spent, communicators should hold active listening paramount and collect qualitative feedback that can inform the strategic fixes that need to be made.

2. Industry leaders say AI presents existential threat to humanity

We’ve heard a lot about AI and its potential to upend the way we live our lives and do our jobs. (We’ve also written about just that pretty extensively here at Ragan.) But when some of the top minds that work with AI are sounding a warning bell, it’s time to take heed.

According to Engadget:

With the rise of ChatGPT, Bard and other large language models (LLMs), we’ve been hearing warnings from the people involved like Elon Musk about the risks posed by artificial intelligence (AI). Now, a group of high-profile industry leaders has issued a one-sentence statement effectively confirming those fears.

“Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”

It was posted to the Center for AI Safety, an organization with the mission “to reduce societal-scale risks from artificial intelligence,” according to its website. Signatories are a who’s who of the AI industry, including OpenAI chief executive Sam Altman and Google DeepMind head Demis Hassabis. Turing Award-winning researchers Geoffrey Hinton and Yoshua Bengio, considered by many to be the godfathers of modern AI, also put their names to it.

Well, that’s about as subtle as a clap of thunder. AI has the potential to alter the way that we communicate as a society, not to mention how we do our jobs in comms. But you need to keep in mind — AI is an incredibly powerful tool that’s still really new. Develop a communications plan around the proper, ethical use cases for generative AI, and get that out to your employees. That way you can try to stay one step ahead. Even if we aren’t 100% sure what’s coming with AI and its impacts on comms, it’s good to be prepared.

3. Report: What your employees want in a flexible workplace

The desire to have a flexible work arrangement isn’t going away post-COVID. Whether that includes hours to live your personal life or work from an office or one’s own home (which has proven benefits), a company’s ability to be flexible with employees is a big factor in both recruitment and retention.

Gallup recently polled 150 chief human resources officers about the flexibility offerings they would consider for on-site employees. The poll then asked 5,700 on-site workers if their companies were offering flexible options that the CHROs were considering. They include relaxed dress (55%), flexible start and end times (33%) and flexible hours (31%).

But there were two clear-cut winners in terms of what employees wanted that organizations weren’t offering — increased paid time off (57%) and four-day work weeks (44%).

So what can you learn from this, communicators? These numbers show that flexible work options are important to employees, and as such, it’s crucial you socialize the options you offer clearly and often. If your employees are consistently telling you they need certain things to do their jobs better, it’s important to escalate the recommendations to those holding the purse strings.

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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