It has become rather popular as of late to cast artificial intelligence as the boogeyman of the workplace. This is especially so in recent times since the technology related to AI development has seen incredible exponential growth. The advancement of such tech has led us to believe that AI is the ‘bad guy’ of the office, with the fear of “Big Brother” style personal surveillance, unfair discrimination and ultimately to take over jobs.

Despite this, a new question is being asked regarding an alternate use for AI’s surveillance abilities. Can the supposedly dehumanising technology help make workplaces more human?

It is indisputable at this point that AI and automation can help increase productivity and efficiency in the workplace. However, some researchers believe that the same technology can be used to help maintain the mental wellbeing of staff.

With the use of intelligent algorithms, managers can keep tabs on a worker’s wellbeing and can be used to help said managers respond to staff distress and treat workers with compassion, reckons Dr Ace Simpson from Brunel Business School, London. This methodology could also be used by companies to hold onto staff and improve their bottomline.

“Responding to the suffering of employees in a timely manner enhances employee wellbeing, resilience, engagement, commitment and loyalty. With AI pattern recognition, it will likely be possible to begin preparing to provide support before the employee even realises they need it,” said Dr Simpson.

Signs of mental stress can be subtle and unnoticeable. Some common signs can include changes in mood and routine, a spike in sick days, lateness, or even missed deadlines. An attentive and on-the-ball manager can often spot these signs and realise that their staff is not doing great mentally and act accordingly. However, Many might miss these signs due to how subtle they are. Computers can learn to spot these signs as well; and they also hold the potential to do so more accurately than a human can.

“Changes in routine could be a sign of workplace harassment, grief, home abuse or any other number of issues. AI pattern recognition has potential to support noticing, appraising and responding to employee suffering more quickly than humans, ensuring fewer people fall through the cracks,” said Dr Simpson.

AIR, a Tokyo-based company, has developed an app by the name of Vibe, which is designed to detect mood changes among teams. Vibe scans workers’ chats for emoji and trigger words to monitor morale. A bot would then pool the data and flags mood changes for managers to review in real-time, honing in on happiness, disappointment, disapproval, irritation, and stress.

Shanghai technology firm Deayea, meanwhile, monitors high-speed train drivers’ brainwaves for stress and fatigue. If they doze off, an alarm sounds in the cabin. Hangzhou Zhongheng Electric likewise uses neuro monitoring to highlight spikes in depression or anxiety in factory workers. Managers then change production line pace or boost breaks.

On the other hand, some might argue that surveillance such as this is leaning dangerously close to violating the privacy of workers. Due to how new the tech and its implementation is, there are no real laws that govern the extent of their use. Clear lines will need to be established in order to define how far it can push ethics.


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