Business and Management INK

How AI-Integration is Changing the Workplace

May 28, 2024 538

In this article, co-authors Jonna Koponen, Saara Julkunen, Anne Laajalahti, Marianna Turunen, and Brian Spitzberg reflect on the inspiration behind their research article, “Work Characteristics Needed by Middle Managers When Leading AI-Integrated Service Teams,” published in the Journal of Service Research.

AI is changing middle managers’ work

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a hot topic everywhere: AI has gained great attention in the business world due to the technological maturity that has been achieved both in computing and in the ability to analyze large amounts of data in real-time. Currently, almost every industry, such as finance, are pursuing AI-supported processes.

The introduction of AI is a significant part of the digital transformation, which changes the job description of managers. Companies must consider what kinds of tasks and processes can be handled entirely or partly with the help of AI, and which ones require human input. In many companies, middle management concretely ensures that strategic activities related to technological renewal are carried out at the team level.

Integrating AI into service teams is a complex phenomenon

The job description of middle management is undergoing a transformation, as AI is increasingly associated with the work of service teams. In the financial services sectors, AI adoption has been rapid. Many service professionals work in teams with both humans and AI systems, which sets new expectations for team interaction, relationships, and leadership.

Our study investigated how middle managers perceive the impacts of AI-system integration on their work characteristics in the financial services industry. We interviewed 25 experienced executives who work for one of the leading financial services companies in Scandinavia.

The findings indicated that the integration of AI systems into service teams is a complex phenomenon that makes middle management work more demanding and requires balancing new challenges. Work productivity increases when routine tasks can be assigned to AI. On the other hand, the demands of work increase when the pace of change is fast and AI integration requires continuous learning. There is more variety in tasks than before, and managers can better focus their time on developing new work content, training, and engagement. Surprisingly, new kinds of routine work tasks are increasing as the operation of AI needs to be monitored and verified.

Is AI a tool or a colleague?

According to the findings of the study, the social characteristics of middle management work changed, as AI systems used at work were viewed as technical tools or colleagues, depending on the type of AI. Especially when AI systems were accompanied by more sophisticated AI (e.g., chatbots), they were viewed more as colleagues than mere tools or technology. AI could be given a first name, and teams even wondered who the father or mother of AI was. This led to different types of human-AI relationships that should be taken into account when AI systems are deployed in the future.

In addition, employees were concerned about their workplace and were not always positive about the adoption of new AI solutions. Furthermore, AI integration introduces ethical challenges. For example, managers were concerned about the fairness of AI decision-making both for clients and employees.

AI systems are not yet capable of leading people, so functions such as motivating team members are still required. Given that AI is still limited in its ability to mimic humans, managers will need to take care of the socioemotional needs of their workplace. All in all, leading AI-integrated service teams requires new competencies from middle management, such as technological understanding, interpersonal communication competence, emotional intelligence, problem-solving skills, and the ability to lead and adapt to continuous change. Therefore, in many ways interpersonal communication skills become more important when selecting new employees for management positions.

Jonna Koponen (pictured) is an academy research fellow and associate professor in the Business School at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu, Finland. She has research interests in the following areas: AI-integrated service teams, human AI-interaction, E-leadership, digital communication in service organizations, relationship marketing, B2B sales, customer relationships, customer experience, value co-creation, sales communication and interaction, interpersonal communication competence, digital marketing, marketing and communication education and innovative teaching and learning methods. Saara Julkunen is a professor and Head of the UEF Business School at the University of Eastern Finland. She has amassed a wide range of academic publications, including a recent study on the consumer's adaptive responses under crisis. Anne Laajalahti is an adjunct professor in The School of Marketing and Communication at the University of Vassa, Finland. She is a communication professional with research interests in communications theory, crisis communication, organizational communication, public relations, and strategic communication. Marianna Turunen is an export and customer service specialist at Junttan. She received her master's degree from the University of Eastern Finland and bachelor's degree from Karelia University of Applied Sciences. Brian Spitzberg is a Senate Distinguished Professor of Communication at San Diego State University. He is also the author or coauthor of over 100 scholarly articles and book chapters and has coauthored or co-edited several scholarly books on communication competence, conflict, aggression, stalking, and the dark side of communication.

View all posts by Jonna Koponen, Saara Julkunen, Anne Laajalahti, Marianna Turunen, and Brian Spitzberg

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