Microsoft Work Trends: 'Every Employee Needs AI Aptitude'

"Will AI fix work?"

That's the tagline for the new 2023 Work Trend Index: Annual Report from Microsoft, which notes that "The pace of work is outpacing our ability to keep up. AI is poised to create a whole new way of working."

One could also just replace "work" with "AI" in that first sentence, as it's no secret that the debut of ChatGPT and the rise of large language models (LLMs) for advanced machine learning systems have changed everything and people are struggling to keep apace with one groundbreaking AI advancement after another.

So, according to Microsoft's AI-dominated work trends report, adjusting to the new world order in the workplace requires boning up on AI-related skills -- or, as Microsoft put it: "Every employee needs AI aptitude."

"The paradigm shift to AI as copilot requires a whole new way of working -- and a new AI aptitude," the report said. "Working alongside AI -- using natural language -- will be as inherent to how we work as the internet and the PC."

According to the survey-based report, 82 percent of leaders say their employees will need new skills to be prepared for the growth of AI. New skills needed to work alongside AI are topped by analytical judgement, flexibility and emotional intelligence, according to the report. Following is a breakdown of answers from respondents who were asked this question: "Some believe that it is likely that artificial intelligence (AI) will usher in a new era of technological advancements. Which of the following skills do you think will be most essential for your employees to learn to evolve with these potential changes?"

[Click on image for larger view.] AI Skills (source: Microsoft).

"Skills like critical thinking and analytical judgment, complex problem solving, and creativity and originality are new core competencies -- and not just for technical roles or AI experts," the report said. "Leaders we surveyed said it's essential that employees learn when to leverage AI, how to write great prompts, how to evaluate creative work, and how to check for bias. As AI reshapes work, human-AI collaboration will be the next transformational work pattern -- and the ability to work iteratively with AI will be a key skill for every employee."

Here's how Microsoft defines those top skills:

  • Analytical judgement: Determine when to leverage an AI capability instead of a human capability.
  • Flexibility: Rapidly adjust to AI's integration in the workflow.
  • Emotional intelligence: Determine when to leverage a human capability instead of an AI capability.
  • Creative evaluation: Evaluate content produced by AI.
  • Intellectual curiosity: Ask AI the right questions.
  • Bias detection and handling: Evaluate AI fairness in decision-making.
  • AI delegation (prompts): Direct AI with the right prompts.

The reference to writing great prompts is especially telling about the rapid pace of AI advancements. A year ago, the discipline of "prompt engineering" was barely a thing. Now, it's commanding salaries up to $335,000 per year and daily searches have reached three figures.

[Click on image for larger view.] Google Trends for "Prompt Engineering" (source: Google).

Other highlights of the report include:

  • Digital debt is costing us innovation: "We're all carrying digital debt: the inflow of data, emails, meetings, and notifications has outpaced humans' ability to process it all. And the pace of work is only intensifying. Everything feels important, so we spend our workdays trying to get out of the red. Nearly 2 in 3 people (64 percent) say they struggle with having the time and energy to do their job -- and those people are 3.5x more likely to also struggle with innovation and strategic thinking. And nearly 2 in 3 leaders (60 percent) are already feeling the effects, saying that a lack of innovation or breakthrough ideas on their teams is a concern."
    [Click on image for larger view.] The Weight of the Workday (source: Microsoft).
  • There's a new AI-employee alliance: "Amid concerns of AI replacing jobs, the data revealed an unexpected insight: employees are more eager for AI to lift the weight of work than they are afraid of job loss to AI. While 49 percent of people say they're worried AI will replace their jobs, even more -- 70 percent -- would delegate as much work as possible to AI to lessen their workloads."
    [Click on image for larger view.] Work in 2030: What People Want -- That AI Can Deliver (source: Microsoft).

"AI is poised to lift the weight of work -- and has great potential to free people from digital debt and fuel innovation," said the report in conclusion. "And for both overwhelmed employees and leaders looking to bolster productivity, that promise is overdue. But AI won't simply 'fix' work -- it will create a whole new way of working. Leaders will need to help employees learn to work responsibly alongside AI to reap the rewards of the AI-employee alliance: more value creation for businesses and a brighter, more fulfilling future of work for everyone."

The report is based on a survey conducted by an independent research firm that polled 31,000 full-time employed or self-employed workers across 31 markets between Feb. 1, 2023, and March 14, 2023. Full methodology is listed at the bottom of the report.

About the Author

David Ramel is an editor and writer for Converge360.


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