75% of Knowledge Workers Use AI on the Job, but Executives Are Dragging Their Feet

Microsoft's latest Work Trend Index found employees are taking AI into their own hands, but those that receive at-work support are more likely to flourish.

Lisa Lacy Lead AI Writer
Lisa joined CNET after more than 20 years as a reporter and editor. Career highlights include a 2020 story about problematic brand mascots, which preceded historic name changes, and going viral in 2021 after daring to ask, "Why are cans of cranberry sauce labeled upside-down?" She has interviewed celebrities like Serena Williams, Brian Cox and Tracee Ellis Ross. Anna Kendrick said her name sounds like a character from Beverly Hills, 90210. Rick Astley asked if she knew what Rickrolling was. She lives outside Atlanta with her son, two golden retrievers and two cats.
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While fear over AI-related job loss remains, 55% of business leaders are actually concerned about filling key roles. But here's the kicker: 71% said they'd rather hire a less experienced candidate with basic AI skills, such as the ability to use generative AI tools, than a more experienced prospect who doesn't know anything about gen AI.

That's according to Microsoft's fourth Work Trend Index, released on Wednesday in partnership with LinkedIn.

The focus this year is on how AI is affecting work and the labor market. It found a majority of workers are using AI tools on the job as pressure continues in the aftermath of the pandemic. Meanwhile, business leaders believe they need to implement AI, but have something akin to decision paralysis.

"In the face of AI inevitability, inaction is not an option," said Colette Stallbaumer, cofounder of the Microsoft WorkLab and general manager of Copilot. "And that's true for both people looking to skill up and have a career as well as business leaders who know they need to move that are hesitating."

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After a year focused on generative AI tools for consumers, we're seeing the likes of AmazonAnthropic and Adobe go after the enterprise market with new business-focused generative AI tools. This follows the historic trends of technology adoption, which starts at home and migrates to the office. 

These tools offer the hope of increased efficiency and better working conditions for employees -- if their bosses can decide which tools to use. (Check out CNET's new AI Atlas resource page for our hands-on reviews of generative AI products including Gemini, Claude, ChatGPT and Microsoft Copilot, along with AI news, tips and explainers.)

Employees aren't waiting for corporate buy-in

The study found 75% of "knowledge workers," or those who typically work at a desk, are now using AI on the job. Stallbaumer noted this figure has doubled in six months. (Microsoft did not include this question in the 2023 survey.)

Meanwhile, 78% are bringing their own AI tools to work, or "BYOAI," as Stallbaumer called it.

"Employees want AI at work and they won't wait for companies to catch up," she said. "Employees are overwhelmed and under duress at work and they are turning to AI for relief."

But there are risks that come with BYOAI, and Stallbaumer said this should be a wake-up call for company leaders to implement AI plans.

"Don't put your company data at risk," she added. "Provide sanctioned tools so that employees have guidance and know what they're supposed to be doing."

Executives are dragging their feet

While 79% of business leaders understand AI at work is vital to remain competitive, the report showed many simply don't know how to implement it at scale.

"They feel this pressure to show instant ROI," Stallbaumer said. "This uncertainty is stalling vision."

That's despite gains among individual employees. Those who used AI tools reduced the time spent with email by 25% to 45%, according to Microsoft's figures.

"The gains are there," Stallbaumer said. "And now it's a moment for leaders to figure out how to turn those benefits into business value."

The key is to start with a problem like long customer service call times or sorting through a big pile of job applications and then to apply AI to make these processes more efficient.

"People are going to use these tools and so how do [leaders] help people use them safely and securely and against the things that are ultimately going to help them manage cost and improve growth and revenue and the bottom line?" Stallbaumer asked.

Supportive organizations breed 'power users'

Among the employees using AI at work are what the study called "AI power users," or those who tap into AI to make their workload more manageable and enjoyable -- and who save about 30 minutes a day as a result.

"The pace and intensity and volume of work, which really accelerated during the pandemic, has not let up," Stallbaumer said. "The typical person has to read four emails for every one they send, time spent in meetings is up, time spent in after-hours work is up and really it shows no sign of slowing."

But these power users work in supportive organizations, the survey found. Power users are 61% more likely to have heard from their CEO about using generative AI at work, 53% more likely to have received encouragement and 35% more likely to have received AI training for their role. At the same time, only 39% of those using generative AI at work have gotten workplace training.

"Power users are made, not born," Stallbaumer said.

Power users are also more likely to experiment with AI, and they're more likely to stick with AI even if their first attempt at a given task isn't successful.

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