AI Could Supercharge an Always-on Culture and Curb a Shorter Work Week


He’s the founder and CEO of Kognitos, a company that uses generative artificial intelligence to automate business processes. As the company’s original idea man, Gill expects to work weekends.

He also expects more go-getters will feel pressed to do the same as AI bores deeper into the workplace.

Much of the chatter about how AI might rewrite our job descriptions revolves around the idea that tireless bots will take over much of the drudgery. The theory is that this would free us up for so-called deep work or more creative stuff — and maybe make it easier to move to a four-day workweek.

Steve Cohen, the hedge fund titan and majority owner of the New York Mets, appears to back this theory. In early April, he said that leisure businesses could see stepped-up demand because of it — meaning people will have time for more time rounds of golf.

Yet Gill sees another possibility beyond extra time on the fairway: AI could supercharge an “always-on” culture and pressure at least some of us to work more, not less.

“Regular companies will use AI just to stay in the race — have AI make decisions that humans are needed for — and the companies will turn into 24/7 machines,” he told Business Insider.

He expects that if his customers become used to getting service on the weekend from AI, they might expect that level of response all the time.

“Humans will do less manual work, but they’ll be on call all the time because the companies are not going to sleep because it’s all about competing with your competition, which is not going to sleep,” he said.

Of course, if people need to oversee AI bots at all hours, workers could take on babysitting duty at different times of the day. And that might still add up to fewer than 40 hours a week for some employees. But maybe not for others, Gill argues.

“My customers take a day off on Saturday and Sunday,” so Gill can tell his engineers to rest on the weekend. But as he sees how AI will change how humans work, “people are going to get more and more tired — and busier,” Gill said. “Not across the board, but in the majority case.”

Looking for a payoff

Not everyone thinks AI will quash dreams of a four-day workweek. Emily Rose McRae, senior director analyst at the research firm Gartner, expects the idea to go from “radical to routine.” She told BI that when it comes to AI being our taskmaster, it might be hard for companies to justify the extra expense of cranking up operations to run all day and night.

“There needs to be some sort of payoff for those costs. And, ‘Our competitors are doing it’ is only going to work if there’s demand for that kind of coverage,” McRae said. She added that many companies have, in recent years, cut the level of service they once offered because employees who feel overworked are pushing back.

McRae thinks competitive pressure might even drive more companies to experiment with a four-day workweek — before leadership might feel ready — so bosses can hang onto their people. Also, going 24/7 would be difficult because it could require too many workers, she said.

“We fundamentally do not have enough people in the workforce,” McRae said. “AI makes you able to do things faster, not go 24 hours.”

Simon Johnson, a professor of global economics and management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, told BI many white-collar employees already feel pressure to work extra hours. “I don’t see how AI is going to help with that,” he said.

Yet Johnson said he expects the four-day workweek will materialize. But when it comes to AI, he said, one big question is what new tasks the technology might create in the next five to 10 years that we can’t envision. The answer could help shape our weeks.

“It could be more pressure to work,” he said, adding that it could also free people up to focus on more creative pursuits at work or on their own time.

For now, though, the productivity gains for existing tasks that AI can take on aren’t very big, Johnson said.

Everyday workers could gain if the technology generates many more things for us to do. But if it doesn’t, and it starts putting people out of work, that would create more competition for the remaining jobs.

“You don’t pay the workers more money or let them work shorter hours in that situation,” he said.

Alexey Korotich, VP of product at Wrike, a work-management platform, told BI that because AI will give workers real-time access to information whenever they want, it could be harder for some employees to step away and add to the pressure to be “always on.”

He pointed to the gains brought by email over snail mail. Rather than taking days or weeks, a message could be delivered in seconds, making companies more efficient.

“Email solved their problem. But it then created another problem, which is it is so cheap to send emails that humanity now struggles to respond to those emails,” Korotich said.

It’s management’s choice.

Even if AI allows many of us to work less, it will be important that bosses do so as well, Dale Whelehan, CEO of 4 Day Week Global, a nonprofit that advocates for a shorter workweek, told BI. Otherwise, workers who hope to climb into management will feel pressure to mirror that behavior and work more.

Whelehan said that, ultimately, management will decide whether AI will lead to job losses or enable a four-day workweek.

“Technology was the great hope in the early 2000s. It was going to lead to huge job losses, and instead, it didn’t. It created loads of new jobs. It created huge amounts of innovation, but what it didn’t do was actually make our lives easier when it comes to having greater work-life balance,” he said.

For his part, Kognitos’ Gill thinks many people’s desire to accumulate more and stay ahead means their workweeks might not top out at four days, even with the help of AI.

In his view, the number of hours someone works in a week isn’t necessarily directly tied to technology. “It’s just related to ‘Is there an urge to be better than your neighbor?'”

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