In our Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Workplace article series we are considering the potential positive impacts that AI could have on the workplace and the possible amendments required to Irish employment law to allow these to happen. In this article we consider the impact on workplaces of employees working longer than the traditional retirement age and how AI can help different generations work together in harmony.
As explored in our ‘active aging’ articles throughout 2018, age in the workplace has been a hot topic of debate in recent years and in particular in 2018. With the publication of the Code of Practice on Longer Working by the WRC and the Retirement and Fixed-Term Contracts Guidelines by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and recent WRC case-law such as Valerie Cox v RTÉ, there is a move away from the traditional retirement age in Ireland and towards longer working. There are many reasons for this move including an extension of the age of receipt of the State pension and the fact that many employees reaching retirement age are healthier and fitter than ever before and simply feel no desire to retire.
This all means that for the first time in history five generations are working together. These generations range from the ‘Linksters’ (as identified by Meagan and Larry Johnson) who have grown up forever connected to technology to the ‘Traditionals’ who are reaching the traditional retirement age or beyond and are choosing to stay in the workplace. Each generation has different expectations and perceptions of what a workplace should be and how work should be carried out. This presents challenges to employers in managing diverse groups of employees and creating a harmony in the workplace. As identified by Meister and Mulcahy (The Future Workplace Experience, McGraw Hill Education, 2017) many employers’ focus then is shifting from generational differences between employees to harnessing ‘generational intelligence’ and trying to harness the intelligence and skills unique to each generation to create a harmonious workplace. AI can help and has helped employers to achieve this harmony for example by the creation of virtual reality workspaces such as those invented by Magic Leap. AI also can help employees near retirement age engage for longer in the workplace while giving employers options to extend employment and to avoid the spectre of increasing age-related discrimination claims.
One feature common to the youngest and oldest generations of workers is a growing desire for the provision of flexible working arrangements from employers. The younger generations of workers value flexible working arrangements to fit around their lives and the older generations of workers often find that flexible working arrangements can aid with active aging and to help to stay in work longer. Generations of workers in the ‘middle’ also find flexible working arrangements useful in family planning by providing greater options to work at home. However, difficulties exist for employers in meeting targets and measuring performance while also providing flexible working solutions for employees. The Irish legislature has not, as yet, provided legislation to focus on flexible working similar to the Flexible Working Regulations 2014 in the UK. The enactment of such legislation would help employers and employees alike in providing some guidance and clarity.
With the lack of legislative guidance on flexible working in Ireland, AI has provided an answer for many employees and employers. Applications such as Cisco Spark provide online rooms that allow for group messaging, video calling and desktop sharing, creating virtual workplaces that can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection. These virtual workplaces give employees the freedom to work from home or from other locations and give employers the assurance that work can still be performed productively, and targets can still be met.
Collaboration is key to unlocking the ‘generational intelligence’ discussed earlier in this article. With many employees choosing to embrace flexible working or for older generations choosing to use flexible working to help them stay in work longer, collaboration then is key for employers to create unity and harness skills unique to different employees and different generations. AI helps employers to foster this unity by creating virtual workspaces such as discussed earlier, to the use of user-friendly apps such as Mircosoft Yammer or Google Hangout. These collaborative workspaces allow intelligence to move between generations allowing older generations to impart experience and skills developed throughout careers to allowing younger generations to teach the use of new technologies.
Irish workplaces have changed rapidly in recent decades. With longer working and the use of technology, the ‘traditional’ Irish workplace no longer exists. This change can be difficult for employers and there are many possible employment law pitfalls for employers such as meeting obligations under new active aging guidance or avoiding disputes between inter-generational workers caused by varying work styles and practices. The gradual introduction of flexible working legislation might help solve some of these issues for employers and the greater use of AI can help create greater flexible working solutions for employers and employees. As discussed in previous articles, the introduction of a national AI strategy has been called for in this series, in national media and by many commentators and any such strategy should consider inter-generational working and AI solutions as part of its remit.
In times where employers continue to explore the exciting world of AI in the workplace, we continue to explore its employment law possibilities and effects. In the final instalment of our series we will reflect on our 2018 series.
Please click on the following links to read Part 1 (An Employment Law Perspective), Part 2 (AI-Assisted Recruitment & Employment Equality Law), Part 3 (AI and Gender Equality) and Part 4 (AI, Disability and Accessibility).
For further information on AI in the workplace and the early employment law issues contact Catherine O’Flynn, Head of Department or Darran Brennan, Solicitor in the William Fry Employment & Benefits Department.
Contributed by Catherine O’Flynn and Darran Brennan