Understanding the Fear of Becoming Obsolete in the Age of AI
Move over FOMO - there’s a new fear in town, FOBO, the Fear of Becoming Obsolete. FOMO keeps us glued to our social feeds, afraid of not keeping up with trends, but FOBO has us concerned about our jobs. FOBO stems from the anxiety employees feel as emerging technologies threaten to make their skills and expertise irrelevant - seemingly overnight.
With AI advancing at breakneck speed, how can workers avoid being left in its digital wake? FOBO, rising more quickly among college-educated workers over workers without a college degree, has employees and recent grads second-guessing their career choices and scrambling to stay employable.
While the fear is real for some, there is a clear path to combatting FOBO: upskilling. With more than half (57%) of employers who responded to our 2023 Graduate Employability Survey saying some entry-level jobs, teams and skills could be replaced by AI, the need for employees to upskill to remain competitive is clear.
The Rise of FOBO in the Workplace
As technology evolves, so do the skills required to thrive in the workplace. The need for constant upskilling is becoming commonplace, and employees need to learn to strive for improvement without getting burnt out. In the past, new technologies like personal computers, email, and the Internet disrupted workflows and required workers to learn new skills quickly.
Today, AI is the latest transformational technology that is changing how work gets done. The computers' abilities to mimic human language through GenAI have extended beyond digital interfaces, now even starting to revolutionize traditional assembly lines with unprecedented efficiency.
In AI’s nascent state, the fear that certain roles will become obsolete might be overblown. Still, as the technology continues to evolve and improve, the risk increases. The Brookings Institution estimates that one-quarter of U.S. jobs are at risk of being replaced by AI or automation.
Preparing now will help workers better adapt to how their job might change in the future. In this, workers' fears are driving them to continuously seek further training and stay updated with industry trends to prevent technology from making their jobs obsolete.
The fear of becoming obsolete can lead to increased stress and anxiety, decreased job satisfaction and engagement, and disrupted work-life balance. The introduction of AI and the resulting FOBO reaction will likely result in additional employee burnout. Recognizing and addressing FOBO in the workplace is crucial - not only for the well-being of employees but also for fostering a more positive and productive work environment.
Strategies to Address FOBO
With rapidly evolving technologies like AI transforming the workplace, companies should take proactive steps to prepare employees and prevent widespread FOBO. Investing in continuous learning and development opportunities is crucial. In a 2023 study, the consulting firm McKinsey found that employers adopting AI said they expected roughly 20% of their employees will need to be reskilled. Employees agree, with 4 in 5 (82%) believing they will need to acquire new skills (or hone existing ones) at least annually to remain competitive in the workplace.
Effective strategies can include implementing training programs, like how to solve complex problems or tutorials on prompt writing, to teach workers who work with AI to be more efficient and effective, not fear it. Companies can also hold workshops led by internal experts or external partners to help employees learn new technologies hands-on, such as virtual reality simulations. Hosting hackathons focused on using AI and automation to solve real business challenges provides valuable experiential learning as well. Obtaining specialized certificates in emerging fields like AI can also help employees reskill for the future.
Pairing experienced employees with those newer to the organization or industry can provide guidance, reassurance and valuable insights into career growth. Research has shown that younger Gen Z employees who have grown up immersed in the digital world (which increasingly has incorporated AI) report feeling the most threatened by these new technologies. Employers can also encourage open and honest communication between employees and management by creating a work environment where employees feel safe sharing their concerns about job security and career development.
The threat of automation and AI prompts understandable anxiety, but giving in to fear-driven inertia is counterproductive. With strong leadership and proactive collaboration, companies and employees can transform uncertainty into opportunity. Investing in continuous learning helps cultivate an agile workforce that evolves in sync with technological change, which can lead to the added bonus of job satisfaction.
A survey of employees who changed jobs during the Great Resignation found two-thirds were lured to their new organizations in part because of their internal training programs. Offering these types of opportunities help employees feel empowered charting their own path to future-proof skills, and companies attract and retain top talent.
Together, they can creatively integrate emerging technologies to augment human strengths. The future remains unwritten. By facing it with courage, not fear, and with training, not apprehension, we can design an inclusive future with rewarding work for all.