Dissatisfied UK employees want AI to replace their boss

As UK companies struggle to engage workers, new research shows that one in five employees would trust a robot more than their current manager.

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Helena Young

Last month, employee engagement rates in the UK were uncovered to be amongst the lowest in the world. Now, research has revealed that levels are so low, a significant number of workers would prefer for their manager to be replaced by an AI tool.

Business Name Generator surveyed 1,000 company employees in the UK to examine what’s frustrating today’s workers. The results show that, on average, 26% of respondents think a robot would be better at performing managerial tasks over their current boss.

The same report found that UK employees feel like their work is not being recognised by senior leaders, with 14% of respondents naming being underappreciated as their biggest workplace gripe.

The results reflect a worrying trend in the UK business landscape. As human interaction becomes more infrequent, it seems that leadership skills like communication, leadership, and teamwork are being forgotten, opening the workplace up to conflict.

Lack of appreciation is the biggest pet peeve UK employees have with their boss

Earlier this year, we reported that 80% of workers in the UK don’t believe AI will replace them in the workplace, despite rapid adoption of the technology across all industries in 2023.

Nonetheless, Business Name Generator’s research finds that 18% are hoping that the technology will take over one role: their manager’s.

From micromanaging to favouritism, the report discovered there are a number of common complaints that UK employees have with supervisors. Topping the list of grievances was a feeling of being underappreciated, followed by lack of empathy (12%) and favouritism (12%).

As a result of the economic slowdown, and a fall in real wages, many staff members are feeling undervalued for their efforts.

RankBiggest frustration with current manager% of respondents
1Doesn't show appreciation14.03%
2Lack of empathy12.44%
4Unclear expectations12.14%

A third of respondents to the Business Name Generator survey believed a robot boss would be fairer in making unbiased decisions, suggesting that some respondents feel they may be being overlooked in place of other colleagues.

Younger workers feel least connected to their bosses

The Business Name Generator research also highlights a difference in generational attitudes to managers’ replacement by AI.

One in three respondents aged 18-24 say they would be happy to have a robot boss, compared to just 12% of people over the age of 55.

This group’s comfort with machine supervision could be a result of their coming of working age during the pandemic. Having joined the workforce as remote and hybrid work became the norm, they are used to missing out on face-to-face interaction.

That said, young workers’ discontent with management could be a self-perpetuating cycle. Research shows that 74% of business leaders believe Gen Z is more difficult to work with than any other generation.

Employees think robots display better emotional intelligence than managers

Respondents did also express concerns about having an AI boss. Just under half of employees said they would struggle to see a robot as an authoritative figure, while 43% admitted they would feel scared to have AI software monitoring their performance.

Surprisingly, however, over one in five (22%) admit they’d feel more comfortable talking about their frustrations at work to a robot over their boss. One in four also expressed a belief that a robot boss would help to reduce ‘workplace drama’.

Ironically enough, this suggests that today’s employees view machines as better at managing the ‘human’ elements in the workplace, such as conflict resolution.

Soft skills training could be key to fixing engagement crisis

While it might be easy for managers to feel frustrated by the Business Name Generator report, it does provide important insights that managers can use to develop an engagement strategy for the workforce. Chiefly, the problem of collaboration in today’s online world.

The sudden arrival of virtual meetings and online messaging has blindsided managers, leaving them struggling to implement the human side of their role through a screen.

There is a real threat that employee grumbles could grow into resignations. According to a study by Work Human, unappreciated workers are twice as likely to quit, upping the ante at a time when staff turnover is already at a record rate.

Simple measures such as educating staff members on the importance of teamwork, and investing more in learning and development programs for line managers, could give bosses the toolset they need to rebuild their professional rapport with reports.

According to Reward Gateway, 72% believe they would feel more satisfied at work if they were simply thanked for their hard work.

Leaders who put time and effort into fostering meaningful relationships, and communicate the challenges openly, will ensure employees feel more supported and valued by leaders – boosting staff morale. Now let’s see a machine do that.

More on this topic: how to improve employee engagement in the modern workplace.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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