Can AI help Singapore’s workers find happiness?

To grow, ASEAN needs its human capital. However, humans are not robots that can work without rest. Artificial Intelligence (AI) could boost worker happiness in ASEAN while achieving the growth desired.

By Joelyn Chan

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently recognised burnout as an occupational syndrome resulting from chronic work stress. It is characterised by feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism and reduced professional efficacy.

Out of all the workforces in ASEAN, Singaporeans face the greatest risk of burnout. This is especially so for Singaporeans working in certain professions, such as doctors, lawyers and teachers.

Despite working shorter hours, the 2019 Cigna 360 Well-Being Survey found that 92% of working Singaporeans report feeling stressed. This is higher than the international average of 84%. 13% said their stress levels were unmanageable.

Happy employees are less likely to experience burnout

Businesses utilise technology to improve their key performance indicators (KPIs) but should also consider how AI can benefit employees as well. Investing in employee happiness has a positive impact on firms’ bottom lines. Happy workers are 37% more productive and four times more creative than their unhappy counterparts.

Although happiness is not quantifiable, there is behavioural data to indicate one’s happiness. This data can be collected via existing wearable technology.

AI can be used as a tool to monitor happiness

On 9 July 2019, Dr. Kazuo Yano, Fellow and Corporate Officer at Hitachi Ltd., spoke on how AI can increase human happiness and workplace well-being.

Dr Yano speaking at the Hitachi Young Leaders Initiative.

He analysed five billion records gathered over 5,000 workdays, from 468 people working in 10 organisations. Using the behavioural data collected using accelerometers, Dr. Yano could determine if an organisation’s workforce is happy or unhappy.

“Our research also found that the happier the organisation, the higher its productivity.” In happy organisations, employees exhibit more diverse behaviours. Conversely, employees in unhappy organisations, usually stop their activity after 10 minutes and engage in longer periods of inactivity.

It is time for organisations to change their old ways of thinking

For organisations looking for a quick fix, they could simply suggest a reduction of working hours to alleviate burnout or increase staff happiness. However, the issue is far more complex.

Revisiting the role of technology in the workplace could help unlock the path to building a happy, productive workforce. Managers and employers need to shift away from conventional rules and start adopting outcome-oriented rules.

Conventional rules are governed by past assumptions, possibly set by traditional processes or protocols. By focusing on the desired outcomes, employees will have the flexibility and space to utilise technology to improve performance and work shorter hours. This beats futile efforts to fit new technology into old corporate modus operandi.

AI is undoubtedly a useful tool to amplify capabilities. AI can release companies and people from their standardised rules and open doors to limitless new possibilities. But first, ASEAN needs to embrace it and use AI in a way that benefits employees as well as employers.