The Rise of Layoff Anxiety: The Impact of Artificial Intelligence in Asia
In recent years, the rapid advancement of artificial intelligence (AI) has revolutionised industries across the globe, transforming the way we work and live. While AI offers numerous benefits and possibilities, its increasing adoption in Asia has given rise to layoff anxiety or more specifically ‘AI anxiety’.
Asia has emerged as a hub for AI innovation, with countries such as China, Japan and South Korea making significant strides in research, development, and implementation. From manufacturing and healthcare, to finance and customer service, AI is being integrated into various industries to improve efficiency, accuracy, and productivity. While this technology promises numerous advantages, including cost reduction and enhanced competitiveness, it has also sparked concerns among workers about the future of their employment.
The increasing use of AI technologies has instilled a sense of uncertainty and apprehension among workers in Asia. Many fear that their roles will be replaced by intelligent machines capable of performing tasks faster, more accurately, and at a lower cost. This anxiety is particularly prevalent in industries heavily reliant on repetitive or routine-based jobs, such as manufacturing assembly lines or customer support centres.
Moreover, the pace of AI adoption has created a skills gap, as employees worry about their ability to adapt and upskill to meet the demands of an AI-driven workforce. The fear of being left behind and rendered obsolete adds to the overall layoff anxiety experienced by workers.
Several factors contribute to the intensification of layoff anxiety in the face of increasing AI implementation. Firstly, media coverage often highlights the transformative potential of AI, emphasising its ability to automate tasks traditionally performed by humans. These narratives tend to overshadow discussions about the potential for AI to create new job opportunities and complement human capabilities.
Secondly, a lack of transparent communication from employers about AI implementation strategies can fuel speculation and fear. Companies must proactively engage with their workforce, providing clear explanations of how AI will be integrated and assuring employees of their value in the changing landscape.
Lastly, the absence of comprehensive retraining and reskilling programs exacerbates layoff anxiety. Workers require opportunities to acquire new skills that align with emerging roles in the AI era. Governments, businesses, and educational institutions must collaborate to establish robust and accessible programs aimed at upskilling the workforce and facilitating career transitions.
Here are some example initiatives from various countries across Asia:
In 2016 Japan launched its Society 5.0 initiative that focuses on harnessing AI and other emerging technologies to create a human-centred society. The initiative emphasises the importance of human resource development and aims to provide training and support for individuals to adapt to the changing technological environment. The government has invested approximately JPY26 billion (approximately USD 189 million) in Society 5.0-related projects.
China launched its National New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan. It focuses on advancing AI research, innovation, and industrial application. The plan emphasises the need for workforce transformation and the development of new job opportunities with the increase usage of AI in day-to-day work life. China has invested heavily in AI education and training, with reports indicating that the country plans to establish over 100 AI-related open platforms and train more than 5 million AI professionals by 2030.
India has recognised the potential impact of AI on its workforce and has taken steps to address layoff anxiety. The National AI Strategy, launched in 2018, aims to leverage AI for social and economic growth while ensuring inclusive development. The initiative focuses on building AI capabilities, investing in research and development, and building a robust AI ecosystem.
What has been the impact to the wellbeing of employees? The increase of layoff anxiety has increased the need to prioritise the mental wellbeing of the workforce. Utilising internal wellbeing programmes such as Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) as well as other mental health initiatives will support leaders with managing the workforce’s mental wellbeing during times of uncertainty. With Asia still in some ways recovering from the last few years that brought drastic change to the regions, the increase in AI is another change the workforce and organisations must manage. Therefore, mental wellbeing initiatives should aim to address the psychological impact of job uncertainties. This can involve offering mindfulness programmes, stress management workshops and promoting healthy work-life balance.
The rise of AI in Asia has undoubtedly sparked concerns about job security and triggered layoff anxiety among workers. However, by prioritising transparent communication, investing in reskilling initiatives, and fostering a culture of adaptability, the region can navigate this transformative period effectively. The proactive collaboration between employers and employees is crucial in ensuring that AI is harnessed to boost human potential, rather than replace it, ultimately leading to a future where technology and human labour collaborate and coexist harmoniously.
Author: Chris Mack, Programme Manager, Wellbeing