The Impact of Information Technologies Such as Artificial Intelligence on Worker Stress

Faculty Fellow, RIETI

The development and diffusion of new information technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) continue apace, but how are these factors likely to change work styles and worker well-being? More than a few observers take the view that AI will deprive workers of their employment and constitutes a threat to them. However, new information technologies such as AI might affect not simply employment and wages, but also the way workers approach their work, and could influence aspects of their well-being, such as job satisfaction, stress, and health, in a variety of ways.

Relationship between technological innovation, employment, and wages

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, economists have raised the possibility of "technological unemployment," in which employment is lost as a result of technological innovation. In addition, from the 1980s onward, findings of much research by labor economists have shown that the emergence of "skill-biased technological change," the benefits of which accrue only to highly skilled workers causes an increase in wage disparity. In recent years, there have been forecasts that new information technologies such as AI will deprive many of their work, and concerns that this will result in even more serious wage disparities have frequently been expressed.

However, the effects of technological innovation are not limited to employment, unemployment, and wages, but a wider range of issues, for example, on the content of tasks in which workers are engaged, on the workplace environment, and on job satisfaction, stress, and health. Since the range of tasks to which new information technologies can be applied is extraordinarily broad, there should be both positive and negative effects occurring in multiple directions.

Increased job satisfaction and stress caused by the diffusion of new information technologies

In the project of the Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society (RISTEX) of the Japan Science and Technology Agency, we implemented an original survey of approximately 10,000 workers, and analyzed the impact of new information technologies on approaches to work and on well-being. One interesting outcome of this analysis is that, as shown in the Figure, the more advanced the stage of adoption for new information technologies such as AI, the larger is the increase in worker job satisfaction. Conversely, there is a tendency for work-related stress to also increase.

Figure. Changes in Well-Being and Tasks as a Result of the Introduction of New Information Technologies (Subjective Impact)
Figure. Changes in Well-Being and Tasks as a Result of the Introduction of New Information Technologies (Subjective Impact)
Source: JST-RISTEX Planned Survey Report for Fiscal 2017 (Principal Investigator: Isamu Yamamoto)
Note: These are the results of collating responses to the question of how much change has occurred (or how much change is forecasted to occur) in tasks and well-being as a result of the introduction of new information technologies

Increasing task complexity

It is likely that this is related to changes in the content of tasks in which workers are engaged. Because, as shown in the Figure, the more advanced the stage of adoption for information technologies, the greater is the shift in the nature of tasks performed by the worker from highly repetitive routine tasks to non-routine tasks that require complex problems to be resolved. This suggests that when AI technologies are adopted, there is a tendency for workers to move away from tasks that can be accomplished by such technologies, and instead use the time thus freed up to concentrate on more complex tasks that can only be performed by humans.

We interpret this as meaning that many of those workers who have experienced the introduction of new information technologies feel work-related stress as a consequence of increasing task complexity. At the same time, the more complex the work, the greater is the sense of satisfaction when it is accomplished, resulting in a rising trend for job satisfaction.

As shown in the figure, the influence of AI technologies on well-being and approaches to work is complex, it is important to conduct more analyzes on the changes brought about by the emergence and subsequent diffusion of technological innovation.

Job demands-resources model

As shown in the example analysis presented above, the spread of new information technologies may have positive effects, such as an increase in job satisfaction, but it may also cause negative outcomes such as an increase in stress, and arguably it is necessary to find some way of dealing with this issue.

In such situations the "job demands-resources model" developed in the occupational health studies provides a useful insight. According to this model, the stress on the worker rises as the demands of the job increase, whereas stress decreases when more resources are made available.

In this context, "job demands" includes the number and difficulty of tasks. This corresponds to the introduction of new information technologies, as a consequence of which task difficulty increases, and new skills and knowledge must be acquired to cope. In other words, the increase in stress shown above can be interpreted as an increase in job demands caused by the introduction of new information technologies.

On the other hand, "job resources" incorporates a range of factors, such as the support and leadership of line managers, assistance from and trust relationships with coworkers, and efforts made by human resource management. A variety of measures and methods to reinforce those resources is theorized to exist at the firm, workplace, individual, and other levels (Shaufeli et alia (2009), Shimazu and Shaufeli (2009)).

"Job resources" mitigate increases in stress

We have also reviewed the nature of the influence of "job resources" on worker stress and mental health in the course of projects at RIETI. For example, in Kuroda and Yamamoto (2018a, 2018b, 2016), and Sato (2015), the panel data used made it clear that factors such as unambiguous work goals, the amount of individual discretion allowed, a low level of unscheduled work, a workplace culture not based on the assumption of long working hours, the volume of communication between line managers and their subordinates, and the level of ability of line managers all led to improvements in the state of worker mental health, even after controlling for wages, continuous years of service, and other individual attributes. Namely, it is precisely these factors that can be interpreted as "job resources."

Since new information technologies such as AI generate a positive influence on work approach and individual well-being, it would seem reasonable to facilitate the maximum possible enjoyment of such benefits. However, negative side effects such as increases in work-related stress and deterioration in health may also occur. Extracting the maximum benefit from the positive aspects of new information technologies requires that "job resources" be strengthened, and that side effects be minimized.

August 24, 2018
  • Kazuma Sato (2015) "The Impact on Mental Health of Promotion to Management" RIETI Discussion Paper Series 15-J-062
  • Schaufeli, Wilmar, Arnold Bakker, and Willem van Rhenen (2009) "How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism," Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30
  • Shimazu, and Wilmar Schaufeli (2009) "Is Workaholism Good or Bad for Employee Well-being? The Distinctiveness of Workaholism and Work Engagement among Japanese Employees," Industrial Health, 47(5),
  • Kuroda, Sachiko and Isamu Yamamoto (2016), "Workers' Mental Health, Long Work Hours, and Workplace Management: Evidence from workers' longitudinal data in Japan," RIETI Discussion Paper Series 16-E-017
  • Kuroda, Sachiko and Isamu Yamamoto (2018a), "Why Do People Overwork at the Risk of Impairing Mental Health?" Journal of Happiness Studies (DOI: 10.1007/s10902-018-0008-x)
  • Kuroda, Sachiko and Isamu Yamamoto (2018b), "Good Boss, Bad Boss, Workers' Mental Health and Productivity: Evidence from Japan," Japan and the World Economy

October 24, 2018