Employees Tap ChatGPT, but Keep It Quiet

The use of generative AI isn't going away in the workplace — and it shouldn't. So employers must recognize its role, benefits, and the policies needed to manage it.

Nathan Eddy

February 18, 2023

5 Min Read
ChatGPT being used on a smartphone

As public interest in artificial intelligence tools thanks to technologies like chatbot ChatGPT grows, employees are using it in the workplace, albeit secretly.

More than two-thirds (68%) of respondents to a Fishbowl survey who said they use AI tools for work-related tasks are keeping it quiet.

Overall usage of AI-powered tools at work has climbed to 43%, according to the study, which gathered responses from 11,793 professionals from companies including Amazon, Google, IBM, and Twitter.

Not even a third (32%) of respondents who are using tools such as ChatGPT for work-related tasks are doing so with their bosses' knowledge.

Related: Can AI Help Automate IT Operations?

There are several possible answers for why employees are using these technologies in secret, according to Mike Parkin, senior technical engineer at Vulcan Cyber.

"It seems likely that at least some of these folks are worried that if their boss knew that ChatGPT could generate answers for them, they would be out of a job," he said. "There's been a long history of organizations using automation to improve efficiency and their bottom line. There is a very real worry that if a conversational AI can do the job, why pay for an organic worker."

While there are a lot of legitimate uses for a conversational AI, workers may be (perhaps rightly) worried that if their employer knew they were leveraging ChatGPT to help do their job, their boss might question their value, he said.

"There are some genuine advantages to a conversational AI like ChatGPT, and we're already seeing organizations developing applications that leverage the underlying GPT-3 engine," Parkin said. "But there are some ethical questions about using an AI to replace organic workers."

Cliff Jurkiewicz, vice president of global strategy at Phenom, pointed out that individuals are finding value using generative AI, such as ChatGPT, in their personal lives, and it has quickly moved into their professional lives.

He sees many parallels between ChatGPT's rapid adoption and the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) era borne from Apple introducing the iPhone.

"Some organizations embraced BYOD immediately, while others took time," he noted. "Regardless, I doubt you could find an organization today that doesn't enable BYOD. We'll see this same adoption — only much faster — with ChatGPT in the workplace."

Developing Policy Around Use of Generative AI

Any organization's policy around the use of ChatGPT and other AI tools should be developed at multiple levels, though ultimately it rests at the top.

"Management can, and will, dictate what their team members can do, and there will probably be a company culture aspect to it as well, but ultimately the policies need to be set at the top," Parkin said.

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Jurkiewicz agreed that all organizations need to be thinking about generative AI, as it will have a ripple effect across all organizations similar to BYOD — and it will happen much faster.

"ChatGPT has the same disruptive power as BYOD and therefore will require policies," he added.

From a responsibility standpoint, organizations should review existing policies around technologies and work to determine if they are already prepared for generative AI in the workplace and/or work product.

"Once the policy question is clarified, managers should understand what elements of the role and deliverables could benefit from these tools," Jurkiewicz noted. "Employees must disclose their use so that the results can be measured and assessed."

Parkin of Vulcan pulled quote


Being open about bringing in generative AI tools will allow all those involved to understand if they fit inside the workplace and where, as well as the policies that will govern the experience, he said.

Andrew Barratt, vice president at Coalfire, believes management should embrace the tool and understand where and how the data is used.

Download our free report: AI-Assisted Coding: What Software Developers Need to Know

"There will be data privacy concerns if employees are copying to and from ChatGPT information that is sensitive. But used well, it could be a significant efficiency and morale boost for certain users," he said.

The Power of Generative AI

ChatGPT and the underlying potential of the GPT engine beneath it, along with the next generation of AI that competitors like Google are developing, are very much akin to the industrial robots that streamlined manufacturing, according to Parkin.

"They offer a range of advantages but introduce additional risks that are still being identified as the technology matures," he said.

Ultimately, an employer must look at the use cases that an AI-based language processor such as ChatGPT could be used for, as well as potentially other forms of consumer-side AI, such as virtual assistants, Barratt said.

Barratt Coalfire pulled quote


"Leadership should take a view on how to enable staff productivity using these tools because those that don't will ultimately just get left behind," he said.

Jurkiewicz explained that from a business standpoint, the initial benefit of generative AI is efficiency with accuracy — it's about doing tasks faster.

Then, over time, because it will constantly learn, it will be about doing things better, and ultimately, it will be about performing tasks better and faster with increasing levels of precision.

"I encourage people to use ChatGPT," Jurkiewicz said. "Learn from it, personalize it, and so on. This is not going away. Embrace it and see how intelligent and creative the user is."

About the Author(s)

Nathan Eddy

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for ITProToday and covers various IT trends and topics across wide variety of industries. A graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, he is also a documentary filmmaker specializing in architecture and urban planning. He currently lives in Berlin, Germany.

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