FEATURE1 September 2020

Tackling toxicity: the impact of algorithms at work

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Artificial intelligence could become a tool in the arsenal of businesses looking to prevent employee misconduct and understand more about workplace culture – but there is a fine balance to be struck. By Katie McQuater


Since the #MeToo movement prompted a global conversation about sexual harassment and uncovered multiple stories of workplace misconduct, the issue of how we behave at work is under more scrutiny than ever.

At the same time, algorithms have become an inexorable part of modern life, and now – as well as serving us recommendations on what to watch, listen to, or eat – they are making an impact on the workplace and how people are managed.

With businesses experimenting with new applications of artificial intelligence (AI) to hire recruits and monitor performance, perhaps it was inevitable that the next frontier would be managing people and their behaviour. Advances in natural language processing have given rise to technologies designed to monitor written exchanges between employees, giving firms insights on how staff interact and detecting signs of bullying or harassment.

While the use of AI to pick up harassment in emails appears to be nascent – according to the Guardian, such ...