Business people planning on whiteboard

Is the future of your tech stack built on the foundation of your people?

Senior leaders often show reluctance to adopt emerging technologies and communicate poorly with others, an EY survey shows.

In our hyper-accelerated working world, the dividing line between the present and future is becoming more of a struggle to pin down. Is tomorrow’s next big technology actually today’s, or has it already become yesterday’s?

Employees at the front lines of transformations must increasingly confront this dissonance in which they are familiar with technology but don’t see it in their workplaces — while senior leaders offer mixed messages and competing priorities about what the future will bring.

The EY Emerging Tech at Work 2023 survey, a new study of workers from across industries and generations, reveals that 89% of respondents believe adopting emerging technologies is beneficial for their company, and 79% of respondents consider themselves familiar with emerging technologies shaping digital transformation today.

Employees familiar with each technology

(very/somewhat familiar)

Yet 59% of employees overall¹ say senior leaders at their companies (including those at the C-suite and vice president levels) have been slow to embrace emerging technologies and 48% believe that the senior leaders do not see the value of adopting them. We also see this disconnect across ranks, with managers (64%) even more likely than non-managers (50%) agreeing that senior leaders are slow to embrace emerging technologies. In fact, 59% of senior leaders say emerging technologies are typically outdated by the time they are fully adopted, compared with 48% of entry-level workers.

By asking the right questions, technology executives can gain clarity into the opportunities and potential barriers to adopting emerging technologies and business transformation. These efforts present opportunities to create more human-centric models of technology adoption that will support business success, with more clear messaging and relevant upskilling — driving results today that will redefine tomorrow.

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Chapter 1

Advancing the adoption curve

Buzzy consumer-facing technologies are often more prominent in the media than they are in the workplace.

When tech leaders better understand how their employees perceive emerging technologies, they are better positioned to implement the ones seen as most effective and valuable, in a timely manner. Our survey shows that, among the 79% of employees who are familiar with emerging technologies overall, many technologies may have already shed the “emerging” label:

Employees already see some emerging technologies as established in the workplace

In fact, among employees familiar with each emerging technology, 70% perceive cloud/serverless computing as an “established” technology in the workplace; more than half (58%) also consider biometrics as an “established” technology. Respondents indicate that both are fundamentally helpful in employees’ day-to-day work, as well as provide opportunities for career growth or free up time for much-needed higher-value work.

Additionally, 23% of survey respondents currently use artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) to automate repetitive tasks and another 60% are willing to use it for that purpose in the future. According to respondents familiar with each technology, at least half agree that the top three emerging technologies that will be widely used in business within three years are generative AI (55%), the metaverse (50%) and AI/ML (50%). And employees familiar with generative AI view it as one of the emerging technologies with the capability to improve efficiency (61%), speed (62%) and productivity (60%) in their current day-to-day work.

Looking beyond, quantum computing was seen as the most futuristic by those familiar with it: 32% of respondents familiar with the technology expect it to be in wider use after three years. More respondents said that quantum creates opportunities for business growth than any other technology polled, and those who say their company would benefit from it associate quantum computing with an ability to drive speed (58%), creativity (43%) and quality work (63%).

Our survey also highlights how more specialized technologies, such as quantum and edge computing, seem to have already proven their professional value more than some consumer-facing technologies. The findings suggest that media buzz offers a complicating factor in setting narratives: While virtual and augmented reality and the metaverse have been prominent in the headlines, they do not appear to be permeating inside workplaces.

Yet more specialized emerging technologies whose application and use may be understood by fewer people are making an impact today. Among those who are familiar with each technology and whose company has started or fully adopted it, over 8 in 10 say digital twin (85%), edge computing (86%), blockchain (88%) and quantum computing (89%) have had a positive impact on them.

Key takeaway

Relevant use cases and purposeful upskilling can demonstrate how emerging technologies could be applied for work, not just play, to help bridge the adoption gap where there is a strategic business case for the new technology.

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Chapter 2

Employees are interested — but are senior leaders?

Top execs have work to do when it comes to making the case for change and then following through.

Amid this flurry of emerging technology, with such a high priority placed on transformations, why is new technology adoption so difficult to achieve? Our survey reveals much to ponder for senior leaders.

Your workforce is experiencing emerging technologies at work today

As shown in this chart, most employees say they are open to or already adopting emerging technology into their day-to-day personal and professional lives, findings that skew toward more willingness for younger generations in the workforce. For example, Gen Z and millennial employees are more likely than other generations of employees to say they currently use generative AI to draft emails (24% for Gen Z and 27% for millennial vs. 12% for Gen X and 6% for baby boomers). Yet many of them do not feel empowered to use, adopt and embrace emerging technologies, especially if they don’t see their senior leadership team leading the way.

Wholly 85% of senior leaders say they recognize the benefits of adopting emerging technologies at their company. But that point of view is not shared among the full cohort of respondents: 48% of them say that senior leaders don’t see the value. And these numbers only increase when looking specifically at younger generations: 58% for Gen Z and 53% for millennials, compared with 42% for both Gen X and baby boomers.

And while 59% of employees overall say emerging technologies are advancing fast enough to meet their company’s needs, half (52%) also say these advances are typically out of date at the point of full adoption — an assessment that senior leaders (59%), compared with entry-level employees (48%), also agree with.

Key takeaway

Most people readily embrace technology in their personal lives — think of smartphones and apps that are used for everything from finance to fitness. The “business case” for adoption is defined in terms of convenience and efficiency. People similarly need the right incentives from their workplaces.

Business people discussing on a busy office corridor

Chapter 3

Merging perceptions with reality

Workers know of barriers to adopting emerging technologies but are optimistic about the benefits.

Our results illustrate that most employees have positive reactions about how emerging technology at their company has impacted, or would impact, their role. And 9 out of 10 employees surveyed believe their company will benefit from adopting emerging technologies. For example, 51% of employees prefer to use an AI bot for IT/tech support than turn to a human (49%). And 72% of employees familiar with generative AI agree that having the technology at their company would change their role for the better.

When asked to choose, 53% of survey respondents would prefer to work for a company that uses emerging technologies, but employees also recognize that there are barriers to emerging tech adoption in the workplace. One of the primary barriers for adoption recognized by employees surveyed, for all emerging technologies in the data set, is cybersecurity risks. Employees agreed that cybersecurity training for new technologies is important and that, ultimately, the high cyber risk will not stop many from adopting emerging technology. This chart indicates the key barriers to the adoption of emerging technologies in the workplace according to respondents familiar with each of the emerging technologies:

Key barriers to the adoption of emerging technologies in the workplace

Key takeaway

Dialogue is important in understanding where your employees are in their own technology journeys, what they’re comfortable in pursuing, and how you can engage them in new ways of working. Particularly within the domain of AI, try to orient the discussion around overall job satisfaction and productivity, demonstrating that you’re being thoughtful about balancing the promise of the technology without seeking justification for job cuts.

Successful employees communicating at briefing in office

Chapter 4

The way forward for emerging technology

When execs know their people and build strong use cases, employees and technologies align quickly.

Generally, implementing the right emerging technologies for you and your employees will result in improvements in efficiency, speed and quality of work. But senior leadership and the rest of their teams often fail to align around use cases and know little about barriers to adoption and employee perceptions. Understand that digitally empowering your teams is no longer a top-down, linear model or a one-sided discussion. Instead:


Workers overwhelmingly say they know about the top technologies making waves today. Yet senior executives — even in their own assessments of each other — are not adopting those technologies at the speed possible, and workers overall don’t feel empowered to embrace them in their daily work. It’s another reminder that digital transformation is as much a people initiative as a technological one, requiring leaders to keep humans at the center of their thinking and make the case for change with their people in mind.