Business leaders warm to the idea of a robot workforce

While three in four UK employees fear their jobs may be replaced by automation, most business leaders have other plans.

New research into business attitudes towards automation and robotics reveals that 85 per cent of British employers are open to these technologies, believing it will potentially create more jobs than it replaces over the next ten years. These technology-friendly employers see the main benefits to businesses and employees over this period to be enhanced productivity and the development of new skills.

The ‘Workplace More Human’ report, launched today, surveyed the attitudes of 200 business leaders in medium to large organisations as well as 1,000 full or part time employees. It revealed that the workplace is currently undergoing rapid transformation with 54 per cent of employers already automating business processes that were once performed by people. A further 39 per cent plan to automate more processes in the next 12 months.

This is prompting a well-documented fear amongst employees that automation will result in widespread redundancies. While two in three employees associate some level of benefit to workplace automation, three in four also express concerns such as loss of work and the ‘de-socialisation’ of the workplace.

The surprising twist in the usual anti-automation rhetoric, however, is that the research shows that these fears may be unfounded. Decision-makers are leading the charge in championing the benefits of automation. Business leaders believe that 80 per cent of staff will either be retrained to work alongside automation, deployed in other areas or experience no change whatsoever with this advance in technology. In short, there may be no need to fear change.

According to Jo Matkin, managing director at Capita Resourcing, a top-down approach may be best for allaying employee fears and resistance against automation. “Automation holds considerable advantages for companies and employees alike. Yet, employee fears and concerns could present a significant barrier to realising its full potential,” she said.

“In order to achieve the perfect blend between human and machine, organisations should involve HR in their automation strategy from day one. This will help to fully understand the potential impact on the workforce and ensure that employee concerns are addressed and managed. Open communication about automation, and reassuring workers of their unique role is critical.”

Matkin explained that in an increasingly automated world, the million-dollar question will be how to use the efficiency gained through technology to differentiate your business. “Adopting a creative approach to getting human and machine to work together is paramount. In addition, robust skills mapping will become more important in order to attract, retrain and engage the right talent for the future. Savings from efficiency should then be invested to create innovation in the workplace and to tackle future challenges. Early movers that embrace and foster a combination of creativity and technology will gain a significant competitive advantage.”

Praseeda Nair

Kellen Rempel

Praseeda was Editor for from 2016 to 2018.

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