How to limit the impact of automation on your workforce

The way people work and are managed is constantly evolving. With younger generations entering the workforce with different demands and needs, and technology making new working practices possible, the UK’s workplaces look very different to how they did 20 years ago. And they will probably look different again in another 20 years’ time.

Many people are citing automation as having the biggest impact on working practices in the coming years. Our recent Workforce Horizons study found that businesses believe that 1 in 10 job roles will no longer exist by 2025. Further to this, the Bank of England has estimated that up to 15 million jobs in Britain are at risk of being lost to robots and Boston Consulting Group estimated that, by 2025, up to a quarter of jobs will be replaced by either smart software or robots.

There seems to be a wealth of news stories relating to the potential impact this will have on employees, but it’s important to keep a level head and not be affected by some of the more extreme stories. It’s very unlikely that entire occupations will become automated in the near future, it’s much more likely that certain activities will. This will obviously lead to business processes needing to be altered and job titles redefined but it is doubtful that it will cause a complete revolution of the workplace. We are already seeing examples of this happening – for example, while there are driverless cars and automated check-outs, there is still some form of personal interaction needed to accompany the technology.

So, what does this mean for HR departments attempting to deal with these technological changes? The key is that your individual workers need to see interaction with technology as an opportunity rather than a threat. For example, for HR departments, technology means that tasks such as staff training have become more efficient and recruitment processes are streamlined by the rise of social media. By embracing the concept of automation, and even the use of robotics, for the more transactional tasks, it can actually free up more time for employees to focus on adding real strategic value to the business whilst also improving their own department’s bottom line.

What can businesses do to help employees deal with, and embrace automation?

  • Identify activities that are relationship driven and those that could benefit from automation: by acknowledging the differences, you can better understand what current mix you have in your organisation and therefore recognise the level of change that needs to be implemented. There are a few ways in which this can be done, the easiest (and quickest) is to revisit job descriptions, key responsibilities and day to day activities of your existing staff and using that to establish where technology can improve processes.
  • Map this against your existing employees: by giving yourself a better understanding of where various skills sit within the organisation and mapping this to the above activity, you will have a good understanding of where upskilling is an absolute necessity. This sort of activity can be driven by the HR department, however, business leaders and employees need some level of buy-in too to ensure success.
  • Create your automation champions: by understanding where particular digital skills sit within your organisation, you can then bring together a group of people from a wide range of roles and backgrounds to be champions of the automation cause. It is important that they have differing perspectives and experiences to ensure any changes will benefit the majority of your organisation. This group will attract similarly like-minded digitally savvy workers, as well as driving forward engagement with digital tools within your existing workforce.

What long-term changes should businesses consider?

Communication is crucial – you must be consistently clear with both current and potential employees about what you are trying to achieve through automation and that you will continue to put your employees’ needs first. With the misconceptions out there about digitally forward companies inevitably outpacing their employees, you need to reassure your people that this is not, in fact, the case. No matter how tech savvy your employees are, there are a number of skills that automation will never be able to replace, such as leadership, social acumen, responsibility and imagination. You need to make it clear that you understand this.

Your employer brand is vital to achieving this. It must reflect the emphasis you place on your talent and make sure you stay true to this with your processes. Putting out positive messages about how your company has embraced automation and your ability to engage with digital tools will help to attract the right talent with the coveted digital skills you need in your business.

The key is to ensure there is the right mix of embracing automation and nurturing your personal employee relationships to ensure a productive and valued workforce. As long as human interaction is still the core of business, the workplace will be able to grow and benefit from changing technology rather than be threatened by it.

Jo Matkin, Sales and Marketing Director, Capita Resourcing

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