is your workforce prepared for the impact of automation?

Employers need to be ready for the impact automation might have on their workforce

With recent research suggesting that this issue is a source of concern for many people, could your organization benefit from taking a clear and proactive approach to workforce engagement?

The effects of automation

The gradually escalating significance and deployment of automated systems and artificial intelligence in the workplace is not necessarily a new phenomenon, but it is something that seems to be attracting more attention and debate with each passing year.

As far as HR is concerned, these technologies hold a lot of exciting potential. It's important to recognize, however, that members of the workforce could have concerns about the possibility of automation impacting their role, and possibly eliminating it altogether.

A recent survey in the UK by YouGov, backed by the Commission on Workers and Technology, highlighted mixed opinions regarding the impact of automation and technological change in the workplace.

More than four out of ten workers (44 percent) held the opinion that evolution in technology will have a positive effect on their current job, while only 20 percent feared a negative impact.

However, the findings painted a different picture when the question was altered slightly. More than a third (37 percent) of respondents - which equates to more than ten million people across the UK workforce as a whole - admitted they were worried about technology changing their job for the worse in the next decade.

Separate research by global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson, released earlier this year, indicated that relatively few companies and HR functions are fully prepared for the organizational impact and requirements of automation.

The study found that businesses expect automation to account for 22 percent of work being done, on average, within three years.

George Zarkadakis, digital lead for Willis Towers Watson's talent and rewards practice, said the implications of these technologies for HR and skills strategies are "immediate".

He added: "On one hand, the growing use of AI, robotics, free agent workers, contractors, consultants and part-time employees brings with it HR challenges that only few organizations are prepared to tackle.

"On the other hand, many companies recognize the need for breakthrough and innovative approaches - and are reinventing work and how talent and skills combine."

Engaging with the workforce

For those employers that are anticipating an increasingly important role for automation in the years to come, it's vital to keep employees up to date and informed about what this trend means for them.

Here are some strategies that can yield results:

1. Optimize workforce understanding
In order to provide relevant information for employees, first your HR department and decision-makers need to understand the current state of your workforce and how it could be affected by automation. Conducting a labor force analysis can deliver valuable insights into where you currently stand and how your company's methods and technologies could evolve in the near future.

2. Be open and honest
Honesty and a willingness to communicate with staff are powerful qualities that can have a hugely positive impact on employee sentiment and engagement. Be open about the findings of your workforce analysis, your plans for future use of automated tools and how this relates to employees and their roles.

3. Involve employees in planning
Involving the entire workforce in preparations to implement automation will help all workers to feel that they are part of the process. The development of these technologies should be an inclusive, positive trend that creates new opportunities, as opposed to something that eclipses and excludes current staff.

4. Encourage learning and adaptability
Perhaps most significantly of all, the growth of automation can lead to new prospects for employees to learn, adapt and evolve. While technology has the potential to take over some routine tasks, employees can refine and acquire uniquely human skills that robots cannot replicate, such as communication, leadership and customer service.

With the right approach, your organization can ensure that human staff continue to develop and deliver just as much value as any piece of technology.