OnPoint For Organizations

Robophobia Causing Unprecedented Levels of Workplace Stress – Is it killing your profits?

Posted by Marie L. Clark on Oct 12, 2017 6:11:00 AM

Robophobia – fear of losing your job to ‘robots’ in the form of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

Workplace stress has reached unprecedented levels due in part to Robophobia.  The consequences of fear in the workplace are well known and include lowered performance, productivity loss, increased absences, attrition and yes, lost profits.

Why are employees stressed…

According to a Udemy Business Study, work place stress at an all-time high. One top stressor is fear of a Robotic uprising – the impact of AI, robots and automation. The study finds millennials are the most stressed out generation, fearing that their skills will not be sufficient to carry them through to retirement. Generation X is also worried their jobs will be taken over by robots.

Fear Kills Productivity

Tony Schwarts writes “The most fundamental, powerful and enduring fuel for performance, it turns out, is a feeling of safety and trust – in ourselves and in the world around us.” This is especially important in the workplace. For companies to survive in the 4th Industrial Revolution, corporate leaders need to foster environments of contentment and security.

“Ninety-five percent of millennials and Gen Xers surveyed said they believe that company-provided professional development programs, skills training and reskilling is important for their long-term career success and wellbeing.”

Overwhelmingly, workers are actively addressing their fears by learning new skills, as they see this as a critical factor in long-term success, well-being and job security. However, the intense pressure they feel to learn new skills and the rapid pace of change in the evolving workplace is only causing additional stress. Today’s workers look to their companies to sponsor skills training. Company sponsored programs for retooling and upskilling employees to thrive in the 4th Industrial Revolution will go a long way to decrease employee stress levels and increase employee overall welfare and productivity.

Fear kills profits…

Productivity is not the only thing impacted by stress. According to Forbes, workplace stress is responsible for up to $190B in annual US healthcare costs. Soaring healthcare costs also influence company profitability. To illustrate, in recent years, General Motors spent more on health care than it did on steel. Simply said, if corporate leaders are not providing a healthy, nurturing, low-stress environment, they’re killing their own productivity and hence killing their profits.

Start with your Message…

The level of fear among the workforce is ever increasing in part because of the media hype surrounding Robophobia. Careful strategy and messaging is critical to avoid the potentially devastating negative consequences. Craig Roth, Research VP with Gartner, advises that “over the next five years an effective, consistent approach toward automation decisions will differentiate organizations that thrive from automation from those that lose productivity, morale and jobs.” In other words, some organizations will survive and some will not based on the decisions they make regarding automation and how they deliver that message to their employees.  

Business leaders - take care in how you convey your message for the future as it has a direct effect on productivity and an indirect effect on profits. Affirm that employees will have greater opportunities if their job undergoes some level of automation. Provide employees with training to learn the necessary skills to keep relevant in their workspace and let them know that their efforts are valued.

Create a clear picture of the future…

Employees need a clear picture of how automation, robots and AI will impact their work environment and their future. Realistically, tasks will be automated, not entire jobs. Gartner estimates that "Fewer than 5% of occupations can be entirely automated using current technology. However, about 60% of occupations could have 30% or more of their constituent activities automated."

“Drive out fear, so that everyone may work more effectively and productively.”

– Edward Deming

Assure your employees the mundane, repeatable, reproduceable, boring tasks that everyone hates will be removed from many jobs and employees will be able to increasingly spend their time on value added contributions. Robotics will supercharge employees, making them better and faster. With the help of robots, employees will be able to do more autonomously, without having to depend on IT. Robots will make employees smarter by providing information in real time to support decision-making.

Help your employees realize that robots will create new jobs, and not just for technical professionals. As with human employees through the HR function, robots will need to be tracked, trained, monitored, tuned and measured on performance. This is the birth of a new function – the oversight of all the new robotic assets and addressing their needs.


Involve your employees in the Conversation…robophobia creates better smarter faster employees.jpg

Essentially, leaders need to strive to be transparent while delivering a consistent, positive message – “We want to adopt robotics to enhance your capabilities as people so you can focus on what’s important.”

For leaders, it’s about building trust with employees by keeping your word, involving employees in the conversation, and getting them excited about how automation is going to make them better, smarter, faster...

I had the privilege of attending Gartner's Tech Growth & Innovation conference in June, hosted by Hank Barnes (@Barnes_Hank.) There were many great take-aways. "Workplace Stress" is the third in a 3-part series of posts exploring how to win the war on talent, avoid Robophobia and turn your data into a revenue stream.

Topics: robophobia, Fear, RPA, Artificial Intelligence, robotic process automation, AI, stress