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How to relieve automation anxiety


We are at the start of a surge in process automation that will transform work in all sectors, professional streams and industries everywhere.

Repetitive, computer-readable tasks are now being handed over to bots that run every day, 24/7. They don’t take coffee breaks, visit dodgy websites or forget to log off. Bots are now both mature and secure.

But somewhat scary

Automation anxiety is an understandable outcome when people’s work patterns change. It has been like this since the late 1700s in England. Every advance in technology has erased jobs. Whole sectors – think of blacksmiths or cottage weavers – have wavered, then evaporated. So will it be with those administrative workers on your payroll now. This year, you will read more about process automation. You will read stuff about 250% productivity gains. You will receive invitations to talks and webinars about ‘Robotic Process Automation’ (formal terminology). You will simultaneously recognise the benefits and realise that a slab of your diligent admin workforce will no longer be needed. Hence Automation Anxiety.

Relief at hand

For everyone affected by automation anxiety, I offer a dose of reality. Here it is:

Since the early days of the industrial revolution, new technologies have constantly disrupted work patterns, often displacing thousands of workers. Yet the amount of work available and needing to be done has remained remarkably constant for more than 250 years.

It turns out that in most cases, a disruptive technology creates or generates new jobs to balance the positions lost. It’s a rough equivalence but it has lasted a long time. It means that your workforce will have new opportunities to do things that add more value to your business – or their own. The challenge is to get your people to see the opportunities. Here’s a thought on that:

Make Process Automation part of something bigger. See it as a contributor to your plans, not a plan in itself.

The first question to ask is not ‘what can process automation do for me?’ but rather ‘what would I do if I could free up all those hours and resources currently locked down doing necessary, but tedious repetitive admin?’ You may want to strengthen sales, expand your range, spend more on marketing, acquire a competitor. The point is to position process automation as a part of a larger goal. Next, promote the opportunities arising from that goal. Talk about the link between these opportunities and freeing up resources via process automation. Challenge your affected workforce to think about their situation. Give them a ‘thinking paper’ with headings like: My Job Now – Pros and Cons, My skills and training, My Reachable Goal. Or run roundtable discussions on the same subjects.

Automation anxiety is part of life in a fast-changing world. It is healthy therefore to step back from the edge and observe longer-term trends. It is then possible to shift your people from automation anxiety to automation opportunity.

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