A recent research commissioned by UiPath on the future of employees and RPA technology found that two thirds of the surveyed companies plan to increase RPA software spend by more than 5% over the next 12 months.
It is thus clear that automation is already having a profound effect on the world of work, and that its impact is actually expected to become more and more significant. This is, of course, very good news, but it comes with a stringent need for adequate planning in order to prepare efficiently for a future that takes into account employees’ experiences of, and feelings related to working side by side with bots.
Under these circumstances, how are organisations to settle automation fears?
We find out from a Deloitte study that 42% of companies expect to be fully automated within five years. What do these companies expect the most prominent consequence of automation to be?
“Many of them focus on the increased demand for specifically human skills, like technical skills (65%), complex problem solving (63%), cognitive abilities (55%), or social skills (54%).”
However, despite awareness of the many benefits of disruptive technologies like RPA or intelligent automation (e.g., higher productivity, facilitation of remote work), employees are still afraid of losing their jobs, or of having to somehow (“who knows exactly how?”) update their digital skills.
The problem is that jobs at highest risk of automation are manual, routine, and lower paid, and that the employees who perform these jobs tend to be less educated and hence find re-skilling more difficult. Therefore, in order to be able to leverage technological advances to the fullest, companies must find ways to settle RPA fears.
If we were to find only one word, an all-encompassing word, for how these fears can be managed, that would be communication. Employees’ resistance to the digital change is underpinned by their lack of understanding of what bots can and cannot do.
Consequently, any good solution meant to settle automation fears is based on conveying a crystal clear message to the workforce about its short- and long-term impact. They will most likely be happy to find out about benefits such as quick return on investments, compliance facilitation, increased cybersecurity.
More than anything though, your team should understand that RPA is a people-first strategy that makes people really matter: it allows them to let go of boring, repetitive, monotonous tasks, like populating Excel files with raw data, because the bots can do it faster and error free, and focus on higher-value, more creative jobs.
Incidentally, automation benefits such as those above-mentioned justify the claim that robotic process automation has an important competitive advantage; you can read more about that here.
How to settle RPA and intelligent automation fears
Let us now make a list of automation fears (both RPA and intelligent automation), and of the ways that they can be addressed. The phrase “automated out of one’s job” is, in fact, at the centre of these fears.
1. Fear of the unknown
The idea is rather simple, and has a lot to do with projections borrowed from classical sci-fi movies; it is thus based more in fiction than in fact. The discourse is structured by the assumption that “Robots can only be trusted up to a certain point, before they become too intelligent and aim to take over their creators’ power”.
The negative scenario of software robots replacing human workers in their attempt to gain control of the world, is the kernel of this fear. This is why it is crucial to educate your employees, helping them to discern reality from movie plots.
CIOs should acknowledge that RPA is indeed likely to bring about a significant change in the workforce landscape. But secondly and most importantly, they need to specify what this change actually means.
Software robots are not meant to replace man with machine but to facilitate the most laborious, repetitive and dull aspects of a job (consider logging sales or creating reports), allowing the staff to invest efforts into higher value tasks (e.g., better attending customers, finding new ones, etc.). RPA will eventually help your team achieve a more meaningful work-life balance.
You can also boost employee motivation to embrace the unknown by highlighting the possibility of progress: as the leadership starts to notice increased business value, the employees will not only keep their jobs, but they can even attract more funding to come their way.
2. Fear of change
The mentality underlying this fear is something along the lines of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But, for one, RPA can nicely sit on top of existing systems. In contrast to other BPM tools, it accesses data from the presentation layer using login credentials and does not store any of it.
Additionally, in the current context of extremely fast technological development, we must get used to the idea that change is recommended not only when things stop working, but also in order to improve the current ways of doing things, and to make them more efficient.
Be realistic and open, and make it clear to your employees that there are risks to RPA implementation (e.g., automating the wrong processes may result in difficult to manage workflows). But at the same time, assist them in figuring out that risks can be mitigated, and excessive worry is simply counterproductive.
Realistically speaking, the adjustment period at the start of the automation journey might be not so easy. But awareness of this possibility, and management of the related thoughts that cause anxiety, will eventually help your personnel to make the switch from fear to curiosity.