Automation and AI: Will it replace jobs or improve Employees’ Wellbeing?

Automation powered by bespoke software and AI (Artificial Intelligence) is often perceived by organisations as an important source of boosting employee productivity. However, many employees in such organisations see the adoption of software and AI to complete repetitive tasks as a threat and something that may put their jobs in jeopardy.

Are their concerns legitimate? Will AI and automation really put their jobs at risk or will they promote their sense of wellbeing?

The Real Issue: Perception, not AI and Automation itself

“Is that new robot going to steal my job?”

Many employees tend to think along these lines and feel that the fourth industrial revolution may bring more bad than good. You’re probably familiar with the dystopian scenario no matter what role you’re currently playing – from HR managers to business owners to the actual workers: widespread redundancies, accelerated inequality, mass unemployment and workers feeling that they have little purpose left while the machines “steal their jobs”.

Well, let’s look at this from a completely fresh perspective. As a business owner, for example, what mundane and redundant tasks would you happily pass off to a robot helper without irking your workers? What don’t your employees like about their daily work routine?

Is it filling out forms, making entries on an Excel sheet, phone and email reminders?

Now think about how dumping these tasks to an AI system will free up more time and energy for your employees to focus on other things – things that they really enjoy doing where they are not only productive but get a rewarding sense of fulfilment too.

If you’ve ever been a student of history, then you will probably not find this surprising:

Henry Ford once famously came to the realisation that his staff would be the very first customers to try out the Model T and paid them $5 each day in 1914 – at the time, this was twice the daily rate, even as he slashed the prices for the vehicles by 50% over the next 5 years. The end result was a sharp rise in Ford’s profits, productivity and employment.

Now, let’s fast forward a century later – it’s fair to say that the same holds true today as well: companies that are particularly good at managing the risks associated with a technology transition by focusing on wellbeing and welfare, can drastically benefit from the outcome – even as they get more competitive with their AI investments.

Are you wondering what your business can do with AI technologies and software-driven automation to better support your employees’ wellbeing? Many smart company owners are purposely using AI to not eliminate jobs but streamline them. They are focusing their AI use cases on cutting down work overload, such as rote tasks in call centres and expanding the business in a way which boosts employment – for instance, through new market penetration or new product innovation.

Other companies are using sensors, AI and analytics for predictive maintenance – something which can help mitigate the risk of human injuries and accidents. When we talk about specific use cases, Johnson and Johnson has had a long history of focusing on employee wellbeing. Today, the company has convinced over 90% of its workers to take advantage of a health app which utilises AI tools to personalise on-the-job training and actions, in order to improve upon health markers like cholesterol or blood pressure.

Another company uses an application which relies on an algorithm to analyse keywords and emojis sent between employees on Slack, so that the management can gauge whether a specific team is feeling happy, disappointed, stressed or irritated.

Communication analysis AI tools are now giving managers insights on employee morale and subtle clues on how they can improve it – in fact, when one company incorporated this bespoke software app, they reported that their management success and effectiveness improved by nearly 40%.

No matter how you look at it – Software Automation and AI are here to stay

The fact of this matter is software automation and AI are quickly becoming a part of organisations’ bottom line, irrespective of their scale or sector, as they realise what it can do to improve and boost wellbeing as well as morale and productivity.

Companies that are quick to go with the tide stand to make tremendous gains and edge out their competitors as well. The Sony UK technology centre located in Wales boosted productivity by automating part of its production lines, and in turn, reassigned employee roles to more upskilled ones.

Research conducted just 2 years ago at Goldsmiths, University of London reported that companies which integrated automation technologies are 33% more likely to be human-friendly, with employees being 31% more productive. Those numbers have clearly exceeded the projections by a reasonable margin today as companies left and right are using AI and software-based automation to replace mundane tasks with those that their employees find more fulfilling and rewarding.

In the end, it’s a win-win: happier employees with better wellbeing levels, assisted by AI technology and software automation can get a third more done whole on the same company time each day.

However, this requires a massive change of mindset and perception. And it’s not just limited to employees. Business owners must get everybody involved if they are to successfully harness automation for improving wellbeing and avoid driving people out. So we’re talking employers, workers, stakeholders, consumers, etc.

In a recent Smartsheet survey, 40% information workers said that 25% of the work week is spent doing manual and repetitive tasks; 86% said automation makes them more efficient and productive.

At least 55% said they would like to see a repetitive task like data collection automated; 36% said they want approvals, sign offs and confirmation request to be automated; and, 32% said time can be saved by automating status updates and other information.  

When asked how much time could workers potentially save by automating tasks they found repetitive, 59% said they could save at least 6 hours or more per week.

Closing Thoughts

Once we start to see the fourth industrial revolution in full swing, automation and AI is going to be a huge part of it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.