Is your workforce ready for automation?
I am not a robot and this blog wasn’t generated by a sophisticated algorithm. But given the pace of technology, it could have been. AI scientists are developing technology to clone personalities of employees so that automated help desks can have more authentic customer conversations.
Not only is AI enabling self-driving cars, automated warehouses and new healthcare delivery, but it's going to have better jokes, too.
It’s easy to see why employees are concerned. One recent report estimated AI will displace 20 million manufacturing jobs worldwide, while another says over a million bank workers could lose their jobs. In the U.S., one report estimated 88 million jobs will face medium or high exposure to automation in the coming decade.
It’s easy to think employees’ biggest worry is getting replaced by a robot. It’s not. Their real fear is being treated like one.
How do we know? We gathered and analyzed hundreds of thousands of comments from employees in the U.S. through our culture management platform, Emprising.
When we looked at comments discussing automation, artificial intelligence and robots, we found that rather than expressing fears of being replaced, employees speak about fearing a loss of individuality, mounting stress dealing with rapid change and a sense their employers don’t care about them as people.
As one employee told us:
“I wish my company would make space for humanity and human error... I often feel like a robot and as though the company sees me as someone that is easily replaced.”
Employees' concerns are a real threat to employers, too. While the threat is less obvious, it has very real costs. Companies are gearing up to increase their AI and digitization spend. A recent survey reported 71% of technology leaders expect to increase their investments in the coming years.
These investments won’t achieve their expected payoffs without their employees’ creativity, involvement and full passion – the exact assets that erode when employees experience fear in their everyday work. To learn more, read our report on the Five Hidden Barriers to Innovation.
It's no wonder that only 46% of U.S. employees feel psychologically safe at work and only 40% of executives feel confident in their peoples’ ability to adapt and manage AI solutions.
It got us wondering whether companies are really ready for this challenge.
To find out, we developed an index of employee experiences that measure whether their employers are ready to quickly adopt automation or AI. Let's call it the “Employee Readiness Index.”
The Employee Readiness Index
It’s made up of key aspects of our Trust Index© Survey that assess whether employees feel their employers are investing in their growth, are committed to avoiding layoffs, care for them as people, involve them in improving the business and are competent at running the business.
Using 626,615 surveys Great Place To Work collected in the last year, we compared employees across industries to see where they are more or less ready. In this analysis, we examined and controlled for several factors, like job level, company effects, and even whether employees worked in rural or urban areas.
Knowing some industries are further along the adoption curve, we also leveraged a terrific analysis from the Brookings Institution to incorporate the estimated automation potential facing different sectors.
In its report, Brookings assessed different sectors, geographies, and various occupations to determine the likelihood jobs would be impacted by automation and AI, identifying roles with highly routine and predictable tasks as being the most vulnerable in the coming years.
Comparing Brooking’s findings to the Employees Readiness Index, some industries stand out as ready for the challenge…and others not so much.
Ready or not?
Professional Services and Technology lead the way in readiness. While neither are forecasted to experience widespread automation by Brookings, both have prepped their workforces well.
Hospitality shows the same levels of employee readiness yet faces a much higher hurdle in the coming years. Among all sectors that Brookings studied, it has the highest automation potential with an estimated 73% of its occupations facing potential automation impacts in the coming years.
The same can’t be said for the retail and manufacturing sectors. In both, employees report relatively low readiness and face a high potential for automation, yet workforces in both sectors have a large contingent of hourly, low-wage jobs – the exact type most at risk of being impacted by automation.
Focus on your people and you can focus on the future
The best workplaces show there’s a better way forward, no matter your industry. Their great cultures not only attract and keep outstanding talent, it allows them to move faster in realizing the potential of these new technologies.
These workplaces’ strategic investments in their people result in consistently higher marks on the Employee Readiness Index across industries. On average, Best Workplaces have effectively prepared fully 13% more of their workforce than their industry peers.
Not coincidentally, these same employers enjoy a much higher capacity for change and agility as evidenced by 85% of their workforces reporting an ability to quickly adapt to changes needed for their businesses’ success.
AI's impact is undeniable, everywhere and moving rapidly. It brings tremendous opportunities for companies to better prepare and benefit from the future this technology represents, no matter what industry they’re in. A critical pillar of this preparedness is ensuring every employee is ready to create, connect, and contribute.
Employees aren’t scared of robots – they’re waiting to welcome them. As long as they feel like important individuals in their workplaces. When leaders can tap into this energy, they will be able harness the intelligence, skills and passion of every person in their organizations, positioning their businesses to move further faster into this new world.