Workplace automation can create communication challenges as well as opportunities

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck

Many years ago, I spent my university summer holidays working in the head office for a large high-street bank. Close to its office was what was billed as ‘the world’s first robotic bar’. The main attraction was a large robotic barmaid, known as Cynthia, who was programmed to mix and serve around 60 different cocktails.

At the time, this was seen as little more than a novelty. And, given that Cynthia seemed to be broken on every visit, raised questions about the success and sustainability of replacing people with robots or automated processes in some cases.

Now, however, robotics, automation technologies and artificial intelligence are increasingly impacting the world of work. Just last month, for example, a Japanese insurer announced plans to replace 34 employees with robots. Although there is still much debate and prediction around how quickly these technologies will develop and how far reaching their impact on the working world will be, employers should be considering now how they will respond to changing employee demographics and differences in the skills required within their workforce.

For HR and reward professionals, this will mean looking at issues such as how they currently engage, motivate, and recruit and retain employees. Addressing employees’ concerns about future job security and communicating the potential opportunities created by automation will also be key.

While the automation of some roles will inevitably result in some job losses, it will also bring new opportunities. A study by Emek Basker, published in The Journal of Industrial Economics in June 2015, for example, found that following the deployment of bar code scanners and associated point-of-sale systems in the US in the 1980s, the employment of cashiers grew at an average rate of more than 2% between the 1980s and 2013, despite labour costs reducing by an estimated 4.5% per store. Read more in How could workplace automation impact engagement and reward strategies?

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Technology and innovation will be a key focus at Employee Benefits Connect, which will take place on 1 March at the Park Plaza, London. How artificial intelligence is redefining the future of employee benefits, and implementing augmented reality to connect with the digital workforce are just two of the topics that feature in this year’s conference programme. Visit www.employeebenefitsconnect.co.uk for full details. We hope to see you there.

Debbie Lovewell-Tuck
Editor