It’s only natural for them to ask, “Am I next?"
The Future of Human Work Is Imagination, Creativity, and Strategy
Integrating New Technology Is About Emotions
When technology comes in, and some workers go away, there is a residual fear among those still in place at the company. It’s only natural for them to ask, “Am I next? How many more days will I be employed here?” Venture capitalist Bruce Gibney explains it this way: “Jobs may not seem like ‘existential’ problems, but they are: When people cannot support themselves with work at all — let alone with work they find meaningful — they clamor for sharp changes. Not every revolution is a good revolution, as Europe has discovered several times. Jobs provide both material comfort and psychological gratification, and when these goods disappear, people understandably become very upset.”
The wise corporate leader will realize that post-technology trauma falls along two lines: (1) how to integrate the new technology into the workflow, and (2) how to cope with feelings that the new technology is somehow “the enemy.” Without dealing with both, even the most automated workplace could easily have undercurrents of anxiety, if not anger.
It seems beyond debate: Technology is going to replace jobs, or, more precisely, the people holding those jobs. Few industries, if any, will be untouched.
Knowledge workers will not escape. Recently, the CEO of Deutsche Bank predicted that half of its 97,000 employees could be replaced by robots. One survey revealed that “39% of jobs in the legal sector could be automated in the next 10 years. Separate research has concluded that accountants have a 95% chance of losing their jobs to automation in the future.”
And for those in manufacturing or production companies, the future may arrive even sooner. That same report mentioned the advent of “robotic bricklayers.” Machine learning algorithms are also predicted to replace people responsible for “optical part sorting, automated quality control, failure detection, and improved productivity and efficiency.” Quite simply, machines are better at the job: The National Institute of Standards predicts that “machine learning can improve production capacity by up to 20%” and reduce raw materials waste by 4%.
It is easy to find reports that predict the loss of between 5 and 10 million jobs by 2020. Recently, space and automotive titan Elon Musk said the machine-over-mankind threat was humanity’s “biggest existential threat.” Perhaps that is too dire a reading of the future, but what is important for corporate leaders right now is to avoid the catastrophic mistake of ignoring how people will be affected. Here are four ways to think about the people left behind after the trucks bring in all the new technology.