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Overcoming Staff Resistance To Working With Robots

The era of the robot isn’t something of science fiction novels, it’s already with us. Machines that build our cars, create precision engineering components and carry out intricate surgical procedures are commonplace. They’re even being welcomed into our homes to carry out menial tasks, albeit at a slower pace

Despite this, the mere mention of increased automation in the workplace is usually met with resistance. A study carried out by the US Pew Research Centre cited the following as some of the reasons why humans don’t trust robots:

  • They threaten our jobs and income. Replacing human labour with robotic will have a direct impact on my earning capacity, and therefore my way of living and that of my family
  • Robots make decisions through calculations without taking into account morality issues
  • Robots are more productive than humans. They can work 24/7 as they don’t need to sleep or eat. Trying to keep up with a robot puts undue stress on a human trying to compete

However, another survey by the same organisation states that 65% of those surveyed expects that, by 2065, computers and robots will likely undertake a large proportion of the work that’s carried out by humans today.

The introduction (or further integration) of robots into the workplace is inevitable. But overcoming the resistance of staff is something that shouldn’t be overlooked.

5 Key Points to Successful Robotic Integration with a Human Workforce

Human nature is naturally resistant to change. The biggest issue with the acceptance of robots is the fear factor. This stems from a failure to fully comprehend what the changes might mean. Managers need determine strategies that mitigate this apprehension. Done right, the introduction of robots will be seen as advantageous, rather than a threat, to worker’s livelihoods.

  • Key Point #1 – Recognise fears and empathise: Many tasks currently carried out by humans can potentially be automated – with present technology it’s estimated that this is as much as 45%. For a blue-collar workforce, the obvious outcome of this appears to be job losses. Management must recognise this and be honest when talking about upcoming changes. However, it’s important to communicate that the role of robots is to take over the most tedious and repetitive of tasks – indeed, many that are disliked, even hated, by employees. Automating these leaves humans free to concentrate on more strategic work, something that makes work more rewarding and enjoyable. Management should voice understanding of the anxiety that changes will bring and communicate the measures to be put in place that will better utilise the talents of staff.
  • Key Point #2 – Invest in training and upskilling the workforce: This should include adequate training for workers to take on new skills in an automated workplace. Crucially, the amount of time necessary to do this should be taken into account. Good education can’t be rushed, making it vital that management doesn’t underestimate how long this will take. A strategic development plan is what will ensure a seamless implementation when the time comes. Confident employees are what makes for an efficient workforce, so it’s essential not to skimp on the training aspect.
  • Key Point #3 – Communicate, communicate, communicate: A lack of information breeds fear and stress. Not only should management clearly outline the vision of the future, but they should also be open about what this means to the current way of working. Regular updates keep workers informed and increases trust. If labourers understand the reasoning behind automation and their place within it, they’ll be more open to embracing the future – even excited – and keen to get on board.
  • Key Point #4 – Include HR: Such changes will inevitably create job changes. As workers take on more training or move to different areas, so HR will need to incorporate this into roles. Communication at an early stage allows HR professionals to define the future of jobs within the organisation, a vital element of successful change implementation.
  • Key Point #5 – Listen to and encourage feedback: Human nature encompasses a variety of emotions. The way individuals react to the idea of change varies tremendously, as does their ability to learn new skills or even the will to do so. Good management actively encourages ongoing feedback, and never is this more important than during periods of active change. Inclusion and an awareness of the mindset of employees are hugely advantageous on both sides and shouldn’t be under-estimated.

Technology continues to advance at a tremendous rate. The introduction of robots to the workplace is but a single step along the road of advancement and efficiency. A true amalgamation of humans and automatons inches ever-closer and it’s up to management to ensure that the process is a smooth one. Getting it right can make a dramatic difference between a workforce that resists the change or one that embraces the huge advantages it brings.

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