There is no getting around the fact that workplaces are becoming increasingly automated, as advances in technology improve speed, efficiency and accuracy across several major industries. For many employees, the very idea that automation and AI could take over key roles within their organisation is terrifying – particularly for those working in labour-intensive sectors such as warehousing, manufacturing and logistics.
In the UK, 10 million workers (that’s 37 per cent of the workforce) reported that they were worried that automation would change their job for the worse, while almost a quarter reported, feared they would not be needed in their current position at all, according to research conducted by the Fabian Society.
The reality is that although some jobs will be replaced, automation and AI is predicted to see more jobs created, offering more meaningful work and extended opportunities for many.
While many companies will have formal change management programs to support automation, how do you, as a people-leader help your team thrive when they have a fear of automation?
1. Develop a plan and share the intent
Blindsiding your team with layoffs or sudden changes in responsibility can destroy trust and damage your relationships both short and long term. Instead, start an open conversation about the need for automation to remain sustainable and competitive and use this conversation to begin to share what the future of work could look like.
This conversation is unlikely to be new, with almost one-third of Australian knowledge workers (32 per cent) believing their businesses cannot remain competitive in the next five years with a purely human workforce.
Some employees are wise to fear the future of their current role. However, you can outline the new opportunities for your team to explore new horizons, where their “human” skills will always be in demand.
2. Guide Realistic Expectations
Many team members picture robots taking over the workforce at a speed of knots but in most cases that is not the reality of the workforce of the future.
First of all, the introduction of automated technologies is likely to be slower than fearful employees may realise given workforces will need time to shift and respond - the cost to implement is high, and there is the time required to train and upskill employees.
Secondly, automation technology is not a set-and-forget system. It requires maintenance, monitoring and analysis by human hands and brains to keep functioning optimally. Those who are in the business at the time of implementation will be in the best position to help support the change and secure themselves a new role in the future.
In many cases, this means you have time to help manage the change with your team preparing them from both a mindset and upskilling perspective for the changes that lie ahead.
3. More meaningful work
Discuss the types of meaningful work that teams could do if some of the process work was undertaken by technology. Imagine if those boring, repetitive parts of the job could be taken care of by automation freeing up employees to focus on more inspiring tasks?
It is predicted that there are some very exciting opportunities being created with the rise of new technologies. Not only does this include a wave of newly created jobs but it is highly likely that these new jobs will be more enjoyable as they utilise those uniquely human traits that can't yet be automated, like creativity, compassion and ingenuity.
4. Engage the team in the solution
Feeling out-of-control can cause team members undue stress so genuinely including them in the development of solutions can help them feel empowered, in control and even positive about the future. By having this open dialogue and engagement early, you are likely to build trust and comfort in the team and get better insight into the solutions that may be most effective.
Besides, as they become more engaged in the solution, they are also developing their skills for when the transition to new technology occurs. These skills are highly beneficial for team members and for the businesses saving time and energy rehiring and training.
5. Develop long term career plans
With the knowledge that change is afoot, consider offering a program that will pay some, or even all, of a professional development course for your staff. These incentives are win-win – your employees will be comfortable with change, and the knowledge they gain can drive both quicker implementation and more effective adoption.
If your employees are already working full-time, and many will also be busy outside of work with family commitments, chances are they won’t have time to pursue this kind of training outside working hours. Setting aside the time and funds required to make this happen during their work day would give them a clear advantage and could become a drawcard when you’re attracting new staff too.
It is predicted that ongoing training and life-long learning will be critical components of the workforce in the future, so you'll have an edge on your competitors when it comes to finding and retaining the best staff if you have a robust program on offer.
6. Lend a listening ear
It almost sounds too simple, but perhaps the best strategy you can implement as a manager is to lend a friendly ear to their concerns. It’s also something robots can’t (yet!) do, and should reassure your staff that there will always be a place for the human workforce.
As technology continues to amaze us and your business needs evolve through the fear of automation, Trojan is here to support you in your recruitment needs. As the experts in labour hire, permanent recruitment and contract staff, we always have our fingers on the pulse of emerging technologies and can help your business adapt.
 PWC 22nd Annual CEO Survey 2019
 Blue Prism Global Automation Report April 2019