This is going to be a double edged article from us. First of all, there is the mental health benefits of automation which we strongly believe in. However, there is also the side of automation which can have a negative impact due to the perception of it. Workers can feel as though their jobs are at risk with the implementation of automated robots, which in turn can negatively impact mental wellbeing. But what causes this perception?
We believe the main way to obtain the full benefit of automation is through education of the subject. Many people’s perceptions of automation is somewhat negative, and that purely comes from a place of ignorance on the topic.
Automation is increasingly becoming an important topic within the workplace. Robots/Automated machines are becoming more capable, and can complete more complex tasks. This also includes having “human thoughts” in order to make decisions. This is primarily what creates a negative viewpoint towards automation.
The reality is that life is not going to end up like the film iRobot. The world isn’t going to be taken over by automated robots, and neither is your job. The term ‘computerphobia’ was coined in the 90s, from a rapid spread of fear and panic over the technology. Automation is somewhat following the same trend. It is the unknown. It is unique. And people are not being correctly educated on it, and its benefits.
The true reality is that automation will take over significant portions of the ‘boring’ aspects of people’s daily work. These boring aspects are those which are heavily repeatable, and can be improved by a programmable object doing that task again and again. Not everything can be automated, and humans are still required to perform their job. Processes of the work need to be designed by humans. A human needs to make sure the robot is completing the task properly. The list goes on. Humans will never become obsolete in the work place.
Automation’s Impact on Mental Health
Automation impacts humans positively, and negatively. As discussed. Furthermore, some individuals will be impacted by automation more than others, depending on which industry they work in. It may also depend on what type of job you have as to whether automation impacts you more positively or negatively.
For example, those in a more tech focussed line of work are statistically more likely to be accepting of automation. However, shoving automation into a company who still keeps records on paper, and has done everything manually for 100 years might be somewhat more fearful of the technology.
Scientists have put increased focus on the mental/psychological impact of automation on people, as well as what people’s thoughts are on the topic. Primarily the research focusses on how people feel towards the potential of being replaced by robots/automation. One research piece conducted in 2019 which interviewed almost 2,000 people focussed on people’s attitudes towards being replaced. The research concluded that people would generally prefer that if they had to be replaced in their line of work, they would rather be replaced by automation, than another human. This is an interesting finding considering the generally perceived negative attitude towards automation.
A research piece by Canada Life found that 56% of employees feel as though the potential for more automation has impacted their mental health in some way. However, this didn’t specify whether the majority of employees felt it impacted them positively or negatively. However, it was concluded that 34% of individuals within the research piece felt as though automation was pressuring them to feel ‘always on’. The idea here being that as humans we cannot compete with robots, and therefore the natural human reaction is to feel as though our performance is inferior.
In the same Canada Life research piece many employees interviewed were concerned about their job security when it came to automation implementation. 32% of respondents felt as thought their jobs would change due to automation, and a further 32% were concerned of losing their job. Interestingly, 26% felt concern as to whether they would be able to understand the new systems.
Solving the Automation Wellbeing Impact
From our perspective, the individuals who were concerned about knowledge of the new systems have hit the nail on the head. A lot of the concerns and worries about automation come from a place of lack of understanding. It is clear that to some extent the idea of automation is causing a significant amount of distress in individuals, where they’re concerned about their roles and job security.
The solution here is twofold. Firstly, individuals need to be more open to learn about the subject of automation, and willing to understand the potential. Similarly to the introduction of the computer to the mass market, people are now fully accepting of it. Heck, how many people do not own or work with a computer these days? Automation will be the same in the future. Those who accept and learn about it will realise its benefits, and be able to utilise it to benefit themselves the most. Conversely, those who shun automation and continue to be concerned will likely be on the back foot when they finally realise its potential.
Secondly, there’s the fact that management need to do a better job at educating employees on automation. Simply forcing employees into the implementation of an automated process is not going to evoke a positive reaction. Allowing a workforce to understand how something works, as well as why it is going to be implemented will go a long way in resting the nerves of cautious employees. Furthermore, employers should provide security in the roles of these employees by ensuring they understand that automation is a tool to help the individual, and not an enemy. Heck, automation and artificial intelligence can already be used directly with mental health therapy: