Losing jobs to an AI is not the real problem…

Not having anything better to do when there is extra time at hand makes people uncomfortable

…illustration by Joost Swarte

A few years ago I was working with a banking sector client, and our goal was to save roughly 1.5 hrs per day per sales team member. That is whopping 7.5 hrs or one working day per week, and with the team size circa 75 members, it was a significant monetary benefit. Who wouldn’t have wanted that type of productivity increase?

However, we still faced significant and constant resistance. Until the day when it dawned upon us, and we figured out the potential reason behind it.

We understood that the resistance was essentially due to “having nothing valuable to do if there is extra time at hand”. It became crystal clear that just creating a void of 1.5 hrs on a daily basis was not going to work. It was also our responsibility to fill the void that we were set to create with something useful. With something that the sales team members would prefer to do if they had extra time at hand.

Why does this happen?

This is a quite common scenario with any new change that is set to take ‘something’ away from us. We become uncomfortable! Not because this ‘something’ is going away, but because if it is taken away, we don’t know what we would do — unless we find ‘something else’, which is either same or relatively better to fill this void. If the new thing is not the same or better, but instead relatively not so good, we don’t like that change, no one would.

And most of the times, we cannot fill the gap with the new activity after the fact; it is important that we plan it well in advance. The benefit of planning for this substitution in advance is that people respond naturally — they can let go of the first activity and create time for the new (and better) one.

I think this is the key to minimize the change resistance and adapt to the new technologies that result in major displacements.

A better way to deal with this resistance

If you believe that automation, AI, robotics, etc. would take several jobs and people are in a panic, so they are resisting this; you would be wrong. They are not happy doing menial jobs either. They would prefer to let go of those asap if they can. But what bothers them is, “what next?”.

People, in general, are happy to let go of menial jobs. But what bothers them is, “what next?”.

If you provide better new opportunities, meaningful jobs or tasks to do, naturally people would be inclined to switch to those new things and then they would prefer to let go of menial automatable jobs. Don’t you think so?

Most likely, we already have something in mind as to what someone will do when their job is automated. Businesses that implement automation solutions already understand this substitution, however, change communication is perhaps still a weaker link that needs to be strengthened.

Why not do this instead?

Before thinking of a solution that has the potential to make certain jobs redundant, create several alternatives to cope up with it. This not only helps in solving the problem with wisdom but will also help in dealing with change resistance that is imminent.

Don’t just take something from them, give them an alternative, and they will appreciate it!
Providing an alternative when causing inconvenience is socially decent behaviour

What’s more, I have seen, through several change initiatives, when you take people on the journey and involve them in decision making that affects them in some way — people appreciate it. Despite knowing that the outcomes would affect their jobs or anything else, they feel supported and remain supportive. Of course, being genuinely concerned goes without saying.

Take people on the journey and involve them in decision making that affects them. It is not only humane, but also a prudent behaviour.

Any technological advances, be it AI, RPA, or software automation — does not necessarily replace jobs. They may automate tasks or series of tasks or may transform a job significantly, but fully automating a job — that is a totally different ball game and quite difficult to imagine that any technology would be able to do that…not just yet!

Here the bottom line is — when working with emerging technologies, sanity is the key! Reasonable and rational behaviour is important as these technologies can only work properly when understood and accepted by users.


About the Author: I am Anand and I love solving meaningful problems in smarter ways, at scale, and with the entrepreneurial mindset. I believe that technology is not a panacea; it rather takes the right combination of people, process, technology, and timing to achieve the best results. I help businesses to improve key metrics in several ways. Sane and sensible adoption of technology remains my area of focus.

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