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Mar 14, 2019Company & Culture

If Loving (Fun) Work is Wrong, We Don’t Want to Be Right

By: Cay Gliebe
If Loving (Fun) Work is Wrong, We Don’t Want to Be Right

By Cay Gliebe, SVP of Marketing and Product Management, OneSource Virtual

Personal/Group Achievements are the Footpads of Self Respect and Engagement

Part 1, in a 3-Part Series on the Impact of Robotic Process Automation

This is the first in a series of articles about people, the workplace of tomorrow, and the impact that robots, robotic automation and the digital worker can have on our lives.

There are those who believe – and declare it passionately and loudly – that humanity is on the brink of a frightening new technological cusp that will end badly with robots ultimately ending life as we know it and culminating in the enslavement of humanity (or at least, taking all our jobs).  There are others who believe that robotic automation is humanity’s salvation:  the ultimate vehicle for exchanging mankind’s need to work for personal pursuit of the arts, sciences and unlimited leisure time.

And then there are some, like me, who don’t subscribe to either of those points of view, though I do see elements of truth in both.  I believe that life as we know it IS changing, but I don’t envision robots as purveyors of an apocalyptic end.  Nor do I see this technology as a Holy Grail facilitator of some ethereal “no-work”, Elysian Field-style existence. 

Maybe it’s my former Navy training/leadership that has brought me to this conclusion, but here it is:  if loving (fun) work is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”  And further, I don’t think anyone would really be happy long term with this kind of “no work = right” lifestyle either.  Shedding GOOD and satisfying work to get to some imagined Nirvana-esque state of zero obligations and no structured contributions sounds like a nightmare to me.   

So which is it:  is robotic automation and the introduction of digital workers into our workplace a good or bad thing?  And what is the formula for leveraging this new technology into its best form to result in the optimum work-life balance, a more satisfying job experience and a universal achievement that not only delivers results but contributes to our own personal self-respect?

Repetitive, Monotonous, Energy-Sapping Tasks Are the Enemy of Employee Satisfaction

Star Trek’s ‘The Next Generation’ TV series had an artificial lifeform (robot) named Data that became beloved in the series because he was not only infused with artificial intelligence (AI)…he also defused a myriad of personal and workplace foibles because he was a robot and had no feelings.  His antithesis was the ship’s mental health counselor Troy who (to the amusement of viewers) was often perplexed as to why Data was not upset over a lost promotion or other workplace disappointment. 

The point is, robots don’t get bored, upset or over-burdened by the types of long-term repetitive, monotonous and energy-sapping tasks that typically contribute to employee dissatisfaction.  That’s a very big benefit to companies seeking greater employee engagement and increased productivity.  Employees engaged in activities that better utilize their talents feel more appreciated, perform at a higher level and are more committed to their employer and workplace.

Here are three ways that I think robotic process automation has the potential to escalate the “I love my job” sentiment at organizations and corporations everywhere:

1. Achieving Highest Potential by “Stretching”

Unlike robots, people are not static programmable entities with scientifically established outcomes.  We are in a continuous stage of change, are capable of doing far more than we consciously know, and we have a complex, chemically-driven reward center in our brains.  You’ve seen books, articles and personal testimonies of people who achieve goals or overcome obstacles that defy logic.  The examples of impossibilities achieved span from the sports, to the medical, heroic, personal, business and military accomplishments.

How does this happen?  The reward/happiness center in our brain manufactures four chemicals:  dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin and endorphins.  These are released under a variety of circumstances either to maintain a healthy (satisfaction) status quo, or to push people beyond their normal limits.  In other words:  they stretch.  

The two chemicals that impact work satisfaction and achievement are dopamine and serotonin; the former delivers a quick hit of pleasure when goals are achieved; the latter is released when you feel significant or important either in a leadership or group contribution mode.

Good leaders know that getting employees to stretch their capabilities leads to accomplishments and achievements that produce these “happy” chemicals, and makes employees WANT to come to work to feel good! 

2. Facilitating a Culture of Employee Engagement

The 2019 G2Crowd Employee Engagement Survey1 recently measured 400 U.S. workers (l/3 of which were HR employees) on the topic of Employee Engagement.  The survey and the ultimate analysis asserts that employee engagement – the ultimate satisfaction people have with going to work and staying engaged positively with their performance and employer – is tied directly to work relationships, communications and goal setting.

By removing barriers to these people-to-people relationships and communications (often hindered by time- and energy-sapping scut work) employers win.  Employees win.  Companies can achieve far more both through individual performances and team performances.  And this can all be facilitated and accelerated by using robotic processes.   

3. Supporting the Pragmatic Re-Engineering of Jobs  

Organizations need to stop hobbling workers with robotic-type responsibilities.  People are not Star Trek’s Data – they get tired, disenfranchised and (whether consciously or not) become resentful of tasks and taskmasters that expect them to behave robotically and be happy about it.  

This requires a change of thinking – and action -- at the management level to structure operational activities around a more holistic fit of digital worker and people worker activities and responsibilities.  Good leaders not only must know how to hire well…they will now need to know how to hire and/or install technology correctly to gain the best value from both types of workers.  And that’s where robots are far more than the sum of their parts!

Remove the Robot from the Person

In conclusion, robots are here, they are a reality in both our business/personal lives, and they have the capacity to evolve our world positively in multiple dimensions. I don’t pretend to have the wisdom of history’s great philosophers on what makes humans human – but I do know and have seen personally that taking robotic demands OUT of humans tends to make people happier.  

So, let’s let robots put the fun back in our work day by taking out the drudge work where possible.  But, let’s not aspire to have them remove our workdays and the sense of achievement that comes from good work that’s well done. TGIF is always around the corner, and that reality will always compute!

1Employee Engagement Survey 2019,” G2 Crowd, Courtney Moran.