Skills - Future of Work

Robots Cannot Beat Human Emotions

Automation has arrived and won’t leave or head back. As HR leaders, it’s our job to prepare the workforce for the future of work and we should focus on helping employees to develop the must-have skill set robots won’t be able to replace.

Jul 20 2020

  • Automation is growing unevenly and at a rapid pace through the labour market.

  • Tasks involving creativity, intuition and emotions will continue being performed by humans, making human labour more valued, not less.

  • We need to adjust our thinking to take advantage of this shift.

"Are robots stealing our jobs?" "Robots: Is your job at risk?" "Automation, AI and Robots are destroying our jobs."

We read disturbing headlines which exploit our fears and anxiety around the idea of impassive robots replacing humans at work. Presumably, headlines are designed to capture interest and attract readers. But this is not science fiction nor an innovative view of some far-off time. It has been happening for years and recently has been happening at a rapid pace. You don't have to remember too far back to know customer service calls used to be answered by people.

Automation is growing unevenly through the labour market, performing tasks which used to be done by humans, typically simple, elementary and repetitive ones. AI and machine learning developments are allowing robots to perform more and more complex tasks.

So we debate ourselves among two concepts: displacement or complementarity between robots and human employment.

In the displacement view, robots make employees obsolete and replace them. Not all employees. Particularly those who perform routine tasks. Employees committed to cognitively complicated and abstract duties remain relatively exempt.

The other option is robots and humans working together. Automation doesn't necessarily trigger employee displacement, robots can carry out easily automated and routine tasks but complex ones involving creativity, intuition and emotions will continue being performed by humans. Jobs or tasks with these attributes fit for complementarity between robots and humans, and in these cases, human labour becomes more valued in the workplace, not less.

As HR leaders, it's our job to prepare the workforce for the future of work. Analyze the impact in our organisations, how to help employees to cope with automation, fears and uncertainty, and help them adapt themselves to the changes that inevitably will come.

According to the Harvard Business Journal: "What new feats might people achieve if they had better-thinking machines to assist them?". Challenge and reframe the threat of automation as a hope to augment our jobs, helping jobs be done better, growing possibilities for business if, only if, we prepare ourselves.

How and where do we begin?

Firstly considering the low-level knowledge tasks, which will be the first to be replaced by robots, and the workers fulfilling these. They need to be reskilled, beginning now, and we're able to transition them to higher-level work.

Find below a list of concrete actions to implement:

  1. Explain to our workers that automation assures that the work "beneath" us is done and it will allow freeing up time to enlist and handle more challenging and gratifying work, deeper responsibilities; thus, becoming more relevant for the organisation.
  2. Encourage your workforce to discover their abilities, talents and strengths and administer the appropriate resources to heighten them.
  3. Boost their interest and participation in suggesting improvements "to the table", processes, products and ways of working.
  4. Train your staff in upskilling and developing the necessary skills for them to succeed in this defying new automated reality.

Robots cannot beat human emotions

Computers can suggest and propose which products to buy, but only salespeople deeply understand consumer needs and inspire the confidence to guarantee that future contingencies will be adequately managed.

Computers can make correct and detailed medical diagnoses, but only doctors can humanly guide patients throughout painful medical decisions.

The must-have skill set we need to sharpen to stand out from robots includes the following:

  1. Judgment. Robots can't replace the human touch to tell what's right from wrong. Conflict negotiation and resolution are must-have skills that will remain flawless even considering robotic and AI advancements.
  2. Communication. We daily manage lots of information, and communication is an essential part of our everyday life. Communication skills will remain an indispensable component of our day-to-day life in the future. We will still prefer news and information to be written in a fascinating, emotional and delicate way.
  3. Creativity. Having a strong fantasy and a unique trick for creativity, originality, dreaming up with innovative approaches.
  4. Empathy. It's a rare domain that makes us human and distinguishes us from the rest. Robots can manage simple interactions by offering customer support through an automated answering machine or replying to an email, but they can't feel empathy or empathise with someone else. Robots can't perceive how other people feel and connect on an emotional level.
  5. Planning. The ability to get prepared and foresee shifts, anticipate ourselves, plan, prioritise rapidly and meticulously, is useful for just about any business or career. Robots can lineup appointments, but they are not able to anticipate shifts in priorities, missing data and unfamiliar results.
  6. Tech Management. It sounds funny because most at-risk skills are those related to technology, but we will still need someone with the appropriate abilities to deal with and stay on top of automation itself.
  7. Teaching and coaching. Everyone seems to have access to countless information and educational material, but it's not enough to be able to teach. We need to understand the background and the whole situation. Even with advancing automation, teachers, talented coaches and tutors will remain as the essential keystone for education.
  8. Social skills and leadership. Great leaders care, empathise and connect with people on emotional levels. None of these will be said of robots.


Automation has arrived and won't leave or head back.

Instead of becoming paralysed by the threat it brings to our comfort zone; we only need to adjust our thinking to take advantage of this shift.

Even though this issue is not merely an HR matter, all HR professionals are straightly accountable for the company's welfare and the company's employees' prosperity too. We should all act responsibly helping every employee to develop the must-have skill set robots won't be able to replace. In this way, increasing automation will only boost jobs and economic growth, for as many humans as possible.

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