As automation software, robotics, and other forms of new technology disrupt workplaces, workers are worried about their future career prospects. Businesses that introduce new technology can dispel fears and improve morale by providing professional development opportunities and training.
From artificial intelligence to machine learning, new technology has become a fixture in headlines that predict the future of practically every industry.
Although most workers recognize that technology will disrupt the way they work in the future, few can picture exactly what these changes will look like.
As a result, workers are enthusiastic about the opportunity to master new technology, but they also fear that technology may eliminate their current roles or future job opportunities.
Clutch surveyed 521 employees to learn how technology is disrupting both workplace processes and plans for the future.
You can use this article to better understand how employees’ hopes and fears about technology and the future of work impact morale at your business.
- Nearly half of workers (48%) believe technological advancements will have the biggest impact on the future of work. Nearly 1 in 5 businesses (17%) have already implemented robotics such as self-service kiosks or automation software.
- Two thirds of workers (66%) believe that technology will create new opportunities.
- The majority of workers (87%) are willing to adapt their skills for the changing workplace.
- More than half of workers (51%) are excited about the opportunity to master new technology in the workplace, and more than one third of workers (35%) whose companies don't use new technology yet are hopeful that their employer will introduce it.
- Nearly half of businesses (45%) hired new employees with technical knowledge or skills in the past year.
- One in ten businesses (10%) laid employees off due to technology in the past year.
- More than 1 in 10 workers are not confident about their ability to find a job that matches their skills and employment (13%) or are nervous that their current role won’t exist in the next five years due to new technology (14%).
Workers Are Willing to Embrace Future Technology
Employees are aware that technology is changing the workplace, and most are eager to master new technical skills.
Nearly half of workers (48%) believe technological advancements will have the biggest impact on the future of work, compared to other factors such as the aging workforce or politics.
Two-thirds of workers (66%) believe that technology will create new job opportunities.
Still, it’s important to recognize that job opportunities created by new technology will only be available to workers who have mastered relevant skills.
The majority of workers (87%) are willing to adapt their skills for the changing workplace.
Yet, workers’ willingness to learn new skills doesn’t fully describe their overall morale about technology’s impact on the future.
Leaders also have a significant impact on whether a company successfully implements new technology, explained Dean Pipes, chief innovation officer at TetraVX, a communications provider specializing in cloud-based solutions.
Pipes has significant experience leading teams as they adopt new technology.
“Adoption of any collaboration technology hinges on how receptive your culture is to the new tools,” said Pipes. “If leadership doesn’t set or define best practices, users have no reason to engage or follow a specific governance.”
Leaders should ensure that any new technology is user-friendly and matches the company culture. For example, workers who travel frequently and rely on their mobile phones are more likely to benefit from an app than software that must be used on a desktop computer.
Fortunately for business leaders, more than half of workers (51%) are excited about the prospect of mastering new technology.
Among workers whose companies haven’t implemented new technology, more than one third (35%) are hopeful that their employer will.
As businesses adapt to new technology, their employees are likely to welcome the opportunity to master new skills that can help them prepare for their future careers.
Businesses Hire Workers With Technical Skills and Knowledge
Technology influences the way companies decide whether to hire or lay off employees.
In the past year, nearly half of businesses (45%) hired new employees because their technical knowledge or skills matched the company’s changing needs.
Yet, one in ten companies (10%) still laid employees off due to changes in technology.
In some cases, technology might make a job redundant, or improve the efficiency of one employee so much that employing multiple workers no longer makes sense.
Flottman Company, a Cincinnati-based print company founded in 1921, showcases how technology can create new job opportunities for longstanding businesses.
Ed McMasters is the director of marketing and communications at Flottman Company. In recent years, McMasters noticed more clients requesting assistance with digital marketing alongside traditional printed marketing assets.
Recognizing the opportunity to expand the business, Flottman Company established a new branch focusing on digital projects.
To grow Flottman Company’s digital marketing services, McMasters spent nearly a year searching for the right employee. He ultimately hired an employee who brought both sales and digital skills to the team.
As Flottman Company’s portfolio of digital marketing clients grows, McMasters outsources certain technical tasks rather than hiring full-time workers. For example, requests for WordPress services are relatively infrequent, so McMasters maintains a relationship with a specialist on a project-by-project basis.
Overall, companies hire workers with technical skills to help them grow into new and changing markets.
Workers Without Technical Skills May Struggle to Find Employment
Workers who have no technical skills may struggle to adapt to workplaces that increasingly rely on digital or technical tools.
More than 1 in 10 workers (13%) are not confident about their ability to find a job that matches their skills and employment.
Although this percentage might seem low, it can have a significant impact on morale. On any team of 10 workers, one or two may feel anxious about their future career prospects.
A similar percentage of workers (14%) are nervous that their current role won’t exist in the next five years due to new technology.
As president of Success Performance Solutions, Ira Wolfe is an expert on hiring and retaining high-performing employees. Although he understands why people fear a future in which robots take our jobs, he believes that the reality will be less extreme.
“I wouldn’t be fearful that a robot is going to take your job,” said Wolfe. “But it’s not going to be the same job you had before, even if the title is the same.”
Instead, technology will likely change the way we complete work processes or it may automate some tasks. By reducing the demands on human workers, companies may consolidate roles or hire fewer employees than they have in the past.
Employers Recruit Workers With Curiosity and Technical Skills
Because technology changes constantly, employers will increasingly look for a combination of specific technical skills and an aptitude for learning when hiring new employees.
Wolfe encourages companies to look for workers who demonstrate key qualities including:
- Curiosity about how to improve processes
- Creativity when faced with obstacles
- Willingness to take educated risks
Wolfe’s analysis resonates with Eric Schmidt’s approach to hiring Google employees. As CEO of Google, Schmidt recommends that employers recruit workers who display curiosity and persistence.
“The combination of persistence and curiosity is a very good predictor of employee success in a knowledge economy," said Schmidt.
Employees who exhibit these traits are more likely to adapt to new technology or other disruptive forces that change the way they complete daily tasks.
Additionally, these types of employees can help their colleagues embrace challenges.
As workers interview for jobs, it’s important that they highlight both examples of how they have applied their technical skills and examples of how they can adapt to changes.
For example, a candidate who is proficient in using accounting software might also share how she developed a custom workflow when managing finances for a client who fell outside the usual scope of how her company used the tool.
In the future, successful employees will be proactive about keeping pace with new technology while expressing curiosity about what will come next.
Robotics and Automation Are the Most Common Forms of Future Technology
As businesses implement new technology, they are most likely to implement some form of robotics. Robotic technology includes everything from self-service kiosks to the automation of certain work processes.
As of 2018, nearly 1 in 5 businesses (17%) have already implemented robotics.
In addition to robotics, wearable technology, such as smart notebooks and watches, and artificial intelligence, such as Amazon’s Alexa and chatbots, are also becoming more common in the workplace.
At Flottman Company, McMasters’ team recently purchased new equipment for folding printed leaflets.
Previously, employees set the folding machinery by hand, spinning dials and carefully aligning patterns. The process was time consuming and risked costly human error.
Their new machine digitizes and automates this process. Instead of relying on employees to set the machines by hand, the new machines are equipped with touchscreens.
Now, employees input the dimensions and specific types of folds required, and the machines fold leaflets quickly and accurately.
“It is lightning speed,” said McMasters. “They’re running 9,000 pieces in the time we used to run three.”
For Flottman Company, automated technology has reduced errors while driving production up by over 30%.
As new technology emerges, companies will rely on automated technology and robotics to cut costs while increasing productivity.
Transparency Is Key to Introducing New Technology
Even when employees are eager to master new technology, changing daily processes can can be intimidating. Companies that successfully introduce new technology tend to be transparent when sharing plans for the future.
Best practices for implementing new technology include:
- Providing updates as concrete information becomes available
- Encouraging questions from employees
- Including employees when selecting new technology tools
- Energizing staff by highlighting new opportunities created by technology
- Being thoughtful and intentional about how technology will support your existing processes and culture
Each of these factors can help staff feel optimistic and encouraged by the presence of new technology rather than frustrated by changes to their daily life at work.
While managers might be tempted to view workers’ skepticism as noncompliance or insubordination, they should instead direct any skepticism into a productive exercise that can help workers integrate new technology into their current roles.
Wolfe offers a script for encouraging employees' questions: “We want you to bring up your concerns, because that’s only going to help us become more agile and versatile.”
We want you to bring up your concerns, because that’s only going to help us become more agile and versatile.
These questions can also help managers recognize and mitigate any pain points that come with implementing new technology.
At Flottman Company, McMasters faced challenges when retiring the company’s old folding machines. He anticipated that the employees hired to use the new folding machines might change the company’s social dynamic, where approximately one-quarter of workers have worked for 20 years or more.
“We knew that the learning curve was going to be tremendous,” McMasters recalled. “Overall, I’d say the employees were skeptical and a little intimated. Now that the machines are here, others want to come see them run. We’ve got an older team. It’s great to see them want to be involved.”
In addition to sparking interest in the changing technology, McMasters emphasized that the new machines' higher productivity could help the company win interesting new clients.
Crucially, McMasters also tapped trusted employees to research options and ask key questions before making a final decision on which machine to purchase.
“It was kind of like the whole team bought it,” said McMasters.
By encouraging questions and providing transparency about anticipated changes, companies can reduce the stress employees might experience when adjusting to new technology.
Workers Plan to Adapt to New Technology, Despite Anxiety About the Future
Most workers recognize the growing value of new technology in the workplace and are eager for opportunities to master new skills or adapt their existing skills to new challenges.
However, a significant percentage of workers worry that their future job opportunities might be limited. Their fears are reasonable, as companies increasingly prioritize hiring workers who can bring technical skills to their organizations.
In particular, workers must become familiar with robotics, including software or machinery that automates current work processes.
When implementing new technology, companies can improve morale by drawing on workers’ existing interest in learning new technical skills while providing transparency about why changes are made.
Clutch surveyed 521 knowledge workers about their outlook on the future of jobs. Respondents work in traditional offices (75%), at home (19%), in a coworking space (12%), or at a public space such as a library (3%).
The majority of respondents are employed full-time (85%), with the remainder employed part-time (15%). A range of industries were represented, including business/legal/financial services (19%), healthcare/life sciences (17%), education (16%), IT/telecommunications (12%), government (11%), retail/hospitality (8%), advertising/marketing (5%), and miscellaneous other (12%).
Respondents came from all regions of the United States: South (40%), Midwest (23%), Northeast (22%), and West (16%).
Women (70%) and men (30%) were included in the survey. Respondents ranged from millennials aged 18-34 (42%), Generation X aged 35-54 (44%), and baby boomers aged 55 and over (15%).