The Impact of Automation on EAP Clients of the Future
By Marina London, LCSW, CEAP
We have all heard the dire forecast: in about 10 years, half of the jobs in existence today will be automated. Bye-bye jobs. Bye-bye EAP clients. Fortunately for our profession, it’s more complicated than that, as James Manyika, a Director at the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), explains in his January 17, 2017 article, Workplace automation: Separating fiction from fact.
Astoundingly, as early as 1964, US President Lyndon Johnson created a national commission to examine the impact of automation on the economy and employment. At that time, LBJ stressed that automation should be viewed as an ally, not an enemy:
“If we understand it, if we plan for it, if we apply it well, automation will not be a job destroyer or a family displaced. Instead, it can remove dullness from the work of man and provide him with more than man has ever had before.”
It is difficult to be that optimistic a half-century later, because technology has advanced at breakneck speed. Manyika asks pointed questions: “...who back then could have imagined the legions of robots at work today in manufacturing... Machines today increasingly matching or outperforming human performance in a range of work activities, including ones requiring cognitive capabilities.... Will robots replace humans in the workplace? And if so, how quickly?”
He then quotes from a recently published McKinsey Global Institute report on automation and its potential effects on productivity and the global economy. Among the findings, “...almost half the activities we pay people about $15 trillion in wages to do in the global economy have the potential to be automated using currently demonstrated technology.”
Workers of the Future
Scary, but there is a twist. “More jobs will change than will be automated away in the short to medium term. Only a small proportion of all occupations, about 5%, can be automated entirely using these demonstrated technologies over the coming decade...”
Manyika adds: “As companies deploy automation, we ... need to think more about mass redeployment rather than unemployment, [my emphasis] and ... think about people working alongside machines and the skills that will be needed for the workforce of today and tomorrow... They include capabilities that are inherently human, including managing and developing people, and social and emotional reasoning. [my emphasis]
He concludes: “Just because the technical potential to automate a workplace activity exists does not mean that it will happen anytime soon...The pace and extent of automation will depend on a range of factors of which technical feasibility is only one… Other factors include the dynamics of labor supply and demand. If there is no shortage in the labor market of cooks, it may not make business sense to replace them with an expensive machine.”
Opportunities for EA Professionals
It seems that there will be opportunities for EAPs to support employees as they are redeployed. But I think of other possibilities when Manyika states that in order to effectively work alongside robots, the worker of the future will need to develop skills that are inherently human, including managing and developing people, as well as social and emotional reasoning. As EA professionals, this type of skill development is part of our expertise. We already provide executive coaching, workshops on such topics as “Dealing with Difficult People,” short-term counseling to improve workplace relationships, and management consultation around team building.
This brings me to another thought. In 1982, preeminent futurist John Naisbitt coined the phrase “high tech, high touch,” in his book Megatrends, the culmination of 10 years of research. In it, he theorized that in a world of technology, people will long for personal, human contact.
This was remarkably prescient. Consider he articulated this concept before Time magazine’s famous 1983 issue, “The Computer, Machine of the Year.” The caption on the cover of the magazine was “The computer moves in.” I can still remember the backlash in the press – many were shocked and troubled by the fact that a machine was on the cover instead of a person.
Naisbitt further elaborated on his ideas in the 1999 High Tech, High Touch - technology and our search for meaning. Based on exhaustive research, he described human beings as living in “a Technologically Intoxicated Zone” bombarded with technological stimuli, an existence that is both disconnected and distracted. In reaction, we struggle to bring high touch back into our lives. As technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous and powerful, our field will look for ways to help our clients preserve their humanity.
Marina London is Manager of Web Services for EAPA and author of iWebU (http://www.iwebu.info), a weekly blog for mental health and EA professionals who are challenged by social media and Internet technologies. She previously served as an executive for several national EAP and managed mental health care firms. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Naisbitt, J. (1999). High tech, high touch: technology and our search for meaning. Danvers, MA: Broadway Books, Crown Publishing Group.
Naisbitt, J. (1982). Megatrends: ten new directions transforming our lives. New York, NY: Warner Books.
The Computer, Machine of the Year. Time Magazine. Jan. 3, 1983.
Web Secret 455: High Tech, High Touch 2.0. Marina London. iWebU blog post February 22, 2017. http://www.iwebu.info/2017/02/web-secret-455-high-techhigh-touch.html.
Web Secret #314: High Touch. Marina London iWebU blog post June 11, 2014 http://www.iwebu.info/2014/06/websecret-314-high-touch.html.
Workplace automation: Separating fiction from fact, January 17, 2017 James Manyika, Director, McKinsey Global Institute, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/workplace-automation-separatingfiction-from-fact-james-manyika.