Dark Side of Automation, army of robots

The Dark Side of Automation

Is worker displacement (being laid off) an opportunity to re-energise our aspirations and seek out a new career path or does the rise of robotic automation in our industries bring with it a deadly dark side?

Our recent post ‘Rise of the Robots’discussed the scary prospect that 800 million workers could lose their jobs or be replaced by robotic automation by the year 2030 and what people’s fears were on the topic.

Many of their concerns related to the impact that robots will have on society in general and surprisingly many people hadn’t considered the ongoing issues that may be faced by individuals who are likely to be laid off when the robots arrive.

If the worst case scenario does happen and we really do see millions of workers facing unemployment, all at the same time, should we be more concerned about the effect unemployment has on individuals and where it could all lead? To find out what it could all mean, we need to go back to the basics of being a working human.

Why do we not only work, but strive to create a career?

A well known theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1954 paper, “Motivation and Personality” explored human motivations, ie: what motivates us, or what makes us tick. Maslow aligned our general human motivations against a 5 point scale called a hierarchy.

The scale starts with our need to satisfy our basic human survival requirements including thirst and hunger, ending in the highest level of motivation which is to fulfil our full potential. 

Maslows hierarchy or needs pyramid

Image Source: Simply Pyschology

Maslow’s theory works on the concept that you must fulfil one stage before you can move on to another because, for example, you can’t achieve security, stability and protection if you have not yet satisfied your basic needs of hunger and thirst. Or, you can never reach your full potential if you don’t first have self-respect and self-confidence.

What does this have to do with work?

A 2017 report from Lancashire County Council[1] states in its opening paragraphs;

“Work can provide a sense of purpose, structure, dignity and an income, which enables people to support themselves and their families. It is also linked to other determinants of health such as housing and lifestyle choices. Employment can also provide social support, networks and social participation, which also contribute to good mental health.”

Therefore, our ability to work in a job and progress a career directly contributes to all of Maslow’s theoretical stages, certainly stages 2 and above. If we cannot work, we cannot achieve security or stability so it follows that we would struggle to come anywhere close to realising our full potential.

What effect does this have on us?

Maslow argued that failure to have needs met and progress through the stages could lead to psychiatric illness or mental health issues. The inability to reach the higher stages of the hierarchy, particularly stages 4 and 5 could have a profound affect, contributing to depression and anxiety.

It would seem that Maslow is not alone in his theory. The National Mental Health Development Unit (NMHDU)[2] published the following in their 2010 fact file:

  • People who are unemployed consult their GPs more often than the general population.
  • Depression and anxiety are 4-10 times more prevalent among people who have been unemployed for more than 12 weeks.
  • The longer a person is out of work, the less chance they have of getting back into the labour market.

What does this mean for the future? 

In this worst case scenario of mass lay off’s due to robotic automation, the potential rise in  mental health issues being treated on the NHS could put an already stretched resource under immense strain.

The great news is that the people who are in positions of authority and who have the ability to bring about change well ahead of time, are already on the case. In 2017 Public Health Wales published a report[4] detailing how they were working with experts across the world on approaches to prevent and prepare for potential mass unemployment events. The report provided an eight step framework to support public, voluntary and private sectors with prevention, planning and reaction strategies. The steps included;

  • Identifying communities at risk and assessing the potential impact.
  • Developing an early warning system.
  • Early multi-sector responses for health and community perspectives.
  • Addressing the needs of older and unskilled groups.
  • Early implementation of re-employment and financial support for redundant workers.

There is no doubt that this framework is, and will continue to be, an important resource for reducing the consequences of mass unemployment events, as far-fetched as they may be.

While we leave the powers that be in charge of preparing our health system and economy for a potential influx of robot caused redundancies, there are things we can be doing to future proof our own careers.

If you want to get ahead of the potential for employment issues and start to prepare for your future prospects, then hop over to our recent post that will provide 3 great ways you can upskill to make sure you are robot ready.

If you think that perhaps a career change is in order, then check out this post providing a heap of alternative job ideas for warehouse workers

Sources

Lancashire County Council. Mental Health and Work – Supporting evidence and key findings for Lancashire -14. May 2017 [Internet]

National Mental Health Development Unit (NMHDU) Fact file 1 Mental Health & Employment 2010 [Internet]

University of Southampton. ‘Link between economy and crime rates has broken down, new research finds.’ Published 21st September 2015 

NHS Wales. June 2017 [Internet]

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