The End of Admin: How Automation Can Remove Dull Tasks and Improve Employee Mental Health
Automation is often pitted against human labour. In reality, technology lessens the burden for workers and can create more fulfilling roles.
According to research from SnapLogic, 90% of workers regularly undertake dull and repetitive tasks which could be easily automated. And this unnecessary labour costs businesses around 19 days of work per employee per year.
But while the business arguments for automation are strong, there is another, less commonly appreciated benefit to automation: the positive impact it can have on employees’ mental health and workplace behaviours. And in this article, we’re going to explore exactly how employee wellbeing and automation are connected.
But first, we need to be clear about exactly what automation is.
How does automation actually work?
The term ‘automation’ has come to occupy a strange position in the popular imagination: we are continually warned of an upcoming apocalypse, where robots will displace the majority of the workforce. And while the future of human labour is certainly worth considering, the reality of most automation is far removed from this bleak picture.
Simply put, automation is the use of automatic equipment – typically computers – to undertake specific tasks. Because automatic equipment is not able to respond with the mental elasticity of human workers, it is typically reserved for highly repetitive, predictable actions, like admin or manufacturing processes.
Its benefits are numerous:
· It removes human-error, particularly in areas of data collection and storage, which tend to be both time consuming and uninteresting for humans.
· It allows for far faster and more efficient action – where it might take humans hours to compute or organise certain administrative tasks, automated systems can do it in a fraction of the time.
· It improves productivity by reducing the amount of time workers spend dealing with inefficient processes/programs, poorly filed paperwork, locating information from disparate sources and generally dealing with high-stress administrative work.
So the popular idea of automation – robots infiltrating the workplace and taking over – is simply wrong. The reality is that automated processes almost always function to augment and assuage human labour, rather simply replace it – whether enabling more complex functioning, or simply relieving the burden of repetitive tasks.
And this factor – the reduction in stress and tedium from dull, repetitive tasks – is where automation’s potential to improve employee mental health lies.
How digital automation can improve employee mental health
Employee wellbeing is a major concern: poor mental health has cost UK employers £42 billion in recent years, and over half of all UK workers want their employers to offer more mental health support.
What has brought about this crisis is heavily debated. But one increasingly common belief is that the day-to-day experience of workers is not a symptom of the problem – it’s a cause.
In his caustic essays on the nature of the modern workplace, celebrated anthropologist David Graeber argues that a major cause of the current mental health crisis is workplace alienation. That is, workers feeling that they spend too much of their working life doing tasks that do not allow them to use the full range of their talents and abilities.
This is borne out by the data: according to Asana’s recent report on How People Spend Time at Work, the average worker spends 60% of their day on ‘work about work’, and just 27% on the tasks they were trained for and feel most capable when doing.
This sense of social alienation is directly built into many jobs: 58% of organizations say their onboarding program is focused on processes and paperwork, rather than on people and performance. And of those, 21% said their onboarding process and paperwork was inconsistent, informal, or reactive.
By radically reducing the burden of high-stress admin, automation software could be a route back towards a more human-centric approach to work. It creates more time for employees to focus on tasks which suit their actual skills, and to make a genuine contribution to the organisation they work for.
But it isn’t quite so simple. To achieve this kind of future, leaders should do three things:
· Locate opportunities for ‘easy wins’, where processes can be automated at low cost and create immediate gains in employee freedom and efficiency; HR and administrative tasks will be most common here.
· Consult with employees to learn more about their role and mental health needs, opening up dialogue and ensuring employees feel their concerns are being recognised and considered.
· Develop a long-term digital plan as to how automation will be introduced and transform their organisation’s internal processes, with an emphasis on improving employee experience.
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