Employees First, Last, and Always: How to Win in a Tight Labor Market

We’re still in a tight labor market, and many employees still feel overworked and dissatisfied. According to Gallup, three out of four employees feel burnt out on the job at least sometimes. Low unemployment along with rising wages are making it even harder to find good workers.

The solution to this problem is an intelligent automation (IA) platform built around an employee-centered model. Digital transformation and specifically IA will be critical in facilitating this workplace shift, paving the way for better use of employees’ time and fueling innovation, career growth, and more exciting work.  

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Most employees feel overwhelmed. In fact, 96% of workers feel dissatisfied with the tools they’ve been given to manage work, and they say the tools provided aren’t helping them keep up. Enter: automation, which has already transformed many industries, including manufacturing, retail, finance, and health care.

The advantages to employees are many. Most notably, artificial intelligence (AI) handles repetitive tasks no one really wants to do, such as inputting data into spreadsheets or handling customer returns at a help desk. By connecting human workers and digital workers, companies can expedite productivity.

Robotic process automation (RPA) also supports workers by taking over mundane tasks that account for over half of workers’ workdays. People can therefore spend their time doing what humans do best and what a digital workforce can never do: empathize, collaborate, innovate, strategize, and network. It’s a benefit for customers and employees.

While it’s common to automate repetitive tasks such as data entry, IA is aimed at taking on more complicated duties, including data analysis and decision-making. This combination of AI, RPA, business process management (BPM), and other complementary technologies enables organizations to optimize workflows and streamline end-to-end processes. 

Human-Centered Approach

Making humans a central part of the automation process reshapes the way businesses approach work. Rather than focusing on process-driven questions like “How do we maximize output?” organizations ask employee-centered questions like “How can we make people’s jobs easier?” or “How can we improve the employee experience?” It’s important to provide a clear understanding of how and why you leverage the abilities of digital workers to improve the employee experience.

As part of designing a digital workplace with human-centered automation, you need to consider how humans and digital workers make a complementary team. While digital workers can help speed up tedious tasks, humans can turn their attention to improving quality, managing complexity, and building stronger connections with customers.

Employees need to be engaged throughout the design process of new automations, and companies should focus on outcomes for employees and customers. It’s about more than just freeing up resources. According to McKinsey, enhanced experiences for customers and employees are the second most common reason for automating processes. Among the companies surveyed, about two-thirds saw improvement in quality control, customer satisfaction, and employee experience after adopting automation.

It’s a Journey

An IA model designed around the needs of human employees can extract maximum value from human and digital workers, enabling the two to come together to drive business outcomes. Such a model focuses on the wants and needs of employees and how automation can best be used to complement them.

Rather than focusing on process-driven questions like “How do we maximize output?” organizations ask employee-centered questions like “How can we make an employee’s role more impactful?” or “How can we improve the employee experience?” and “What impacts are our strategies having on employees?”

As businesses tend to employee needs, their outcome-related objectives naturally get met and frequently surpassed. Employees are recharged, as the need to work after hours is reduced and their sense of work/life balance is improved. Naturally, workers’ motivation rises, and this effect is further amplified by the renewed ability to focus on more engaging and fulfilling work. These impacts on workers result in more productive employees who are also champions of IA as direct beneficiaries of its transformative abilities.

Battling Resistance with Upskilling

Senior-level sponsorship of any IA strategy is integral to success. Leaders are responsible for choosing effective solutions, conveying their benefits to employees, and creating incentives and motivations for workers to champion digitalization. This approach includes providing comprehensive training and reskilling and upskilling learning opportunities.

Such training initiatives need to meet the individual needs of workers with various levels of technical literacy. For example, those nearing retirement may need different training than those just entering the workforce. These groups will also have different motivators, so these factors must be considered when devising incentives. Also, the relevant benefits of IA may differ across groups, so onboarding programs should reflect this.

For example, citizen development is an emerging trend: Nontechnical employees are trained to create and run automation. Businesses and organizations are turning to this strategy to save on the costs of recruiting and hiring developers, who are hard to find in this tight labor market.

According to Gartner, 61% of organizations either have or plan to have active citizen development programs. This involves training workers without coding experience to develop business process automation using no-code or low-code tools. They utilize business application platforms to fill digital transformation needs—manipulate data, develop reports, and automate workflows and business processes.

Opening automation up to more employees is a way to crowdsource ideas. Demonstrations can facilitate better cross-team functioning and allow all employees to participate in their organization’s digital transformation journey.

Communication Is Key

According to experienced business change managers, for technology to succeed, you need clear communication at every step. It’s beneficial to assure employees they can contribute to the design and development of the processes intertwined with automation. It’s also important to provide a clear understanding of how to leverage digital coworkers to enhance employees’ experiences and why.

The rise in employee dissatisfaction presents a problem to businesses and organizations because they need their workers to drive digital transformation and, more importantly, provide uniquely human skills and abilities like creativity, empathy, and critical thinking. Automation plans that focus on how employees and digital workers best complement each other instead of focusing primarily on costs saved will result in a more empowered workforce and a more competitive enterprise.

Joe Collura is VP Solution Engineer of the Americas, SS&C Blue Prism.

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