Robotic Process Automation often gets a bad rap because of its potential impact on jobs and, in particular, the people that do those jobs. By directly replacing human beings with software there is always the possibility that some people will be put out of work. And whilst that may save the company money, it can have a significant impact on those people that have been directly affected.
The standard answer to these criticisms is that, more often than not, the people aren’t actually let go but are, instead, transferred onto more ‘value-adding’ and rewarding work. Some cynics would respond that that is the exception rather than the rule, and the disruption caused to everyone’s ways of working, such as having to be retrained and having to deal with software robots as part of the normal business process, far outweighs the benefits of the change.
Who is right? Are the employees the real losers here, or do they actually benefit from having the robots take on all that mundane and repetitive work for them? There has been no real research on this most sensitive of subjects. Until now…
The impact of RPA on employee experience
Forrester, a leading research and consulting company, recently completed a research survey looking specifically at the impact of RPA on employee engagement and experience. (We need to be aware that the work was commissioned by UIPath, an RPA software vendor, so it may not have the true independence we would ideally look for, but the conclusions will be broadly correct).
Forrester conducted eight interviews and gathered data from a survey conducted in August 2018 with 100 decision-makers at manager level or above from operations groups, shared services, finance and accounting, HR, and other core business lines. The results are encouraging.
Sixty percent of the survey respondents said RPA helps employees focus on more meaningful, strategic tasks. This is against a background of the restructuring of existing work enabled by RPA, which 66% of respondents said enables employees to have more human interactions. That transfer of mundane and menial tasks from human to robot also benefits the company, with 57% reporting a reduction in manual errors.
Of course, not everyone is finding these positive results. The report, unsurprisingly, finds that those organisations that focus strongly on employee experience when implementing RPA are the ones that will reap the greatest benefits and have the most engaged employees at the end of it. Conversely, poorly managed RPA programs expose the existing fears that employees naturally have when faced with robots that threaten to take over their work. This fear spreads quickly, resulting in much wider discontent and dissatisfaction than just within the RPA program.
The importance of change management
A key requirement of any RPA program is, therefore, a well-designed change management program, with plenty of communication and collaboration between the business and the workers. When employees understand how RPA fits into the organisation’s business strategy, the types of benefits that it can bring, and what they plan to do with the jobs that are affected, then significant support from the workforce can be enlisted. However, good change management is far from easy: 82% of survey respondents said that change management was a challenge, especially when it comes to cultural issues.
Any discontent or resistance from the employees means that the RPA program will struggle to scale. This challenge can be amplified if the organisation does not apply enough trained personnel and resources to the program. Nearly half of the respondents said that they find it difficult to understand the different deployment options available to them.
Seeking advice and guidance from third-party experts can mitigate most of the risks mentioned above. But it is the simple stuff of focusing on the employees, communicating early and often and being as open and transparent as possible that can make all the difference to delivering a successful RPA project and having engaged employees.
You can download and read the full report here.