The RPA market has grown exponentially and is expected to reach $11B by 2027. And it’s not hard to guess where the growth is coming from. RPA‘s potential to automate menial and time-consuming tasks has made it a darling in various industries, including automotive, healthcare, finance, insurance, education, and more.
The widespread adoption of RPA brings with it ethical concerns that users and adopters alike may have. Questions such as, “will robots take over humans’ jobs?” are some that warrant a concrete answer.
With this in mind, in this study, we aim to provide a description of RPA ethics, find out whether or not the dispossession of human jobs through RPA is unethical and whether or not it will actually occur, provide a best practice for managers to follow when introducing RPA into the workplace, and more.
What is RPA ethics?
Unfortunately, we could not find a universal definition on the Internet for this subject. So we will have to come up with one on our own.
“Ethics” are moral – some could say “socially imposed” – principles that govern one’s behavior.
RPA, or Robotic Process Automation, on the other hand, is the technology that aims to do our menial and time-consuming tasks for us.
Therefore, we could describe RPA ethics as such: “RPA ethics is all the dilemmas that users, adopters, and programmers alike face in regard to the application of this technology.”
Robots dispossessing humans of their jobs, which we will cover next, is, for instance, one ethical dilemma that has arisen.
Is RPA dispossession of human jobs unethical?
Thanks to its 24/7 functionality, efficiency, tirelessness, scalability, and low maintenance costs, RPA has infiltrated various sects of the economy.
Take manufacturing, for instance, which has the highest adoption rate of any industry. Previously, there used to be an employee on the floor who walked around, monitored inventory levels, placed orders for restockings of intermediary goods, and tracked their shipment to ensure a continuous manufacturing process. Today, RPA bots can now do the same tasks with more efficiency, accuracy, and lower costs.
So, if in the politics and the socioeconomics of the 1st world countries, outsourcing locals’ jobs to underpaid workers in poorer countries is a fine line between ethical and unethical, the same argument could be made for the use of RPA in the workplace, as well.
Will RPA replace human labor?
So the question ultimately becomes whether or not RPA will replace human labor on a larger scale. The answer is both “yes,” and “no.” The chief economic adviser at the Center for Economics and Business Research, Vicky Pryce gives an interesting answer.
In 2015, per a study done by McKinsey, only 4% of the work activities across the US economy required a “median” level of human creativity. If we switch those statistics around, Pryce says, that means “ninety-six percent of jobs are ‘zombie jobs.’ They are already dead – [we] just don’t know it.”
The implication is that there is a strong likelihood of jobs requiring “autopilot” functionality — e.g., copying documents, answering FAQ questions, creating (not analyzing, mind you) reports of any kind, etc. — to be phased out by RPA.
Are there any positives of RPA taking over some human jobs?
Yes. As Pryce lays out, automation will mean the creation of complementary jobs for humans. For instance, previously we mentioned how RPA can automate the generation, and not the analysis, of reports. That means there is still the need for humans to make heads or tails of the data the machines give them.
Or take education. RPA has been adopted at schools to make teachers’ lives easier by automating the grading of papers, for instance. So ideally, with the reduced workload of teachers, who should have spent their time grading pop quizzes before, they now can spend more one-on-one interactions with their students. Similarly, there could be an increased need for counselors.
In addition, as Kate Davies, the chief executive of Notting Hill Genesis, notes, “by removing the mundane tasks and automating the most ‘boring’ parts of the job, [the workforce would ultimately be more engaged and happier.”
How should high-level managers deal with their workers’ anxiety?
No matter how we look at this subject, there will ultimately be some human jobs that will get outsourced to RPA bots. And even though this might be beneficial to employees and employers, alike in the long run, the disharmonies in the short run have to be minimized.
The following are some best practices that management could adopt to deal with the anxiety of technological revolution in the workplace:
1. Explain the paradigm shifts clearly
An AI-enabled customer service chatbot that automatically answers customers’ questions does not mean that your customer service representative is done for. On the opposite, it means more responsibilities for them because they now have more time to address more strategically-important points, such as improving one-on-one customer service support.
Managers should clearly lay out to different departments which of their tasks will be automated and which new ones they will have to take on. Transparency and articulacy will minimize misunderstandings between the employees and the management suite.
2. Emphasize the value of re-skilling
With an RPA applied to most processes, employees now have to oversee their functionality to apply controls wherever applicable and monitor the standards. All this requires some level of data science and technological literacy that might not have been needed before when most processes were manual.
This calls for re-skilling the workforce. Employers should make clear to staff the importance of retraining: how it will add value to their existing job and how it will also improve their future job prospects.
For instance, a Turkish appliances manufacturer initiated a campaign to incentivize its employees to get on board with the new RPA implementation. Their management ran an internal marketing campaign named, “the 25-hour day,” through which they prompted employees to think about how automation would provide them each with an extra hour in their day. In the end, the campaign reached more than 1,000 employees through different RPA seminars, in addition to leading to 320 new processes being nominated for automation1.
3. Give your team time to adjust
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and employers should not pressure their staff to change their approach in a short period radically. Managers can take advantage of professional consulting and training teams to equip the workforce with the new tools they need to stay competitive. These training teams can come into your workplace, assess the current skill level, and provide an unbiased and accurate time estimate of the time it’d take to turn over a new leaf.
4. Invest in counseling
Change is stressful, and in the COVID era, this will only add to the mental stress of employees who may be fearful of change and losing their jobs while having to live and work in a pandemic.
An option for high-level management is to expand the HR department to offer more professional counseling services that could address employees’ mental health challenges.
For more on RPA
To learn more about RPA, read:
- The 5 Key RPA Trends To Watch For
- Attended vs. Unattended RPA: In-Depth Guide
- RPA Architecture: In-Depth Guide to How RPA Works
To gain a comprehensive overview of RPA, download our whitepaper.
If you believe your business would benefit from adopting an RPA solution, visit our data-driven list of RPA software vendors.
And we will help you choose the right tool for your business:
1- Re-skilling case study.
Cem has been the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per similarWeb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.
Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.
Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised businesses on their enterprise software, automation, cloud, AI / ML and other technology related decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.
He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.
Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.
To stay up-to-date on B2B tech & accelerate your enterprise:Follow on
Next to Read
Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.