While automation in the workplace has simplified arduous tasks, new challenges have arisen with the surge in digitalisation

In the next three years the use of automation such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, is expected to nearly double. The Global Future of Work Survey by Willis Towers Watson found that 12% of companies currently use automation to complete tasks and this is expected to increase to 22%.

“UK companies clearly see work automation gaining momentum, with little signs of slowing down anytime soon,” says George Zarkadakis, Digital Lead for Willis Towers Watson’s Talent and Rewards practice. “The implications for HR and talent strategies are immediate. On one hand, the growing use of AI, robotics, free agent workers, contractors, consultants and part-time employees brings with it HR challenges that only few organisations are prepared to tackle. On the other hand, many companies recognise the need for breakthrough and innovative approaches — and are reinventing work and how talent and skills combine.”

Despite automation becoming the norm in the modern-day workplace, less than 7% of HR function are fully prepared for the changing requirements of digitalisation. Fewer than a third stated they were somewhat prepared and had already taken steps to prepare for the future.

However, organisations are better prepared for more flexible ways of working, More than a quarter (29%) have chosen to match talent to the new work requirements, and 27% have taken action to enable careers based on a more agile and flattened organisation structure.

Less skilled jobs are the main priority for organisations when it comes to new ways of working, 42% of employers expect to apply automation and redesign to these areas in the coming years.  This shift is likely to significantly impact workforces as almost half of employers (49%) believe they will require fewer employees in the next three years because of automation.

“Most companies believe automation will have a significant impact on leaders and managers in the next three years,” Zarkadakis explains. “This is underscored by the percentage of companies that say automation will change how managers educate workers on the impact of automation on their jobs in the next three years (32% this year versus 61% in 2020). Additionally, almost two-thirds (63%) say leaders will need to think differently about the requirements and skills for successors and succession management as a result of automation.”

The study found respondents are either planning to take action this year or considering measures to prepare for the future, such as deconstructing jobs and identifying which tasks can be automated (50%) and identifying reskilling pathways for talent whose work is being subsumed by automation (48%). Employers are also acting to reconfigure total rewards and benefits to fit a radically different workforce (53%).

“Management and leadership development will be a critical issue for companies of all sizes over the next three years. We know strong leadership is a key driver of employee engagement and retention. But in the face of rapidly changing work automation, companies will need to develop leaders and managers who can orchestrate a radically different work ecosystem while keeping all of the talent in their workplaces fully engaged,” Zarkadakis adds.