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Automation May Not Increase Job Satisfaction for Everyone

Automation May Not Increase Job Satisfaction for Everyone

Study finds that implementing automation leads to a disconnect with some employees’ values, leading to dissatisfaction

Rachel Muenz

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Eliminating repetitive, routine work so that workers can focus on more creative, enjoyable tasks is one of the key benefits often touted when discussing automation. But, a study from Finland’s Åbo Akademi University reveals such automation may not necessarily lead to increased job satisfaction for everyone.

Most previous research on how automated technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence affect the workplace has focused on how such technology changes the skillset required of workers rather than exploring the impact on values at work, writes study author Johnny Långstedt.

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Långstedt, a doctoral student and project researcher in industrial management at Åbo Akademi University, used data from 44,387 respondents to the 2016 European social survey to determine which jobs were most at risk for becoming automated and the most common values held by people with those jobs. He found, similar to previous studies, that the higher the level of education, the lower the risk of a person’s job being eliminated by automation, while those with lower education levels were at highest risk of being eliminated by automation.

Values and job fit

In addition, Långstedt examined several previous studies in his research, concluding that employees’ values differ depending on the type of work they do, and people do their best work when their values align well with their work environment. People tend to choose work that matches their values, he adds. However, because automation greatly changes the work environment, it could lead to people’s values no longer matching the work they do, potentially lowering their job satisfaction.

"Up to date, we have mostly talked about how nice it is that routine work is being reduced. But what about those who enjoy such work? This is the first study aimed at understanding the ways our values are linked to the work we are expected to carry out in the future," says Långstedt in a press release on the study.

Given the percentage of the workforce at risk for automation, which Långstedt says could be as high as 47 percent in the US based on previous research, employers should take steps to ensure that automation does not negatively affect their employees.

“The results indicate that person-job fit [how well a person’s characteristics match their job] can decrease in many occupations as a consequence of implementing intelligent technologies,” Långstedt writes in his study. “It is paramount that organizations do not limit their efforts to the skills-work dimension of person-job fit but integrate the work-values fit as well, if the changes occur as estimated. Organizations need to consider how changes affect the fit between values and work requirements,” and how those changes impact their future workforce.