Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, Professors at MIT Sloan School of Management, poses that technology is advancing faster than we can create jobs, leaving a very real void in the middle class. This void is responsible for the income inequality we see today known as the ‘Great Decoupling.’ At the beginning of our three week series on the man-machine collaboration we discussed examples of robotics in the workplace followed by augmentation vs automation describing the benefits of the collaborative process between man and machine. This week we are considering the impact of technology on employment posing the argument that technological advances are causing the current stagnation we see in the workforce. There exists a very real fear that robots and machines will replace human labor as we find ourselves in the Second Machine Age.
The Great Decoupling is best illustrated by an economic chart comparing productivity to total employment and increase in wages. Since the 1940s these lines tracked each other showing continuous growth in productivity, employment, and increasing wages. These increases fueled the idea that advances in technology lead to increased productivity and employment while also distributing the increase in wealth to everyone throughout the economy. However, in the early 2000s the lines began deviate showing unprecedented growth in productivity, declining total employment, and declining wages. This separation or decoupling is thought to be caused by increasing technological advancements, or robots replacing people. It seems that digital processes in particular are responsible for killing jobs. Examples of this are seen in automated phone systems and online retail sales.
Advancing automation has even breached the ‘knowledge work’ industries. Knowledge work is defined by the ability to make decisions, is mental not manual, and generally requires at least an undergraduate degree. However, advances in Artificial Intelligence (AI) have allowed this faction of the labor market to be infiltrated. For example, some banks now allow algorithms to decide whether or not a person qualifies for a loan, taking human judgement completely out of the process. This challenge is not only affecting the United States. Other developed countries are also seeing this trend over the last few decades. This trend has led to a shortage of highly skilled workers and an abundance of unemployed and underemployed workers.
Don’t panic though. This theory is a notable one, but is just that…a theory. There are still areas in which human labor is superior to any machine, algorithm, code, or robot.
Machines cannot be creative.
Robots cannot empathize.
Algorithms cannot coach, lead, or motivate.
Coding cannot create a relationship.
And no available technology can move or react the way a person can.
Machines simply follow the codes or orders they are given. Instead, entrepreneurs need to focus on how to augment their workforce to create symbiosis between man and machine. Only through collaboration will we move through this Second Machine Age unscathed. Use technology as a tool, not as the end game.
Harvard Business Review. Spotlight On Man and Machine. The Great Decoupling. June 2015. Pg 69.
Advancing technology and the continued integration of robotics and machines into our work spaces have a sobering effect on our workforce. A very real fear of being replaced by machines is looming over our heads. Fear of replacement is not necessary though. In our last blog we discussed ways in which robotics are changing how we work and highlighted the trend of collaboration between man and machine, think relationship not replacement or augmentation rather than automation. So how do we market ourselves as integral to a company when robots start moving in? How do we adapt?
1. Broaden your skill set. Instead of worrying about lost responsibilities look towards tasks that require more education, experience, or creative thinking. Let the robots assist you and seize the opportunity to take on new and higher-order tasks. Look for ways to branch out and make yourself more of an asset to your company. In some cases increasing your level of education or broadening your horizons may be required. Look at the big picture and keep pushing forward.
2. Let the robots do the codified work. If you find that stepping up is not a conceivable option for you, look to move out of the way. Let the machines do the work that can be codified by an algorithm and instead focus yourself on work that cannot be completed by computer software. Develop your communication, interpersonal skills, creative thinking and other skill sets that cannot be programmed. Make yourself a necessary addition to your company.
3. Serve as Quality Control for the machines. Computers and machines strictly adhere to the codes and markers within their programs. Machines cannot distinguish between individuals, look at the big picture, or feel empathy. Some circumstances require people to override computers. Companies will always have the need for workers that can monitor their machines, recognize unique circumstances, and intervene as necessary with functions or decisions made by machines. If you find yourself serving as quality control pursue education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and work on your skills of observation and interpretation.
4. Become the Subject Matter Expert (SME). Educate yourself through on the job training and real life experience to become the SME in your area of work. Practical application and experience will always be more valuable than a computer, machine, or robot. Staying ahead in the game will make you invaluable.
5. Create the next generation of machines. Behind every computer, machine, robot, or electronic device is a person who envisioned and brought it to life. Become the creator, the repairman, the programmer and decoder. Be your very own wizard behind the curtain.
The point is not to run from the robots but to embrace them. Accept the machines, learn to use them or work alongside them. Collaboration between man and machine will produce better results than just man or just machine. Robotics, machines, computers or whatever you may call them are an inevitable reality in the future workforce. Preparing yourself for the impact of the Second Machine Age, by adapting the way you work, will help you secure employment and make you a valuable resource to your company. Do not fear the machines, embrace them.
Harvard Business Review (HBR). Beyond Automation. June 2015. Pg 60.
Cyborgs are taking over! No one is safe! True, it’s a bad joke, but becoming more of a reality than science fiction. Robots used to exclusively operate within the manufacturing industry to replace people on the line, then to replace people with automated phone systems and customer services. With advances in technology machines are now collaborating alongside human labor with the goal of increasing efficiency and productivity. Robots are popping up in every career field using their complicated algorithms to simplify and expedite tedious work processes. Think of machines not as a means to replace human labor but to complement and assist human labor in streamlining processes.
For example Amazon’s warehouse in Trenton, New Jersey is experimenting with new robotic shelves. Amazon employees no longer have to search shelves to find a product that needs to be packaged, instead the shelves move around the warehouse and present themselves (and their products) to the employee at the packing station. These shelves are designed to save employee time by replacing the tedious task of searching for a product that has been ordered.
Also jumping on the robotic bandwagon are the makers of BMW who are using collaborative robots in their South Carolina manufacturing plant. Workers place pieces of insulation and other materials onto the vehicle door frames while machines apply adhesive. The machines make the arduous task less physically strenuous on the employees by reducing elbow strain.
But wait, there’s more…
Some hospitals have begun using robots to administer medication to patients when doctors are unavailable, providing better care to patients and allowing doctors to focus their attention on more vital cases.
The most recent trend shows a pattern of not employee replacement by technology, but supplementation of the workforce creating complementary relationships between man and machine.
Harvard Business Review. June 2015. Beyond Automation Pg. 60.
The largest growing faction within our workforce are Millennials, aging from 15-35. This group already makes up 35% of the workforce, making it the largest generation of workers by 4%. This generation was raised with social media, internet, and an ever changing and advancing technological pool of gadgets making their skill sets significantly different than that of previous generations. They are undoubtedly an asset to the labor force; however, they receive a bad rap. Below are seven myths about the millennial worker, from the management’s point of view, debunked.
Myth 1: Millennials have different career goals than other generations.
Millennials have the same career goals as previous generations. The desire to make a positive impact, solve social/environmental challenges, and work with unique and diverse people top the list of career expectations and goals. Every generation has the desire to work with a good group of people, to make a difference, and to feel fulfilled in their work including millennials.
Myth 2: Millennials want to award everyone with participation medals and praise.
This is entirely untrue. As a matter of fact millennials want recognition for accomplishments, equality and fairness, and transparency within their company. Doesn’t everyone want these characteristics within their managers and company?
Myth 3: Millennials want everyone’s input before making decisions and more likely to leave their job if it doesn’t fulfill their expectations.
Interestingly generation x workers are more inclined to solicit multiple opinions prior to making a decision and to jump ship when unfulfilled; however, surveys reveal that workers of every generation leave jobs for the same top four reasons. 1) The opportunity to move up within a company 2) The opportunity to fast track their employment 3) To follow one’s dreams 4) To save the world
Myth 4: Millennials are spoiled and have a sense of entitlement.
Managers often confuse the desire to be recognized for individual accomplishments as arrogance and a sense of entitlement. The truth is that millennials have grown up in an unsure job market and want to prove themselves and be recognized as an asset. Recognition brings job security.
Myth 5: Millennials are slackers.
Bentley University completed a study of millennial workers and found that these workers are ambitious and loyal to people and companies that value them and their work. The expectation is to be treated ethically and morally right within the workplace and to be recognized for hard work and dedication. The top reason millennials leave a job is because of poor management.
Myth 6: Texting and Social Media are the only means of communicating with this generation.
The truth, according to the Bentley survey is that the majority of millennials would prefer to communicate in person. Text messaging and social media can be interpreted incorrectly whereas face to face communication ensures nothing gets lost in translation.
Myth 7: Privacy is not important to millennials, who post everything to social media.
In fact, millennials are so accustomed to using social media that they are fully aware of the ramifications of disclosing all matters online. Privacy is actually quite important to the generation. The 2014 Communispace and Google Consumer Surveys found that most millennials do not reveal their real selves on their social media sites, but instead create the image they want to project.
Perhaps the gap between management’s perception and the millennial reality is a forged through a lack of communication. With millennials expected to make up 50% of the workforce in the next five years companies and previous generations should make the effort to look past preconceived notions of this generation and look to create a better bond between workers based on individual attributes.
Are your thoughts on the American workforce accurate?
Many ideas about the workforce today are ill-conceived rumors. Let’s put your knowledge to the test…I’ll pose a question and you can guess the answer based on your beliefs or experience. Then you can find out just how much you know about our ever evolving workforce.
Who makes up the majority of the workforce?
A) Generation X B) Millennials C) Baby Boomers
The majority of our workforce (35%) consists of millennials, 15-35 years of age, meaning dramatic changes in the skill sets of our labor force. This faction was raised on the internet and as a result tend to be more tech savvy and social media aware than previous generations.
Is there a worker shortage?
A) No, there is no shortage of workers. B) Yes, we have a shortage of low-skilled skilled workers. C) Yes, we have a shortage of highly-skilled workers.
This is a bit of a trick question. We currently have a shortage of highly-skilled workers and of low-skilled workers willing to work. Since 1983, skilled jobs have grown two times faster than low-skilled jobs; however, there is a shortage of low-skilled laborers willing to take employment in careers such as trucking, where there are currently 35,000 available jobs. There is also a shortage of laborers to fill highly skilled careers such as welding. The focus has been in education vice mastering a skill. To quote Mike Rowe, “we are lending money that ostensibly we don't have, to kids who have no hope of making it back, in order to train them for jobs that clearly don't exist.” Whether or not one agrees with this proposal, the problem does exist. The answer might lie in the changing workforce which has increasingly become service oriented as opposed to manufacturing and producing oriented. It is estimated that 86% of US jobs are service related. With such a focus on service, our millennial generation has forgotten about the manufacturing careers that can pay big bucks.
True or False…Freelancers make up only a small fraction of the workforce.
False, one-third of our workforce are freelance laborers composed of independent contractors, moonlighters, diversified workers, temporary workers, and entrepreneurs that consider themselves freelancers. Why exactly is 34% of our workforce considered freelance? The internet has facilitated in the expansion of freelance work through multiple outlets, from online marketplaces to personal websites and through the use of social media marketing. E-commerce has provided the opportunity for entrepreneurs to sell their goods or services to foreign buyers in a hassle-free manner. Bonus question…Who makes up the largest portion of freelance workers? I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count…Millennials, of course.
True or False…Internet net use has leveled out and is not expected to grow.
It’s obvious that the internet has changed our culture and the way we do business; but believe it or not, there are more changes to come. Technology is leaning towards an entirely different type of user on the internet; things. Instead of just smart phones, iPads, and computers connecting to the internet, we are seeing sensors, machines, and complex systems connecting to the internet. It is now possible to turn off the lights in your home through your phone, or arm your security system, and it is even possible for sensors in sewer pipes to connect to the internet. Cisco Systems is estimating that 50 billion things could be connected to the internet through communication networks within six years. So how does this affect the workforce? Things will inevitably start replacing people.
The only constant in business is change; it’s the only thing we can absolutely count on. The same goes for our workforce.
Have you noticed any new trends bringing change in your local workforce?
Telecommuting has traditionally been viewed in a positive light, used as an incentive to attract and retain employees, and has been a growing trend in the business world with positive results. If this is true why then did Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer make the extremely controversial decision to stop allowing her employees to telecommute, effective June 2015. This decision created a whirlwind of opposing views and public dissent from some very influential business leaders. Mayer defends her choice, based on data collected internally, saying that while employees are more productive at home, they are less collaborative and innovate when they aren’t provided with the opportunity to communicate with their fellow employees. She cites a specific instance where two employees engaged in a casual conversation that turned into a hugely successful and innovative weather app allowing people to see real time Flickr images of weather in a specific location. Despite this example, many disagree with the decision.
Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, slammed Mayer’s choice saying, “Working life isn’t 9-5 anymore,” and called the move, “a backwards step in an age when remote working is easier and more effective.” Terri Griffith, professor at Santa Clara University and published author feels that the lack of innovation is not simply the result of a work from home program saying, “You can't drop in a flexible work program and expect a turnaround. Nor can you pull back from flexible work and expect to kickstart innovation.” It is Griffith’s opinion that greatness comes from the right amount of focus is given to the various systems; organizational, employee, and technological.
A recent Gallup Poll suggests that telecommuting has the ability to be both an asset to a company as well as detrimental dependent upon the amount of time spent telecommuting. According to the poll people who telecommuted 20% of the time or less were engaged and enthusiastic; however, telecommuting more than 20% of the time showed decreases in both areas. Apparently 20% of the time is the threshold so perhaps instead of killing this work flex option; she should have just reduced the amount of telecommuting time.
What are your thoughts on teleworking? Does telecommuting kill creativity and innovation?
In research for the blog this week, we stumbled upon an interview in ‘Success’ Magazine that we just had to share with you. The content was very thought provoking and we hope you find it useful! The interview content is paraphrased below.
Productivity is a choice. In life there are two different types of tasks, gain tasks and prevent pain tasks. Prevent pain tasks are our everyday responsibilities such as taking out the trash. There are no great gains made from taking out our trash, but if we do not take it out our house will smell and attract rodents. Prevent pain tasks only represent 10% of our achievements yet they take up so much of our time, or so we perceive that they take up our time. These tasks are put on our to-do list because they have to get done.
Gain tasks are much harder to identify and accomplish and yet they represent 90% of our achievements. These tasks go on a calendar. Time is made for these projects because they are important.
Three attributes to help you recognize gain tasks:
1. Lack of urgency. These tasks can be put off over and over again without any looming deadline or threat. For example, learning another language; you can put it off but when you look back on your life will you remember taking out the trash or learning that language? Will there be a sense of accomplishment from taking out the trash or from learning another language?
2. When we do a gain task they produce significant results, life-long results.
3. You cannot delegate gain tasks. You cannot delegate learning another language to someone else. If you want to learn another language, you have to do it yourself.
Now that you can identify the gain tasks, how do you actually achieve gains?
1. Schedule. Put these tasks on your calendar. The perceived deadline will create motivation.
2. Defend the task. Do not let your pain tasks force you to push back or reschedule your gain task. Delegate the pain tasks in order to create time.
3. Neglect maintenance and play catch up later. Put off taking out the trash and paying a bill. Instead focus on your gain task and take care of pain tasks later.
Threats to achievement of gains come in the form of procrastination and interruptions. We tend to procrastinate doing tasks that we do not like or that we know will take energy we perceive we do not have. The energy comes from waiting until a deadline comes close and then stressing about the subsequent consequences from non-completion.
Procrastination prevents gain tasks from being completed due to the nature of gain tasks. They do not have looming deadlines. So where do we get the energy to begin? Put them on the calendar. Make time for the first task and the endorphins, momentum, and feeling of accomplishment from completing the first task will carry you into scheduling the second gain task and so on.
Interruptions are killers to productivity, which you will inevitably face. Types of interruptions:
1. Do Something’s…These are things that come up and need to be done. Put them on a to-do list and get back to work on being productive.
2. Need Information…These are people that need just a quick moment to get some piece of information or data from you. When they interrupt you, politely let them know that you are busy with a project so that they keep the conversation short and sweet. Quickly exchange information and move on.
3. Want Appointments…These are people that want time and you handle them by scheduling an appointment and then jumping right back into work.
As quickly as possible, handle the interruptions and continue down the path of productivity through focus and determination.
You may be wondering where to begin. Simple, take two minutes to brainstorm your goals. Put them down on paper and prioritize them however you like. Then…you guessed it, put it on the calendar.
Hardy, D., & McClatchy, S. (2015, February 6). Productivity: Get It Done. Gain vs. Pain Tasks. Success Magazine.
The beginning of the year is marked by the end of the holiday season and the beginning of tax preparation season. This is as good of a time as any for us to set goals, personally and professionally, to work towards achieving during the next year. Personal and professional development is vital to the wellbeing of our self and our company. So, how do we achieve growth? Simple, just ask yourself the following questions and commit to making a change.
Where are you now? What do you offer at the moment? Think through where you stand currently and be as objective as possible. Judging one’s self or ones business too harshly or too gently will prompt setting inappropriate or un-achievable goals. You must know where you are, in order to know where you want to go. Next, write it down and clarify.
Now that you know where you stand, and you can see it in black and white, you must decide where you want to go. What goal(s) do you want to set for yourself or your company? Why do want to achieve these goals? Clarify to yourself in writing, why each objective is important to you. This step is vital because goal achievement is not always easy. The path towards growth is riddled with roadblocks and distractions. Having a written record of each objective will help keep you focused during the hard times.
Now determine how to get where you want to go. Do research if you must and then write the steps down. Do you see a theme emerging yet? Write it down. Create steps of how to achieve each goal and give yourself a timeline if possible. The more specific and detailed, the easier each objective will be to accomplish.
“Reduce your plan to writing. The moment you complete this, you will have definitely given concrete form to the intangible desire.” Napoleon Hill
This is self-explanatory. Prioritize your goals in a manner that makes sense. It doesn’t make sense to first visit Germany and then learn to speak German after you return. Establish the goals so that the accomplishment of one leads to the beginning of the next.
Keep moving forward. Do not be deterred. Stick it out and stubbornly work towards accomplishment every day. Even if it feels like you aren’t making progress, you are. Trials and difficulties build character and failures are learning opportunities.
“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas Edison.
To round out our series on the Holiday Party Season, I have compiled some general guidelines for office party behavior. I suggest taking your company’s corporate culture into consideration prior to attending the party, and basing your behavior and attire on the level of formality and rigidity of your company.
Remember to be a gracious guest, respectful of others, and enjoy the party! You deserve it.
Did we forget anything? We would love your tips for navigating the office party! Leave us a comment with your best tip!