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Will Companies Replace Workers with Robots?

The Robot: frequent movie character, go-to dance move, and…your new competitor? A recent McKinsey study found an increasing number of workers are susceptible to being replaced by robots, or “automation.”



While susceptibility varies by job type (higher for food service and factory workers, lower for teachers and people managers), if future technology developed more sophisticated abilities like natural language, it’s “technically feasible” that our grandchildren’s homeroom teacher could be…well…Mr. Robot.

Feasible…but likely? These five factors, according to the report, will play the biggest role in whether a company hires a robot, or keeps you:

Technical feasibility

Consideration #1: can it be done? For some jobs, especially in the “physical predictable” category, ample technology exists today. In some of these cases, robots have already taken jobs. For others, technology to replace is scarce or not available…yet. If/when it is, deciding whether or not to hire robots will be based on several other factors, beginning with...

Costs to automate    

Essentially, a big math problem. What are the current costs of the staff? What would it cost to install and maintain the technology? For many positions, the argument to replace workers with technology may not be convincing, as the cost of workers is already at or near minimum wage.

For mid to high-wage workers, the question becomes, is saving money on labor costs going to also mean better output? Can robots be better employees and cost less? This is a matter of…

Scarcity of skills/Quality of output    

Are the robots going to be rock stars? Will they make significantly fewer errors than humans? If not, it may not be worth overhauling the company, the culture, and most of all, the brand, by replacing people with machines. What will people think of a robot-staffed company, and will they want to do business with one over human counterparts? This involves…

Regulatory and social-acceptance       

Let’s assume the technology is there, the math makes sense, and the robots will do a better job than the humans. No-brainer, right? Not quite. At the end of the day, we are all still human…which means that fundamentally changing the way we work may cause social backlash, unpredictability, etc.

For example, if, say, your waiter at the local diner, your hair stylist, or your tutor were all of a sudden a machine, the social cost of losing the human touch could outweigh the benefits, financial and otherwise. This means that just because a company can replace their staff with robots doesn’t mean they will. It’s a tradeoff that organizations will have to evaluate on a case-by-case basis.

Read the whole study here.