In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global business landscape has changed materially. Supply chains have been disrupted. Inflation has taken off. Most significantly of all, the attitudes of employees toward their work and their employers have altered dramatically. Deb Broberg, Executive Director of RealTime Talent and a U.S. Chamber Talent Pipeline Management fellow, explains it this way:
"The pandemic prompted people to reevaluate what they want from a career and made them realize things like work-life balance, flexible scheduling, and a positive culture were just as important, if not more important for some, than money and benefits."
The result is what's been called the Great Resignation. Employees by the millions have decided that they no longer need to put up with work conditions they used to tolerate, and have simply walked away from their jobs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 47 million of them did so in 2021.
Why More and More Companies Are Becoming Employee-First Organizations
Businesses are realizing that to hire and retain the workers they need, they need to reorient themselves to become more employee-centric. They must, in fact, become employee-first companies. That's why, according to a recent survey, 92% of businesses say they intend to prioritize improving the employee experience in their organizations over the next three years.
But what does that mean in practice? What will it take for companies to advance from having a desire to improve their employee experience to actually doing so?
Becoming an Employee-First Company Requires Rethinking Both Processes and Technology
A big factor in worker satisfaction is feeling that they're doing meaningful work that aligns with their personal values. When employees spend significant amounts of time doing work that's repetitive and that seems to lack any intrinsic meaning, sooner or later boredom sets in. And that can be deadly. As Security Magazine recently noted,
"Repetition and boredom are some of the biggest drivers of costly employee turnover."
Yet, according to a recent Adobe survey, workers today spend a third of their time doing mundane, repetitive tasks that they think actually hinder them from achieving what they should in their jobs. Of employees planning to leave their current companies, fully one-third cite boredom as their main reason for wanting to move on.
Clearly, improving a company's employee experience requires working to minimize the time workers spend on repetitive tasks. That may mean reordering workflows to enrich their intellectual content and reduce repetitive actions. But in many instances, such actions are indispensable to the workflow. Mundane as they are, tasks such as writing and sending emails, inputting data into spreadsheets, and filling out paperwork are often unavoidable aspects of the job.
It's here that modern technology is coming to the rescue. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are changing the equation.
How RPA and AI Are Reworking Work
RPA and AI are leading-edge technologies that are transforming the work environment for many companies and their employees. But how do these new tools work their magic?
RPA automates business processes using software "robots" that exactly replicate the steps a human worker would take to accomplish a task. For example, an RPA payroll processing bot might use imaging to extract information from hand-written timesheets, and then, after checking for errors or inconsistencies, enter that vetted data into your payroll system or even directly initiate the necessary bank transactions to pay the employee.
Not only does RPA relieve human workers of meaningless repetitive tasks but it also performs them far more quickly than humans possibly could. And since bots never get tired or distracted, they don't make mistakes. As long as the provided data is correct, an RPA bot will carry out the process effectively every time.
But the fact that RPA performs tasks the same way every time is a major limitation. If something changes—a form is replaced with a new one with different fields, for example—an RPA bot won't pick up that change on its own. And that's where AI enters the picture.
RPA is an essentially rote process but AI simulates human intelligence and judgment. While RPA requires highly structured inputs and rules, AI is much more flexible. It can work with unstructured inputs and learn to infer initially unknown rules through practice. Unlike RPA alone, AI-based bots can be trained to read and interpret unstructured text documents, such as articles or letters, and even images or videos.
How AI and RPA Can Help Create an Employee-First Culture
The combination of RPA and AI can have a hugely positive impact on the employee experience. By relieving workers from spending large amounts of time on unrewarding, repetitive tasks, RPA/AI frees them up to do the things only humans can do, which is far more satisfying.
Scott Clark, writing in Reworked, quotes Kelly Grier, US Chair and Managing Partner and Americas Managing Partner at Ernst & Young, as explaining it this way:
"Imagine a workforce that is excited to come to work because their true talent which resides in complex problem solving, strategic thinking, creative solutioning is more of a focus now versus them having to spend a large amount of time on critical but manual, repetitive focus-intensive mechanical tasks."
Do RPA and AI Cost Jobs?
Some employees and employers are leery of implementing RPA and AI because they fear these robotic technologies will replace workers. And that's a legitimate concern: as Scott Clark notes, McKinsey projects that by 2030 automation may displace up to 800 million workers. But history shows that such workers usually aren't permanently frozen out of the job market. Rather, most will be retrained and transition to other roles.
In fact, Clark says, the majority of workers are actually grateful to be freed from boring, repetitive tasks. In a 2019 Forbes survey, 92% of companies saw an improvement in employee satisfaction when they incorporated RPA and AI into their work processes.
Solutions Like Automation Anywhere Make Business Process Automation Easy
A good example of the kind of RPA/AI solution that can help a company transform its employee experience is Automation Anywhere (AA). AA is the world's largest provider of RPA software, with more than 2,800 customers in more than 90 countries.
AA makes it easy for companies to automate a broad range of business processes, and substantially improve their employee experience. When you'd like to learn how AA and Collaborative Solutions can help you build a truly employee-first company, please contact us.