It’s becoming more and more commonplace for workers to do their jobs alongside robots.
However, a new study suggests that working alongside robots may increase fears among workers that they will be replaced by these machines, and these fears may contribute to job burnout and workplace incivility.
The study, which was published by the American Psychological Association, found that workers in parts of Asia and the United States experience job insecurity from robots, even among businesses where robots are not being used, and that these fears may not be reasonable.
According to Assistant Professor Kai Chi Yam, PhD, lead researcher of the study, some economists theorise that it is highly likely for robots to take over blue-collar jobs faster than white-collar jobs.
But Yam said it doesn’t look like robots are replacing that many jobs yet, at least not in the US, so the fears may be subjective.
The research team conducted experiments and analysed data from respondents in the US, Singapore, Taiwan, and India.
The results, released in the Journal of Applied Psychology, revealed that working alongside industrial robots was connected to higher reports of burnout and workplace incivility in an experiment with 118 engineers in an Indian auto manufacturing company.
Meanwhile, in 185 metropolitan areas in the US, researchers analysed the prevalence of robots and the overall use of popular recruiting sites such as Indeed and LinkedIn in those areas.
The results revealed that areas with the highest rates of robots also had the highest rates of job recruiting searches, even though unemployment rates were not high in those areas.
Researchers believe that residents in these areas may have experienced more job insecurity because of robots. There could also be other reasons, such as people being dissatisfied with their careers or looking for other jobs.
In Singapore, researchers conducted an experiment that included 343 parents of students from National University of Singapore. The first group of parents were asked to read an article about the use of robots in businesses, the second group was given a general article about robots, and the third group read an unrelated article.
Afterwards, the respondents were asked about their job insecurity concerns, with the first group reporting greater levels of job security than the other groups.
What can be done to alleviate these fears? The study suggests that self-affirmation techniques may help lessen workplace robot fears. Self-affirmation techniques are exercises where people are encouraged to think positively about themselves and their unique characteristics.
“Most people are overestimating the capabilities of robots and underestimating their own capabilities,” Yam said.
Furthermore, although there are legitimate concerns about people losing their jobs to robots, some media reports may also be unnecessarily fuelling fears among the public.
Yam added that media reports on technologies “tend to be apocalyptic in nature,” which is why people develop irrational fears over them.