Blog | 19-04-2022

Managing employee resistance to robots – part 1: where does resistance come from?

written by: Laura Schilperoort

We are currently in the midst of the Industry 4.0 era wherein the way we work and live is changing continuously due to the implementation of smart technologies. Devices and machines communicate with each other through the Internet of Things, automation processes become smarter and autonomous and technologies such as Artificial Intelligence become part of daily life. These technological developments impact all industries and economies worldwide as they are also needed by organizations to face the rapidly changing consumer demands.

As with the previous industrial revolutions, resistance exists against these new technological developments, especially amongst people who fear that new technologies such as robots will infiltrate their workplace and make their jobs unnecessary. In this blog series we will discuss how one can manage employee resistance to robots or cobots. This first blog will focus on what causes resistance towards technological change.

Why do people resist technological change?

People have always experienced a fear for the unknown. As psychology suggests, people like to be able to anticipate consequences. Once they cannot do that, people start to feel insecure, powerless and sometimes even threatened by new technological developments, which can lead to resistance to change.

Throughout history, technological developments have always met resistance from the people. Let us take a look at the first industrial revolution. Because of the technological developments of that time, the ‘Luddites’ appeared; a social movement of textile workers who feared and resisted the industrial and technological progress. The Luddites showed their resistance by destroying textile machinery as a form of protest.

Why do people resist the implementation of robots?

Hence, it is no surprise that in this Industry 4.0. era, fear of and resistance against the rapid development of technology exists. It is a part of progress. An example of where this resistance occurs is at production and logistics facilities where the implementation of robots, for example in pick and place processes, is imminent. Often, the mere mention of implementing robots in a warehouse is enough to spark resistance. Even though it has been researched that implementing robots in processes such as palletizing has a positive impact on productivity, work safety, working conditions and eventually leads to an increase in labor demand, many employees still fear that robots will take away their jobs and chances of finding work. They often feel threatened and powerless.

How to manage employee resistance to robots?

Hence, if an organization is planning on implementing robots in their production or logistics process, it is important to manage and take away employee resistance. But how can you manage employee resistance to robots? That is what we will discuss in this blog series of ‘how to manage employee resistance to robots’. In the upcoming blog, we will focus on what steps an organization can take to prevent and manage resistance to the implementation of robots, such as communication, engagement and skill development.