Not a day passes at the moment without a new report or article on how technology will affect our working lives in the not-too-distant future.
A recent CIPD report, for instance, predicted that by 2030 one in six public sector jobs would be done by robots. Automation is already fulfilling distribution roles, even those call centre operatives you speak to on the phone aren’t always human.
In the age of the machine, what is the impact of technology on employment, recruitment and development?
Do we really understand how the increasing use of technology and automation is impacting on us as human beings? And what does this mean for those of us who recruit, develop and train people?
A few weeks ago, I attended the Association of British Psychology (ABP) ‘The Future of Work’ conference where a number of speakers shared their insights into how modern technology was affecting the way we engage with job candidates and employees.
I was fascinated and thought I’d share what I learnt with you.
Man vs machine: Is technology hobbling or enhancing us?
Keynote speaker, Tom Chatfield asked: are we judging ourselves by machine criteria?
When we interact with modern technology – which, let’s face it, is pretty much all the time – we’re the ones that adapt ourselves to fit in with the technology, not the other way around.
When a new Windows update is released, for instance, we change the way we behave, the way we use Word or Excel or whatever, in accordance with the demands of that update.
Technology demands our attention and prompts us to take action. It’s not us who decides our priorities for the day, it’s our email inbox!
These might seem like minor concerns, but could our wholehearted engagement with technology be affecting the way we think and behave more fundamentally?
For instance, creativity is one of our unique human qualities. But in order to be creative we need to collaborate with others. And we need to have the space and time to think, innovate and reflect. But technology bombards us with distractions, it is constantly interrupting our train of thought, giving us deadlines, trying to make us work faster. Blocking our creativity.
Perhaps technology is not enhancing us, it’s hobbling us.
Clearly the technology is designed by humans. But those humans are experts in IT. Their focus is mainly on solving tech problems, increasing efficiency and automation. While user experience is important to them, they don’t tend to be experts in human psychology and behaviour.
Tom felt that we, as psychologists, really need to think about the implications of this. And in particular, about what this means for our area of interest: recruitment and development.
Technology is often used when recruiting large numbers of staff – e.g. online testing. Or for development using self-directed e-learning. It reduces costs and speeds up the process.
But does this use of technology limit our ability to capture as much of the person as we need to? To ensure we hire the best person for the job and develop them to the best of their capabilities?
Research shows that many people complete these online tests using mobile devices. But have the tests been designed to work on mobiles? Technologically, maybe. But psychologically?
Situational judgement tests, for example, involve a large amount of text in the form of scenarios and follow-up questions. If you have to scroll through a lot of information on your mobile, is this affecting your ability to understand, interpret and respond to it?
What if we end up measuring your ability to memorise information or your techie skills rather than what we want to measure – how you assess and behave in a particular situation?
On a more practical level, how can we be sure that when a candidate completes a test online they’re not being distracted by emails pinging, texts beeping and their twitter feed going mental over some Kardashian-based hoo-ha? What impact does that have on their ability to focus on the test?
Computer says no: The impact of technology on the candidate or employee experience
Tom’s argument that we expect people to act like machines in order to interact with machines has clear implications for how we as organisations engage with job applicants and with employees.
Because we’re not machines. We are emotional creatures who have an emotional relationship with technology just as we have emotional relationships with everything else in our lives. Another speaker at the event, Eva Krumhuber, talked about how we tend to anthropomorphise inanimate objects and get attached to our ‘stuff’, clinging to our iPhones even though the Android system is better, for instance.
And while online interactions are less tangible than objects, that doesn’t mean we don’t become connected to them emotionally. We form attachments to online brands we like or online systems that work for us.
If we have a bad experience – a ‘computer says no, if you do this more than once you’ll delete yourself from the universe’ moment, that will undoubtedly change our view of the technology and of the organisation making us use it.
So what happens if a candidate has a bad experience using your technology? Technology which is possibly the only channel they have to connect with you? What impression will this leave them with? About you and the idea of working for you?
And what about your talented employees engaging with the L&D team through e-learning packages and online 360 feedback assessments? Are they having a quality experience? Are they affected by the lack of human interaction? Do you really know?
Whatever the benefits of modern technology – the cost and time savings – we can’t afford to forget about the person at the other end of the machine. And we need to be sure that once we’ve analysed their data, processed their bytes and downloaded their pixels that we piece that all back together into the fully-rounded, quirky and unique human being we’ve just recruited so we can help them be the best they can be.