Authored by: Dr Karina de Bruin, Managing Director at JvR Academy
How often do you think about the future of your own workplace? How many of the skills that you use daily were required when you started your career? The new world of work and future workplace skills is often associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The World Economic Forum, Harvard Business Review, Deloitte and McKinsey Global Institute, among others, regularly report on insights, trends and challenges that relate to Industry 4.0. Like what has happened during and as a result of the previous three industrial revolutions, the current industrial revolution has already caused fundamental changes in the world we live in. Just think about the impact of the cloud, the Internet of things, 3D printing, big data and increasing computing power on how we live, work and communicate. These cyber-physical systems involve completely new capabilities and intelligence not only for people but also for machines. Artificial intelligence is all around us, from self-driving cars and drones to robotic vacuum cleaners, chatbots and software that directs us to our destinations.
Fear of being replaced
Many of these advancements often dominate our thoughts with fear that employers may replace us with technology that can fulfil our roles more efficiently and effectively than we can. These fears are often amplified by predictions that going forward, up to 50% of work activities could be replaced by existing technology. Because artificial intelligence is drastically changing the nature of work, organisational structures are continuously redesigned. The results of a recent survey done by Deloitte showed that only 30% of Generation X'ers expects to work at a company for five years or more. The reality of high employee turnover, therefore, poses another justifiable threat to employees, which helps to maintain fears about the future of work.
The toll of technological literacy
Technological literacy is now a basic competency for everyone, regardless of age, generation or industry, but with that comes various social and emotional challenges. Staying connected 24/7 (as many employers expect) results in longer working hours, working at higher levels of intensity and removing the boundaries between work and private life. Proper human interaction is replaced by communication via emails, conference calls, and video chats. The demands caused by expectations that requests must receive almost immediate attention, no matter what time of the day or day of the week, often makes it very difficult to distinguish between work life and personal life. Researchers have proven that an imbalance between work and life roles may have a severe negative impact on the general well-being of individuals, including low mood, stress and anxiety. The McKinsey Global Institute recently published a report revealing that jobs that involve basic cognitive, physical and manual skills, as well as a lower level of data input are most likely to be taken over by machines. Fortunately, the report also predicts a dramatic increase in demand for more employee hours across jobs that involve (1) higher cognitive skills, such as advanced literacy and writing, quantitative and statistical skills, creativity, critical thinking and complex information processing, (2) social and emotional skills, including advanced communication and negotiation, empathy, the ability to learn continuously, to manage others and to be adaptable, and unsurprisingly (3) technological skills - from basic to advanced IT skills, data analysis, engineering and research. Creativity, complex information processing and advanced IT skills may appear to be out of reach for some of us. But what is exciting, is the fact that social and emotional skills, also commonly referred to as Emotional Intelligence, will also get more airtime. The McKinsey report predicts that from 2016 to 2030 there will be a 26% increase in the call for these skills. The good news is that it is indeed our social and emotional skills that distinguish us from and put us ahead of machines.
Using EQ to survive
To conquer our fear of artificial intelligence, we thus need to develop our emotional intelligence. This refers to the skills needed to identify, understand and manage our own emotions, and those of the people around us. When someone has a high level of emotional intelligence, he or she knows what they are feeling, what their emotions mean, and what the effect of these emotions are on other people. Although some of these skills may not come naturally to everyone, they can be developed. What employees can do better than any smart machine, is manage their own emotions and that of their colleagues and team members. If we can be outstanding motivators, leaders, or listeners, and if we can manage our stress and solve problems when things are getting tough, then we will still have a very important role in the workplace where technology changes the world around us.