Are workers sabotaging workplace robots?

Are workers sabotaging workplace robots?

Can humans and robots co-exist peacefully in the workplace?

Evangelists of the future of work may proclaim this utopian vision, but workers in the UK are finding a way to push back against the potential of a robotic takeover.

Employees in the British healthcare sector reportedly “sabotage” robotic co-workers in retaliation against the threat of automation, researchers from De Montfort University in Leicester revealed.

The healthcare industry relies on specialized machines that perform a range of functions – from nanosurgery to rehabilitation.

The researchers, however, said humans were averse toward their machine counterparts, deliberately placing obstacles and preventing the robots from completing their tasks.

“We heard stories of workers standing in the way of robots, and minor acts of sabotage – and not playing along with them,” said Jonathan Payne, professor of work, employment and skills at De Montfort University in a report by The Telegraph.

READ MORE: How automation will change the world of work

Future-ready workers

This behavior may be symptomatic of the wider digital transformation happening in the healthcare sector today, the study suggests. Robots will indeed cause certain types of jobs in the industry to change – even disappear – but new ones are also predicted to emerge.

“While some jobs would be lost, big data and self‐testing would stimulate demand for other work, such as follow‐up tests and procedures and interpreting complex data,” the researchers said.

“Technology,” they noted, “was also seen as reducing some manual and routine tasks, such as lifting patients and dispensing medicines, potentially freeing up more time for human interaction, something which interviewees regarded as essential to the giving of ‘care.’”

It’s a matter of being prepared for the changes, the results of the study indicate. The negative attitude of employees toward machines may be due to the slow pace of skills upgrade among humans – and this causes them to feel threatened when forced to work side by side with robots.

“A number of interviewees also questioned whether employers in the UK would provide the training to reskill workers, echoing concerns around employers’ poor record on training,” the study noted.

“In the UK, it was felt that workplace managers and engineers often lacked the appropriate skillset for this work.”