While many HR discussions today focus on either ‘digital disruption’ or how to create a ‘meaningful workplace’, very few bring these two concepts together.

On the one hand, digital disruption is fundamentally changing the world of work. In the future, many of the tasks and jobs currently performed by humans will be automated and undertaken by machines. In fact, according to a report by PwC, between 30-38% of occupations in the UK, German, and US markets are susceptible to automation by robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) by 2030.

An app on the BBC website called will a robot take your job? even enables you to enter your current job title to understand how likely you are to be replaced. While an amusing plaything on the surface of it, it also has a serious point to make – especially if your job happens to be on the extinction list.

We have two options, humans could attempt to compete and outperform machines… which seems to be unlikely, or create an augmented workforce which implies that individuals’ roles and competencies need to be redefined to work effectively alongside robots with clever cognitive computer capabilities like AI in order to create a meaningful workplace for all.

In other words, we have to discover what it means to be human in the digital age?

People as human ‘resources’

Engagement surveys tell us that only about a third of employees are engaged at work and about the same number feel able to play to their strengths each day. Interestingly, people who do believe they are using their strengths are not only six times more likely to feel engaged, but also to have a better overall quality of life. The danger, of course, is that staff engagement will become an even more challenging issue if employees start feeling insecure in their jobs as robotics and AI sets in.

As far as I can see, rather than continue to place humans in the category of a ‘resource’ to be managed and controlled according to rigid systems to achieve the best results for the business, perhaps it is time to differentiate between people (humans) and resources like robots and AI, and to honor our unique human characteristics. These characteristics include the ability to be intuitive, creative, think critically, bring strategic perspective, see the bigger picture and demonstrate empathy.

An emerging trend

The good news is that we are noticing fundamental changes in organizational cultures as leaders start to realize the value of creating workplaces that are more meaningful, that have intrinsic motivation, and how to use digital platforms to enable better connectivity with their people.  Many employers are redefining how they structure themselves, moving away from hierarchies towards flatter matrix-based structures, referred to as ‘eco-systems’ or networks of self-organizing teams which enable a more meaningful employee experience with a stronger value being placed on creativity, collaboration, quality conversations, and appreciation.

So, if in an AI age, routine or data-driven tasks are taken over by machines, it opens up a whole raft of new and exciting opportunities for employees to find a new expression of their uniquely human capacities rather than trying to compete with their ‘bot’ resources.

It is my hope that the digital age will become a catalyst for the reconsideration of the value of our humanity in the workplace.


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Sharon teaches, researches and consults in Career/Competencies Architecture; HR Business Partnering; Leadership and Team development, particularly in Inter-Cultural Intelligence, Engagement, Polarity Management, Spiritual (SQ) Intelligence; Talent identification, Personal and Team Wellbeing.


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