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Study reveals employees’ fears over digital change

Many employees are fearful of the job risk associated with automation and company-wide digital transformation initiatives

Business transformation initiatives are failing to take employees into account, a study from Goldsmiths, University of London, and YouGov has warned.

The study, commissioned by Microsoft, found that business change programmes that introduce new technologies create anxiety among employees (61%). 

Staff were also concerned about the impact of automation on job security (59%), and expressed a fear of change when digital transformation initiatives are introduced (49%).

In an interview with Computer Weekly, Clare Barclay, chief operating officer at Microsoft UK, said: “In last 12 months, we have been hearing that the biggest challenges businesses face in digital transformation are issues around culture and bringing people on the way.”

More than half of business leaders said their industries will face disruption, but people fear change, said Barclay.

She said business leaders need to take into account the anxiety that people who are experts in their field and have a long employment tenure may feel when faced with automation of certain aspects of their work. This fear of change is putting British competitive at risk, she said, but the combination of human expertise with automation can drive real innovation.

“We have to tackle cultural change,” said Barclay – but the research showed that less than a quarter of organisations are doing so.

One business featured in the study which has been working to address cultural change is Thyssenkrupp Elevator. Speaking about how the business is transforming digitally, company CEO Andreas Schierenbeck said: “We went for a big change and had to find a way to move our organisation in that direction. By creating multicultural teams from all parts of our business – from Germany to Brazil, and from CEO to technician – we are striving to get every viewpoint and align our perspectives in overcoming any hurdles.”

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One of the more significant findings from the research is that younger workers are more fearful of digital disruption affecting their jobs than older staff are.

The study found that the people most fearful of workplace change fall into the 18-24 age range. Employees who said they feared the least about their jobs being disrupted was the 55-plus age group.

“Often, the younger generation have a lack of experience dealing with change and may fear the unknown,” said Barclay.

This is something employers need to address, she said. “There is a huge opportunity for people starting out in their careers. The opportunity for the younger generation is massive as there will be fewer transactional jobs. Companies need to pay close attention to skills and retraining.”

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