Are Robots In the workplace
all they’re cracked up to be?

Are robots in the workplace all they’re cracked up to be?

Most of us remember those adorable robots from the movies Short Circuit and WALL-E. They were all about kindness, compassion and making the world a better place (with a little cheesy humor thrown in for good measure).

Hand of a businessman shaking hands with a Android robot.

But when it comes to real robots in the workplace, not everyone is laughing. In fact, according to recent research by the University of Pittsburgh, some Americans who work alongside industrial robots are experiencing higher incidences of mental health issues. Additionally, the study showed that these workers were more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.


“In our increasingly automated world, we’re going to be seeing more and more companies bringing in robots to increase productivity,” said Patrick Moraites, a partner and VP of business development for Tampa-based Axis Group.”While this is a good thing from a financial standpoint, it’s critical that employers look at research like this to determine the effect automation is having on their employees.”


The Pitt researchers used data on workplace injuries in the U.S. to complete their study. Though they did discover that the use of robots reduced annual work-related injuries – after all, robots can handle jobs that are strenuous and dangerous to humans – they also noticed the negative impact that working beside robots can have on employee mental health. Not only did areas of the country with more people working with robots see a significant increase in drug or alcohol related deaths, their surrounding communities experienced a slight uptick in suicides and mental health problems as well.


As a comparison, the researchers also studied the impact of robots on workers in Germany. Like in the U.S, the use of robots helped lower the amount of physical injuries in the workplace. However, when researchers looked at mental health impacts on German workers who worked alongside robots, they didn’t find any.


Why the discrepancy? Researchers speculate that because German workers tend to enjoy more job protection than their American counterparts, they’re less likely to feel threatened or stressed out by the presence of robots.


“Our findings suggest that, in contexts where workers were less protected, competition with robots was associated with a rise in mental health problems,” said the study’s lead researcher,  Pitt economist Osea Giuntella.


We covered how businesses can best support the mental health needs of their employees in a previous blog, which you can read here, but to quickly recap, employers should:


  • Train managers and team leaders to look out for employees who may be struggling and be willing to talk about mental health issues openly and honestly.


  • Consider reinstating a hybrid work environment so employees don’t face the added pressure of commuting to the office every day and spending tons of money on gas.


  • Educate their employees on the mental health benefits available to them.


  • Do periodic surveys to gauge employee mental health and use that information to create training opportunities or new policies and procedures aimed at supporting the well-being of everyone in the workplace.


If you’re an employer who wants to keep pace with current trends and create a healthier work environment, hiring a Professional Employer Organization (PEO) could be one of the best decisions you make this year.


PEOs can help employers of all sizes handle time-consuming administrative tasks like payroll and onboarding while giving them access to dedicated HR professionals. Plus, because PEOs are able to leverage economies of scale to secure health insurance, they can connect small businesses to high-quality benefits they may not be able to get on their own at very reasonable rates.


“While some of us will never work next to a robot, that’s not to say that we won’t be impacted by other technological advances at our jobs,” Moraites said. “The employers who are proactive in adapting to change are the ones who will be most successful in the long run, and a PEO can definitely help businesses stay agile and ahead of the curve.”


Want to hire a PEO but aren’t sure where to start? Let the experts at Axis Group be your guide. Click here to contact us – we’re looking forward to connecting with you.

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