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Can Robots Save Us From Being Bored to Death?

by Barry Matthews

It appears that you can, in fact, be bored to death.

Well, perhaps not literally bored to death, but bored to the point of seeking escape through life-shortening indulgences such as drugs, alcohol, bad food and risky behaviours.

So says a recent study of 7,000 UK civil servants, which found that very bored workers were more likely to die during a 24-year period than those who were not bored.

Then there’s the case of the French logistics manager who sued his employer for health problems resulting from being subjected to extreme boredom. The man claimed that his bosses were trying to force him to quit his job so they wouldn’t have to pay severance, and that he suffered ulcers, depression and insomnia after not being given any meaningful work to do.

Or, as an English insurance broker-turned-acupuncturist put it, “It was just so boring. I felt ill knowing I had to go back on Monday morning. Every aspect of it was the same. The commute every day is the same, the people are the same, the lunch is the same. You turn up every morning and sit there.”

While the typical case may not be as Kafka-esque as the French logistics manager and the former insurance man, it’s easy to see why workplace boredom – or “bore out,” as it’s often called nowadays – is a serious and growing problem. Consider the huge swaths of office workers carrying out mind-numbingly routine, step-by-step processes in back offices all over the world day in day out, each playing the part of a cog in the operations of a massive business machine, and each regularly bored out of their mind as they fill out another form or process another invoice.

For many of us, it’s not the job itself that’s soul-draining, but the repetitive and mundane activities that make up a substantial part of the workday.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could get machines to do all that dull and boring work?

Increasingly, of course, we can do just that, by applying Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools that use rules-based logic to execute the repeatable and routine tasks that humans find so distasteful.  Enterprises in a wide range of industries are deploying RPA solutions to increase operational efficiency and improve quality and accuracy – and, in many cases, to significantly enhance job satisfaction.  What typically happens is that, rather than replacing a 50-person department, an RPA initiative will replace 30 percent of the jobs of each individual in that 50-person department. In other words, 50 people now have 30 percent more bandwidth to perform value-added, creative and interesting work.

But let’s not think for a minute that this happy outcome happens by itself. An RPA initiative involves significant change management challenges and requires the fundamental reorganisation and restructuring of work teams to ensure that the boring stuff gets outsourced to the robots while the people get to do the cool stuff.  Indeed, the technology is in many respects the easy part – the trick is to effectively redefine human roles and responsibilities and how they interact with the game-changing technology of RPA.  Done right, this transformational change can yield significant business benefits, as well as make the prospect of Monday morning a bit less depressing.

About the author

Barry is recognized as one of the leading sourcing practitioners in the UK, having led a wide range of transformational sourcing transactions over the past 18 years. In 2010 Barry recognized that leading businesses were demanding a more agile, expert and relationship based approach to sourcing advice and he co-founded Source to address that need. Source became an established leader in sourcing advice and support and has been widely recognized for its success and pioneering positive outcomes based approach. In 2015.