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Increased automation drives employee mental health concerns

Employees feel anxious about various factors of automation, including pressures to be 'always on' and changes to their roles

More than half (56%) of employees feel that the prospect of greater automation has affected their mental health in some way, according to research from Canada Life.

Of these, 34% said it created increased pressure to be ‘always on’.

The research, which surveyed 1,002 full- and part-time employees, also found many employees were worried about the impact automation will have on their job security.

A third (32%) were concerned their job would fundamentally change as a result of automation, while the same proportion (32%) were anxious or worried about losing their job. A quarter (26%) said they were anxious they won’t be able to work with or understand new systems.

Nearly two in five (37%) employees expect that people will be replaced because of automation, while more than a quarter (28%) anticipate the trend will leave staff feeling less in control of their working lives.

Yet some employees were positive about the impact of automation. A third (33%) said job roles would more likely be redefined than replaced, and a fifth (21%) expect to become more productive as a result of automation.

While almost a third (29%) said they felt ‘cautious’ about the prospect of greater automation in the workplace, 17% said they were excited about it.

Employee opinion was split on whether their organisation will increase automation in the next five years. Two in five (40%) said there are plans in place to do so, but an almost identical proportion (41%) say the opposite.

If automation does become more widespread, workers expect their employers to provide greater wellbeing support, the research found.

Two in five workers (37%) said an Employee Assistance Programme would show them that their employer cares about their health and wellbeing.

This is followed by income protection (31%), private healthcare (28%) and wellbeing perks (28%).

When looking at automation more broadly, more than two in five (44%) anticipated needing to learn new skills to adapt and survive in an automated world.

Paul Avis, marketing director at Canada Life Group Insurance, said the effects of automation are poorly understood among the workforce.

“Automation is gradually become ingrained in the DNA of the workplace. While we tend to think about automation in terms of drastic changes like robotic assembly lines, it is more widespread and subtle than many realise,” he said.

“Employees are rightly cautious about its potential impact, with some already recognising it might redefine job roles or require staff to learn new skills. However, automation provides positive opportunities to improve productivity and the quality of our working lives.”

Avis added that employers must take health and wellbeing into account as automation increases.

“For this to be successful, employers must support their workforce during the transition to an increasingly automated workplace, particularly on matters of health and wellbeing," he said.

"Employers should communicate clearly with their staff and tackle any fears head-on to ensure increased automation isn’t associated with constantly working and being ‘always on’."