The Importance of Employee Engagement in an Age of Distraction and Automation

The Double Whammy of Automation and Distractions Affecting the Workforce

We live in an Age of Distraction and an Age of Automation. While there are enough distractions in the form of Smartphones, Social Media, and other cutting edge technology enabled devices and gadgets, we are also witnessing rapid automation of entire industries and verticals where employees no longer need to do the “Grunt Work” that is now done my machines.

There is a paradox at the heart of the present organizational setup where on one hand, there is fewer rote work that needs to be done thanks to machines, on the other hand, employees who are now freed up to do higher value adding work and more cognitive and intellectual work are unable to do so since they are disengaged or distracted at work.

Indeed, while automation has succeeded in lifting the growth rates of corporates and all organizations, there is the added dimension of declining productivity of workers.

In other words, this means that a Double Whammy has hit the workers and the professionals where they no longer need to do the lower value adding work that was their Bread and Butter not long ago, and on the other hand, they are so distracted that they cannot perform to their potential as far as high value adding work is concerned.

The Paradox of Organizational Profitability and Declining Productivity

This is the reason why organizations and their executives in conjunction with line managers and the HR (Human Resources) managers need to think seriously about sustaining employee productivity and ensure that employees remain engaged.

As behavioral and organizational theory states, employee engagement happens when they find fulfillment and accomplishment in their work which in turn, leads to a positive cycle of higher productivity leading to greater engagement.

However, instead of this self reinforcing loop which leads to healthier and productive workplaces, we instead, have a Paradox of Productivity that is being reported across industries and verticals where organizations are found to be falling behind in productivity growth rates.

While some experts posit that this is because we still haven’t developed the means to measure productivity gains from automation, there is a growing body of research that shows that disengaged employees in the Digital Age are also to blame for falling productivity.

This is more the reason why organizations need to take employee engagement seriously both for their and their employee wellbeing.

What Employers can do to help Distracted and Disengaged Employees

Some possible measures could be to curb the time spent on Smartphones and Social Media at work as well as ensuring that people to people Face Time is encouraged.

While some organizations have banned all forms of Social Media at the workplace, it is also not possible for an outright ban since personal devices and gadgets are sometimes out of reach of organizational control.

Moreover, banning the use of Social Media completely can backfire as employees might be demoralized and demotivated as a result of such harsh measures.

In addition, organizational theory always emphasizes the importance of self regulation as opposed to coercive control as far as HR and its policies towards employee behavior at the workplace is concerned.

Apart from this, there is also the added dimension of the BYOD or the Bring Your Own Device policies that encourage employees to use their personal devices for organizational purposes and vice versa.

Thus, taking these aspects into account, there can be a middle path wherein a combination of formal and informal regulation is in place to curb excessive distractions at work. Indeed, in times when the attention spans of the Millennials are decreasing by the day, there is an urgent need to prevent and arrest the alarming decline in employee productivity.

The Millennials, Attention Spans, and Future Generations

As mentioned earlier, while machines are taking over the work of humans, the latter are busy distracting themselves and this can have serious repercussions as far as the future is concerned. It is in the interest of the present and future members of the workforce to help themselves and their employers to ensure their collective prosperity.

Indeed, if the present trends persist, the current generation of millennial workers and professionals and the future Gen Z members stand to lose the most from this problem.

Already, the rage of those whose jobs and lives have been displaced and disrupted by technology and automation is leading to them voting for Populists and Fascists such as Donald Trump.

As surveys indicated, most of those who voted for Trump were those whose lives were affected more by automation and technology rather than globalization and outsourcing.

Thus, this can lead to a negative doom loop where more disengagement leads to more job losses and this in turn, makes them more vulnerable to losing themselves in distractions thereby leading to the problem being exacerbated.

This is the reason why it is high time for all stakeholders across the economic and political spectrum to address the problem of disengaged professionals and their declining productivity.

The Workforce Stands to Lose the Most

Lastly, one needs to remember that corporates and organizations are not the losers in this game as far as profitability are concerned. When workers fail to do their jobs as desired by management, they can simply be replaced by machines.

On the other hand, while this creates societal problems, the incentive to solve such problems is lessened since most capitalists only care about their bottom lines.

Thus, it is the professionals and the workers along with other well meaning societal stakeholders to act responsibly and prevent an Outright Race to the Bottom that leaves the workforce worse off.

To conclude, while one may get a “High and a Kick” from all the distractions, at the end of the day, what counts is how well engaged they were at their workplace.

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