Over 60% of UK workers would delegate tiresome tasks to robots

22 June 2018 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

Two thirds of the British workforce would happily have robots do the most repetitive aspects of their work, a new study has found. As the UK economy battles with poor productivity yields, the automation of jobs such as filing and manual data entry could offer a vital boost.

When the labour market is discussed in relation to Artificial Intelligence, it is often to state the dreadful impact AI could have on employment. Last year, one analysis forecast that at current growth rates, AI would only replace 19% of the jobs lost after its implementation, while AI is increasingly being leveraged by consulting firms and companies to find solutions without less need for costly human input.

However, a new study by ABBYY, focusing on the positive potential robots could have on the productivity of the workforce, has found that many workers long for a number of dreary tasks to be automated, freeing them up to act more constructively. ABBYY is a content intelligence solutions and services provider which works with clients to capture, extract and action information using artificial intelligence, and according to the firm’s research, a majority of 63% of the UK’s workforce would outsource tasks to a robot, given the choice.

The UK workforce’s most hated tasks

The survey of 2,000 adults based in Britain found that 26% of respondents wait to be reminded by someone else to do these jobs they dislike the most, setting back productivity in the workplace substantially. The most loathed of tasks was attending meetings, at just under a quarter of respondents. Fortunately, 63% of workers currently spend less than one day a week on the activity, meaning it lagged behind other options when it came to delegating it to a synthetic worker.

Understandably, there are also several duties which workers, however much they dislike them, cannot assign to machines. These include speaking to their boss, booking time off and speaking to customers. While each category clearly caused staff in the poll considerable irritation, no respondents were either willing or able to consign their execution to robots.

In contrast, one in four of the working population say they spend two or more days a week on data entry (26%), and electronic filing (24%), which were two of the most popular activities to automate at 16% and 12% respectively. Taking notes and minutes was also high on the list, at 14%, completing a trio of tasks which serve as a repetitive strain on employees, and broadly prevent them from working on more analytic or strategic tasks.

Percentage of UK workforce that would automate activities

What the research seems to suggest, then, is that much of the work people most want to delegate to robots involved tasks that they both dislike and have to spend a significant amount of time doing. This is an issue which AI could prove a major boon to in terms of solving. According to a study by McKinsey & Company, less than 5% of jobs could actually be completely replaced by technology in the next 40 years, but over 60% of all work activities – including repetitive admin work – could be automated in that same period, freeing up staff to concentrate on more useful aspects of business. Potentially this could offer a major productivity boost, something the UK in particular is in dire need of amid sluggish economic growth in the lead up to Brexit.

Anthony Macciola, Chief Innovation Officer at ABBYY, said of the results, “It is encouraging to see that the majority of UK workers would welcome the opportunity to delegate tasks – particularly those that are less interesting – to robots,” says. “Whilst people may not enjoy spending time in meeting or speaking to customers or their boss, they clearly recognise the value they personally bring to those activities.”

Remarking on the perceived threat of AI to employment, Macciola added, “For the vast majority, the idea of working with robots is still hypothetical. However, we find that enabling employees to work in partnership with robots enhances their job satisfaction, allowing them to spend more time on adding value to their businesses where it matters most. Thankfully for both employers and employees, technology such as content intelligence solutions can help to take away these tasks – without replacing workers.”