Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst: Employee Reactions to Automation at Work
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Automation is increasingly becoming a disruptive force in modern workplaces. For individual workers, the consequences of automation are varied; In some cases, employees may be harmed by automation (e.g., job loss), whereas in other cases employees may benefit from its implementation (e.g., enhanced performance). Importantly, the extent to which employees fear and disengage from, or eagerly anticipate and prepare for, automation may influence how they fare in the workplace. To this end, in this dissertation I present two essays across which I examine employees’ psychological evaluations and subsequent attitudinal (Essay 1) and behavioural (Essay 2) reactions to automation at work. In Essay 1, I draw on appraisal theory to distinguish between employees' belief that technology can conduct their work (perceived automatability) from employees' appraisals regarding the implications of automation on their job prospects (job insecurity) and job performance (performance optimism). Given that control at work enables people to mitigate the possible harms of automation and harness the potential benefits of automation, I propose that control at work mitigates the relationship between perceived automatability and job insecurity, and strengthens the relationship between perceived automatability and performance optimism, with each appraisal having competing effects on downstream job attitudes. Using a survey (N = 500) and an experiment (N = 194), I found overall support for these predictions. In Essay 2, I examine people’s preparatory responses to their job’s objective likelihood of becoming automated (automatability), via their job insecurity. Given that skills-discrepancies may make people vulnerable to job loss during automation-related job restructuring or downsizing, I predict that people with a large skills-gap will be more likely to develop job insecurity in response to their automatability than people with a low skills-gap. I draw on control theories to suggest that job insecurity subsequently results in remedial actions to address the threat of unemployment, including developmental activities and career exploration, efforts which are further strengthened by organizational support for development (or the lack thereof). I found support for these predictions using a survey of 244 employees. Overall, this dissertation sheds light on employees’ perspectives on automation at work, with substantial practical implications for organizations and policymakers seeking to help employees transition to the future of work.
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Anna Godollei (2022). Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst: Employee Reactions to Automation at Work. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/18431