The Great Resignation has left many employers scratching their heads, wondering how to retain the valuable staff they have and how they can attract new talent for the future. Hiring managers face a remarkably competitive market, and although remote work, flex-time, and workplace perks may tip the scales for some would-be employees, nothing is quite as impactful as providing your team with meaningful and engaging work.
That’s much easier said than done, of course. Someone still needs to see that things get done around the office; we can’t simply dispense with the most unpleasant tasks and processes, expecting that the business will continue to operate normally, right?
No, not completely. But, to some extent, we can replace certain parts of those processes. In doing so, we can often deliver better, faster, and more accurate results. Perhaps just as importantly, we can elevate the day-to-day work performed by our most valued employees at the same time.
Automation Is Filling the Gap
One very notable side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant increase in automation. Now, as the Great Resignation marches on, we are seeing that trend shift into high gear. Automation is not just about self-checkout at the grocery store or the fast-food kiosk where you can place an order for burgers and fries. It is happening in the back office, as well. Software is playing a larger role than ever before in executing routine business processes.
Workflow tools are routing tasks promptly to the right person and seeing to it that follow-through occurs on time. Collaboration software is streamlining communication. Automated production scheduling tools are optimizing manufacturing processes. Artificial intelligence (AI) is monitoring for new information and alerting decision-makers to potential issues or opportunities. As insurance companies, CPA firms, and manufacturers struggle to find the experienced professionals they need, automation is filling part of that gap by performing much of the rote work for us.
AI as a Tool of Empowerment
Although software automation is certainly nothing new, the advent of viable AI and machine-learning technology is a relatively recent occurrence. That has generated considerable angst, as many observers fear the next wave of tech innovation will replace human workers on a massive scale, leading to large-scale unemployment. Unfortunately, this perception has been fueled by years of pop-culture storylines depicting AI as a fundamentally dangerous proposition. There is a distinctly different way of looking at AI, though, and it is especially deserving of attention in light of the industry’s current hiring challenges.
As an example, let’s consider the case of insurance claims. In a typical scenario, an adjuster receives a new case and begins by poring over information from a variety of sources such as accident reports, medical records, contractors’ estimates and invoices, and attorneys’ letters. Throughout that process, the adjuster must discern which details matter and which do not. Following the initial claim, the adjuster must check in periodically to see if any new information has emerged, monitoring for relevant details and watching out for any major red flags.
That can be tiresome, and it is easy to see how important details might sometimes slip through the cracks. In fact, much of the effort involved in digesting case materials and monitoring for changes is rote work. It is reading, scanning for relevance, making mental notes, and coming back later to see if anything has changed. That is not exciting or engaging; it is just tedious. The real value of experienced claims adjusters does not rest on speed reading or an uncanny knack for remembering details; it lies in their ability to make the right calls based on the information at hand.
AI can do much of the tedious work for us: scanning, sorting, identifying relevant details, and weighing information in the context of the case in its entirety. AI can ingest new information as soon as it becomes available. When time is of the essence, AI can alert a decision-maker right away. In this case, AI is not replacing experienced professionals, but it is doing a lot of the leg work for them. It is performing the routine (and often unpleasant) parts of that business process.
Who do you think will be more engaged at work? Senior claims adjusters who focus on applying their professional judgment based on information that has been organized and filtered for them in advance, or adjusters who spend most of each day sifting through case details trying to figure out what is relevant? In other words, AI does not make people obsolete; it elevates them to more engaging and meaningful work.
Automation is nothing new. In fact, it has often been an object of derision among those who felt threatened by innovation. English textile workers in the 19th century, reacting to new innovations in their industry, set out to destroy the new textile machines they felt threatened their livelihoods. We know them today as Luddites.
That is not intended to be dismissive of apprehensions about AI. We should not discount the cautionary concerns that many have raised. In fact, they deserve full and open dialogue as we move forward with new use cases for this technology. But neither should we dismiss AI as an outright threat. For over a century, automation has played an increasingly important role in our lives, improving economic productivity and empowering people to focus their attention on meaningful work. In the wake of the Great Resignation, that understanding will serve us very well.