Preparing Workers for New Technology


Sir Humphry Davy was born in 1778. He was a Cornish chemist and inventor, as well as a prolific poet. In 1802, Davy created the most powerful battery and the first incandescent light. While most of us know Edison as the inventor of the light bulb, it was Davy who broke ground. Davy was knighted in 1812 and was President of the Royal Society in 1820. Sixty years later, Thomas Alva Edison filed a patent for the carbon filament light bulb, creating the first commercially viable instantiation of electric light. It is not possible to capture the impact. Pundits in the day talked about literally turning night into day. The change in leisure, nightlife, and people’s schedules was huge. In addition, the light bulb had a huge impact on the life of the worker – not necessarily in their displacement, but in productivity and flexibility. It allowed work to take place after dark.

"Elizabeth, you have been a valuable factory worker. Next week, the factory is getting outfitted with electric light. We are excited and think this will have a huge impact on our business. We are investing a lot but believe it will contribute to our success. As a result, starting on Monday, we would require you to work from 9AM to 9PM instead of your 9AM-5PM work."

Now, in the Industrial Revolution era, the light bulb meant longer hours of work. But it could have meant more flexibility. The conversation could have been, "Rebecca, we know you have a family, and so we thought that if you wanted to come in at 10AM and work until 6PM – or come in at 7AM and work until 3PM, the electric light allows for us to accommodate that."

Online communications technology such as Skype or Zoom have done the same thing – allowed worker flexibility around hours or location.

HR professionals can ensure the manager is educated on all possible options and scenarios that the new technology enables. Whenever possible, it’s key to know this BEFORE going into the conversation with the employee. The manager can reframe news about displacement with alternatives and suggestions. These conversations go a lot better if the manager is prepared with facts up front, ahead of the conversation. HR professionals can help ensure managers are educated.

How are you ensuring that your managers are educated about new technology and how it will impact the lives of their employees? 



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