The invention of the wheel is credited to the Sumerians in ancient Mesopotamia around 3500 BCE. Interestingly, the wheel had an impact on several different types of jobs. There was, of course, the vertical use of the wheel – chariots and ox carts, but also the horizontal use – on pottery making, and later waterwheels. The concept of the wheel and axle was revolutionary, arguably the most important invention of all time. Almost every subsequent invention involves principles of the wheel.
That said, the wheel was not a universal solution. The domestication of animals came at about the same time and camel travel in the desert was far more efficient between the 2nd and 6th century BC.
As we imagine the impact of the wheel on workers of the period, let’s pursue a thought exercise. As an employer of laborers at the time, and modern-day workers disrupted by AI – trust is a critical component of the relationship.
“Hey Jacob, we learned about this new technology they are calling a “wheel” – we think this will really help our business. We know you spend your days hauling material – and this new technology will change your job. You will not be out of a job, Jacob. We want to reinforce our TRUST in you and hope that you can trust us to support you as your job changes. You have been a tremendous employee for us here, Jacob, and have developed a strong reputation as a great worker. We will continue to work with you to develop your skills as we integrate this new technology into what we do here. We think you and the wheel will make a marvelous team."
For HR professionals involved in worker displacement, building trust with individuals is critical. Often, these conversations are awkward, and HR or people managers forget – or don’t feel comfortable -praising employees for what they can do - while delivering what could be considered bad news. Regardless of whether these folks will be retained, they are going through significant life changes and need someone they can trust. This new technology is causing change, and change can be seen as a threat.
Change is certainly unsettling and disruptive. The long-term benefit to any organization of a trusting relationship between HR professionals and workers impacted by technology is significant. The wheel didn’t replace all workers – it enabled them to more productive – and it’s the HR professional who can build organizational trust and be the glue that keeps employees engaged and productive when new technologies, like the wheel, are introduced to the organization.
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