In the 1970s, journalist Studs Terkel compiled Working, an oral history about American workers, many of whom reported feeling demoralized and depressed in tedious data entry jobs. Over the last few decades, not much has changed for those in data-entry jobs. In fact, these individuals are prone to a myriad of physical injuries and mental stress. Repetitive motion, for example, can lead to neck and upper back pain, computer vision syndrome, shoulder pain and injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
It’s not just the physical manifestations of injury from prolonged data-entry tasks that are concerning – the easily overlooked mental taxation of this mind-numbing work can cause even greater harm. Menial tasks lead to a loss of focus, resulting in higher rates of potentially disastrous human-caused errors, and has reports of workers literally being bored to death. Researchers at University College London found that civil servants who complained of high levels of on-the-job boredom are twice as likely to die from heart disease or a stroke when compared to people who felt engaged and fulfilled.
We are finally on the cusp of a revolution toward happier, more meaningful work, but first, we must use digital automation to kill data-entry tasks.
Automation is replacing jobs, but only the ones we find little satisfaction in completing.
There are many accounts in the media of how robots and automation are threatening human jobs; according to a 2019 report by the Brookings Institute, the jobs most at risk of being made redundant are the ones people perceive as the most boring, repetitive, and least desirable.
In addition to the physical and mental ailments the work induces, our human mind loses focus and small errors cascade into huge problems with large repercussions. Think back to 2010, when a single keystroke error sent a shockwave through Wall Street as $1.1 trillion of American assets were suddenly wiped out.
The accepted benchmark for human error in data entry is 1 percent, the compound effects of which erodes away a company’s bottom line. Robots and automation never make the same sort of data-entry errors, underperform, or inject their work with human emotions and failings
All in all, automation is poised to strip 73 million jobs from U.S. workers by 2030. But it will add an untold number of new, more fulfilling jobs that we cannot even envision today.
Reassigning workers to more meaningful jobs
Who among us hasn’t worked an entry-level job where we thought we couldn’t spend even one more day pushing paper, tapping away at a keyboard, or performing other work that didn’t serve to inspire or enlighten the senses?
The good news is that automating and eliminating repetitive data-entry tasks from the workplace does not necessarily mean the end of employment for these workers. Instead, given that companies are struggling to find employees in an economy with full employment, scratching out low-skilled tasks offers the opportunity for these workers to be retrained for higher-skilled positions or reassigned to more human-scale jobs.
Such automation is not all that difficult to achieve: while 90 percent of workers feel bogged down by repetitive tasks, the introduction of online automation can reduce employee workload, ultimately leading to better work-life balance.
Consider the typical wealth advisor, whose primary function is to meet with clients and understand their financial goals, yet many hours of the workweek are devoted to administrative duties. As managers adopt online solutions to help clients quickly and easily provide their information, those solutions fall short in helping managers quickly and easily complete the multitude of PDF documents, leaving wealth managers the tedious task of manually copying and pasting information into empty fields. While the process is easy for the client, it is just as labor-intensive and dull for the wealth manager.
Automating this entire workflow can allow wealth managers to spend more time with their clients. Not only is this good for business, but it allows for greater engagement and intellectual stimulation.
Augmenting the workplace reality to enhance the human experience … and innovation
Research shows that automation leads to the sort of “human-friendly” workplaces that allow workers to achieve their full potential. As duller jobs are given to machines and work becomes more human, employees will find opportunities to use more soft skills—creativity, empathy, and critical thinking—to think up new industries, exciting products and arms of business that generate revenue for companies.
While we have no way of knowing what humans will continue on to create after automation pulls the plug on data-entry jobs, opening up the landscape to more meaningful employment could mean today’s data-entry worker could be tomorrow innovator or titan of industry. The first step: free the employees from menial work and see what blossoms.