Is Fear Of Automation Making Us Unwell?

I’ve covered the future of work an increasing amount in the past year, and especially the general narrative around the impact AI technologies will have on the workplace.  Given the terrible future depicted in many newspaper articles on the topic, it’s perhaps not surprising that many people are concerned about just what the future will entail.  Will they have a job in the future?  What skills should they have?

A recent study from researchers at Ball State University suggests that such concerns may be making us both physically and mentally unwell.

“While estimates of potential job losses due to automation vary for our nation— with one as high as 47 percent—most people agree that the risk of automation is significant and growing,” the authors say. “People who live and work in areas where automation is taking place are sickened by the thought of losing their jobs and having no way of providing for themselves or their families.”

Health risk of automation

The researchers found that for every 10% rise in the risk of automation in a country, the physical and mental health of its citizens declines by 2.38%.

They go on to estimate that this reduction in health could cost those economies up to $174 million.  Areas such as the south of the United States were particularly at risk, with the Plains, Midwest and New England regions insulated from the risk of automation, and therefore experiencing better health outcomes.  The picture was not so good in the Rocky Mountain and Southwest regions however.

‘The actual and felt threats from automation may not immediately manifest into morbidities, but the increasing prevalence of poorer self-reported health and feelings of deteriorating physical and mental health can have a direct and lasting impact on individuals, families, and communities,” the authors say. “While we cannot fully unpack the black box between county-level automation risk and health, nevertheless, it is important for policymakers to understand the health effects of automation risk.”

The findings make sense, especially in the context of work undertaken last year by the University of Manchester.  It found that job quality was a clear indicator of stress levels.

People who had poor quality jobs reported significantly higher stress levels, with a transition into this kind of work having no benefit at all on ones physical health over not having a job at all. By contrast, moving into good quality work was associated with improvements in both physical and mental health.

Both studies underline the importance of job security to our physical and mental wellbeing.

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