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Humans at the Heart of Automation: Why Emotional Intelligence Shouldn't be Overlooked in Industry 4.0

Keith Elphick
Posted by Keith Elphick on Jun 20, 2024 9:30:00 AM
Humans at the Heart of Automation: Why Emotional Intelligence Shouldn't be Overlooked in Industry 4.0

We live in a world where "automation" and "AI" are part of our daily vocabulary, evidenced in everything from automated checkout counters to AI-powered virtual assistants. But behind these buzzwords lies significant fears about the new ways we work and live where machines take hold of human tasks. With these growing anxieties, one crucial aspect that should not be overlooked by industry leaders is emotional intelligence (EI). Yes, you read that right – emotions still matter in the age of automation! In this blog post, I'll talk about why emotional intelligence remains an essential trait for humans at the heart of Industry 4.0. So, let's set aside our technology for a moment and dive into this human-focused topic.


Jump to Section: 

Ai & Automation Anxiety | Human Element | Example | Synergy | Training | Takeaway | FAQ


Key Takeaways from This Article

✔️ Amidst automation and advanced technologies, balancing human skills and machine efficiency is crucial for creating harmonious workplaces where technology augments human capabilities.

✔️ Emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, empathy, and interpersonal skills, is essential for successful leadership and team dynamics, particularly in the technology-driven Industry 4.0.

✔️ Investing in emotional intelligence through workforce training and development is key for organizations to remain competitive, ensuring employees are confident, engaged, and able to navigate the emotional complexities of modern automated industries.


The Growing Anxiety Over Automation & AI


With the rise of Industry 4.0, automated technologies are replacing manual tasks and changing the way we work. While this may create a seamless workflow and financial success for organizations, employees are now faced with the fear of losing their jobs to machines. As a result, there is a growing anxiety about the future of work and how humans fit into this new era of Industry 4.0.

upwards chartAccording to a recent survey conducted by the American Staffing Association (ASA), nearly half of Americans, specifically 47%, expressed fear regarding job automation by artificial intelligence (AI). (Source)

The above statistic underscores the concern among individuals about the potential impact of AI on their employment prospects.

This fear is not limited to America; it's a global trend that has been amplified by media coverage on AI and automation taking over human jobs.


modern usa factory jobs copyThe belief that machine automation is responsible for declining US manufacturing jobs is a blend of fact and fiction. In my blog post, "Automation Isn't the Biggest Threat to US Factory Jobs," I delve into this complex issue.



The Human Element

The problem above, fear, is an emotion, so it makes sense that emotional intelligence is the skill set needed to tackle this growing problem.

Emotional intelligence plays a central role in helping humans navigate these complex changes. It bridges the gap between fear and understanding, offering reassurance through empathy and self-awareness. Moreover, it drives the development of skills and competencies necessary for human workers to thrive in a highly automated workplace.


What is Emotional Intelligence (EI):


Coined by Daniel Goleman, EI encompasses a range of emotional intelligence skills, including self-awareness, empathy towards others’ feelings, and the capacity to manage emotions – all of which are essential for emotionally intelligent leaders.

These human-centric capabilities differentiate themselves from technical skills but matter now more than ever in the workplace.



Key components of EI:

The essence of high emotional intelligence can be distilled into five key elements:

1. Self-regulation

2. Self-awareness

3. Empathy for others

4. Social skills

5. Motivation beyond external rewards

Together, these components form the foundation of a high EI individual, enabling them to navigate the complexities of human dynamics effectively.


An Example: Problems on the Production Floor

Take an example of emotional intelligence in action by picturing yourself as a production manager. You have been working with the engineering department to install a new manufacturing line with integrated conveyors and robotics. This upgrade will drastically improve your production numbers, and you are excited about it.

However, you've noticed murmurs of discontent and eye-rolls when discussing these plans around the production crew. You can feel their stares as you lay out plans with engineering, and their performance is starting to decline.

What would it look like to respond to this situation with emotional intelligence?

1. Self-Regulation—Do the crew's snickers make you want to snap back a feisty response? Control your impulses — they will only add fuel to the fire.

2. Self-Awareness—Recognize if you've contributed to the problem. In this case, the crew hears you planning technological growth without recognizing the vital role of the production crew in this new system, and this oversight has contributed to the problem. Adjusting your communication can go a long way toward creating a clear and balanced message for the team.

3. EmpathyYou know this automated system will enhance their jobs by making their tasks physically easier. But put yourself in their shoes—they don't know that, and they feel their jobs are being threatened. Recognize their fear is valid. Let them know that you understand the uncertainty and be willing to listen to their concerns.

4. Social Skills—Maintain open and frequent communication with your team, explaining how the changes will enhance their work. Clarify how things are evolving, whether their roles will stay consistent, or whether they will receive training and support in new positions. Actively listen to their questions and concerns, responding thoughtfully. This approach will build trust and potentially ignite enthusiasm for improvements.

5. Motivation beyond external rewards—Tap into intrinsic motivation by highlighting the new system's benefits for work-life balance, job satisfaction, or personal growth opportunities.


Had you not managed the situation effectively, the crew might have become mentally disengaged or even started looking for new job opportunities. However, you can cultivate a more positive and cooperative work environment by recognizing and addressing concerns with active listening and emotional intelligence.

This is just one example of how emotional intelligence can play a significant role in navigating the complexities of the Industry 4.0 workplace. It helps individuals manage their own emotions and those of others, promoting a harmonious work environment where humans can thrive alongside automated systems.


lean work cell 2 copy
Want to see an automated production line where humans, conveyors and robots work in harmony? Check out the automated workcell we created with Microlab and watch it in action.



The Synergy Between Automation and Emotional Intelligence

Achieving a balance between technology and emotional intelligence is essential for advancing Industry 4.0. Emotionally intelligent employees enhance the workplace with their self-awareness and empathy, ensuring that as we advance technologically, we do not lose sight of the importance of the human touch.


Enhancing Team Dynamics

The influence of emotional intelligence on team dynamics cannot be overstated. High emotional intelligence leads to better conflict management, a positive outlook, and a culture where everyone is motivated to contribute their best. Astute leaders comprehend that emotional intelligence skills are not merely an advantage, but are fundamental for an organization to flourish.


Conflict Resolution and Constructive Feedback

Emotional intelligence is a game-changer when it comes to conflict resolution and providing constructive feedback. Active listening, a part of self-regulation, and interpersonal communication skills are critical in resolving issues and building stronger teams. Relationship management is further enhanced when leaders and co-workers address problems with a clear understanding of each other’s emotions and motivations.


Employee Satisfaction and Retention

The link between emotional intelligence, job satisfaction, and employee retention is becoming increasingly clear, especially in sectors like manufacturing, where labor shortages pose a significant challenge. By prioritizing EI, companies can:

✔ Improve the well-being of their employees
✔ Ensure that their workforce remains engaged and loyal
✔ Reduce turnover
✔ Foster a competitive edge in the market.


EI Training: Not Just for the Tech Giants

Although emotions are inherent to being human, we don't always manage them wisely. Luckily, emotional intelligence can be learned and improved upon. Human resources departments increasingly incorporate strategies to enhance emotional intelligence through development programs, recognizing that emotionally intelligent employees are the cornerstone of a successful, adaptive organization.

Sessions on how to manage stress, balance work, and personal life, and manage stressful situations are just some examples of EI training that can create more effective leaders and create an overall positive attitude in the workplace.

For an example of this, we can look at the tech giant, Google. The company has invested heavily in training employees in emotional intelligence and mindfulness, leading to improved teamwork, problem-solving, and overall employee satisfaction.

But EI isn't just for huge companies like Google. Medium-sized companies, like Airline, have also experienced advantages from EI training.



The Takeaway Here: Invest in Your Humans

As technology continues to grow, never neglect the human element. Ensuring that employees can evolve alongside advancing technologies not only secures their employment but also drives innovation and progress within an organization. By providing ample growth opportunities, companies can build a resilient workforce ready to tackle the challenges of the future.

Continuous Learning and Upskilling

Implementing continuous learning and upskilling programs is vital for preparing employees for future roles. This can include specialized training on new technologies, certifications in relevant fields, and enabling employees to pursue higher education.


Leveraging Mentorship Programs

Mentorship programs are a powerful tool for fostering personal and professional growth. Pairing less experienced employees with seasoned mentors can accelerate learning and provide valuable guidance.


Encouraging Innovation and Creativity

Innovation should not be limited to technological advancements but should include innovative thinking in career development. Google is known for its '20% time' policy, where employees can use 20% of their work time to pursue projects they are passionate about. This approach stimulates creativity and can lead to groundbreaking innovations while allowing employees to explore new areas of interest that could align with emerging technologies.


Providing Cross-Functional Experiences

Cross-functional experiences offer employees a broader understanding of the company and help develop a versatile skill set. Allowing employees to take on projects or roles in different departments can enrich their professional development.


Maintaining a balance between technology and human skills is imperative for the future of work. Preserving a human-centric work culture amidst automation requires a strategic approach that values social skills and emotional intelligence alongside technical prowess. By taking this approach, organizations can foster a harmonious environment where technology augments, rather than supplants, the unique abilities of their human employees.


The evidence is clear: it's not all about technology and automation to get ahead. Organizations that equally embrace humans and emotional intelligence achieve goals that transcend mere financial success. They build robust, collaborative teams, foster innovative thinking, and create cultures that attract and retain top talent.

Now, the ball is in your court. Share your thoughts concerning the role of humans and emotional intelligence in the age of automation in the comments or contact us.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How can organizations maintain a human-centric approach while incorporating automation?

Organizations can maintain a human-centric approach by prioritizing the development of emotional intelligence skills in employees, providing opportunities for growth and upskilling, leveraging mentorship programs, encouraging innovation and creativity, and offering cross-functional experiences. By valuing human skills alongside technological advancements, organizations can create a harmonious workplace where automation supports rather than replaces human abilities.  So it's important to find a balance between technology and humanity.


What is emotional intelligence (EI), and why is it important in Industry 4.0?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. In Industry 4.0, EI is crucial as it complements technological advancements, fostering a human-centric workplace and enhancing team dynamics and productivity.


Will robots replace human jobs?

While automation and technology may replace some jobs, they also create new job opportunities in industries like AI, data analysis, and programming. Moreover, the human element remains crucial in areas such as emotional intelligence, creativity, and problem-solving. The key is to find a balance between technological advancements and human skills in the workplace.  So rather than replacing humans completely, technology can complement their abilities and create a more efficient workforce.


How can robots and humans work together?

Robots and humans can work together by leveraging the unique strengths of each. Technology can handle repetitive, mundane tasks, while humans can focus on more complex problem-solving and creative endeavors. By finding a balance between automation and human skills, organizations can create a harmonious workplace where technology enhances rather than replaces human abilities.  So it's about finding ways for technology and humanity to complement each other in the workplace. 


How does emotional intelligence benefit team dynamics in an automated environment?

Emotional intelligence benefits team dynamics in an automated environment by improving communication, conflict resolution, and collaboration, making teams more adaptable and resilient in the face of technology and human interaction.


Is emotional intelligence at work different than at home?

While the core components of emotional intelligence remain the same at work and home, the context and dynamics may differ. At work, individuals need to manage emotions in a professional setting and with colleagues, while at home, they focus on managing emotions within personal relationships. However, developing emotional intelligence can benefit both personal and professional environments.  So, practicing EI skills can have a positive impact in all aspects of life.


Additional Resources

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