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Some Walmart employees are not happy working with robots

According to a report in The Washington Post the opinion of Walmart employees to the use of robots in stores and warehouses is mixed. Walmart has deployed robots in some 1,500 locations. While some workers see the robots as helpful, other workers feel that the robots made their jobs less enjoyable, taking away some of the tasks that the workers enjoyed doing more. This has, for some, created a monotonous work environment.

In addition, several workers express the view that they feel undervalued and that their primary work duties are little more than tending to and training the robots, or performing duties that are effectively delegated by the machines. In a sense, there is a perception that work duties have gone full-circle back to the Taylorist work principles of the 1910s when creator of ‘scientific management‘ and who said that it was best to see most “workers as appendages of their machines” (this type of work practice was replaced by more enlightened approaches to workplace motivation, such as those based on Maslow’s self-actualization theories).

Retailers are increasingly turning to robots to boots efficiencies and, longer-term, to reduce costs. The most widespread example of this is with Amazon’s use of robots in its warehouses. Over the holiday season, Amazon took on 20,000 fewer part-time workers than ever and yet it sold more products – due to the increased use of robots.

With the Walmart example, Gizmodo spoke with a Walmart official over the use of robots. Walmart’s response was that robots are intended to perform mundane activities like cleaning floors (such as the Auto-C floor scrubber), scanning shelves and sorting inventory. The aim is to “minimize the time an associate spends on the more mundane and repetitive tasks” (an ‘associate’ being a worker). The consequence of this is to enable workers “more of an opportunity to do what they’re uniquely qualified for: serve customers face-to-face on the sales floor.”

The perceptions of the workers that were interviewed by The Washington Post (and of some customers) and those promulgated by Walmart stand in contrast. The only certainty is that robots are appearing in the workplace with increased frequency and the effects are disruptive. The question of who benefits the most remains open.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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