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Employees’ attitudes towards intelligent robots: a dilemma analysis

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With the increasing adoption of robotics in professional applications, the question arises of what impact robots with more cognitive skills will have on the labor market. Since such intelligent robots can highly affect the way of doing business, prior studies have mainly targeted their economic impact on work productivity. This article, on the other hand, focuses on the acceptance of intelligent robots by employees. We conducted 48 semi-structured interviews with office workers and managers. Based on three dilemmas, this paper uncovers why such employees would leave their work practices (fully or partially) to intelligent robots. Our findings show that many tasks can already be replaced with the necessary support. Employees seem highly positive about robots in the workplace and feel comfortable leaving simple tasks. Since they are especially skeptical about using robots for social, creative or confident tasks, proper guidance and training are crucial. By looking at the human level of intelligent robots, we add social and ethical considerations. Organizations gain insight into how employees typically view robotic changes to proactively react to employee concerns by gradually adopting their corporate innovation strategy. This study also provides an impetus for further research, with the ultimate aim of humanizing digital work.

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An initial version of this work was presented at the International Business Process Management Conference 2020 to acquire early feedback, after which extensions and a more in-depth analysis were conducted.


No funds, grants or other support was received.

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A single author was involved in the entire project. Data collection was partly supported by master students as part of a research methods course.

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Correspondence to Amy Van Looy.

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Regarding financial interests, the first author is Associate Professor at Ghent University (Belgium). The author has no relevant non-financial interests to declare.

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Appendix 1: Respondents’ profile

(See Tables 5, 6).

Table 5 Respondents along their organization’s profile
Table 6 Respondents along their individual profile

Appendix 2: Interview questions

The interview questions are listed below.

  • Profile of the respondent

  • [Gender] The interviewer notes the respondent’s gender, without asking a question.

  • [Position_Title] What is the official name of your position within the current organization? What does this role entail in terms of tasks?

  • [Position_Level] Is this a C role, another management role, an executive role (e.g. working within operations or sales) or rather a supporting role (e.g. within HR, IT, finance)?

  • [Department] In which department within your current organization do you perform this function?

  • [Seniority] How many years have you been holding this position already within this organization?

  • [Education_Level] What is the name of your highest educational degree? Does it concern a university diploma higher (master's or PhD degree), a bachelor's degree, a secondary school diploma, or a primary school diploma?

  • [Birth_Year] Can we ask about your birth year?

  • [Adoption_Profile] Which statement best describes how you usually adopt new innovations yourself? Motivate your choice.

  • 1/ I am usually one of the first to use an innovation or novelty, and I like to take a risk.

  • 2/ I am relatively quick to start using an innovation or novelty, and I can convince others to do the same.

  • 3/ I usually start using an innovation or novelty myself similar to an average user or slightly earlier.

  • 4/ I usually start using an innovation or novelty myself a little later than an average user.

  • 5/ I am usually one of the last to use an innovation or novelty, because I prefer to keep the existing situation.

  • [Job_Satisfaction] Are you currently satisfied with your job? Why? With what score on five would you describe your personal job satisfaction? (1 = very dissatisfied; 2 = rather dissatisfied; 3 = neither satisfied / nor dissatisfied; 4 = rather satisfied; 5 = very satisfied)

  • [Job_Insecurity] Do you sometimes fear that your job will become redundant due to increasing automation/digitization? Why? With what score on five would you describe your perceived job fear? (1 = never; 2 = sometimes; 3 = about half the time; 4 = usually; 5 = always)

  • Profile of the organization

    1. o

      [Size] Approximately how many employees work at your current organization?

    2. o

      [Sector] In which sector is your organization active?

    3. o

      [Market] How do you describe the perceived market competition of your organization? Why? With what score on five would you describe the market competition within your sector compared to an average organization? (1 = much lower than average; 2 = lower than average; 3 = roughly the same; 4 = higher than average; 5 = much higher than average).

  • Dilemmas about robotics

  • The following questions are purely hypothetical. They question your personal opinion or perception, regardless of whether your organization is currently more or less innovative. Suppose that in the future (so within an indefinite period of time) a robot would exist that is so intelligent that it can handle any activity and every process (or every series of activities). With robots, therefore, do not necessarily think of physical machines that can only take over manual labor, but also software that can take over complex thinking processes. This would mean that within the dilemmas everything can be achieved with technology, and that you do not have to doubt the technical feasibility. We will deal with three dilemma situations regarding your duties, and start with the first dilemma. Please consider tasks rather as a process or series of individual activities.

  • [Dilemma_Semi] Are there core tasks in your current duties (or work package) that you think an intelligent robot could support you with, namely through some form of semi-automation or partial automated support?

  • [Dilemma_Semi_TaskName] Name at least one task.

  • [Dilemma_Semi_Characteristics] Name three features that characterize this task (e.g. repetitive or not / knowledge intensive or not / creative or not / dependence on various factors / variable input and output or not). Motivate these choices.

  • [Dilemma_Semi_Manual] What role do you still see for you in this semi-automation?

  • [Dilemma_Semi_Usefulness] Why do you think an intelligent robot can be useful for this?

  • [Dilemma_Semi_EaseOfUse] Do you think it will be easy to use a robot for these tasks? Why?

  • [Dilemma_Semi_Performance] What effect will the robot have on the performance of these tasks?

  • [Dilemma_Semi_Pressure] Do you think there will be social pressure to use the robot in these tasks? Why?

  • [Dilemma_Semi_Facilitation] What support do you expect from your Organization before this collaboration with the robot is made possible? Can you specify this further?

  • [Dilemma_Never] Which core tasks from your current duties (or work package) would you never want to surrender to an intelligent robot? In other words: you would rather continue to perform these tasks yourself.

  • [Dilemma_Never_TaskName] Name at least one task.

  • [Dilemma_Never_Characteristics] Name three features that characterize this task (e.g. repetitive or not / knowledge intensive or not / creative or not / dependence on various factors / variable input and output or not). Motivate these choices.

  • [Dilemma_Never_Usefulness] Why do you think an intelligent robot cannot be useful for this?

  • [Dilemma_Never_EaseOfUse] Why do you think that a robot for this will not provide more simplicity in your duties?

  • [Dilemma_Never_Performance] Why do you think that a robot for this will not provide more performance in your duties?

  • [Dilemma_Never_Pressure] Do you think there will be social pressure not to use the robot in these tasks? Why?

  • [Dilemma_Never_Facilitation] What other support do you expect from your company in these tasks? Can you specify this further?

  • [Dilemma_Full] Which core tasks from your current duties (or work package) would you like to leave completely to an intelligent robot? In other words: you can see these tasks perfectly transferable without your input.

  • [Dilemma_Full_TaskName] Name at least one task.

  • [Dilemma_Full_Characteristics] Name three features that characterize this task (e.g. repetitive or not / knowledge intensive or not / creative or not / dependence on various factors / variable input and output or not). Motivate these choices.

  • [Dilemma_Full_Usefulness] Why do you think an intelligent robot can be useful for this?

  • [Dilemma_Full_EaseOfUse] Do you think it will be easy to use a robot for these tasks? Why?

  • [Dilemma_Full_Performance] What effect will the robot have on the performance of these tasks?

  • [Dilemma_Full_Pressure] Do you think there will be social pressure to use the robot in these tasks? Why?

  • [Dilemma_Full_Facilitation] What support do you expect from your Organization before this collaboration with the robot is made possible? Can you specify this further?

  • [Attitude_Robots] What is your general view of the arrival of intelligent robots that will increasingly perform work-related tasks? Why? With what score on five would you describe your opinion? (1 = highly negative; 2 = rather negative; 3 = neither negative / nor positive; 4 = rather positive; 5 = highly positive).

Appendix 3: Tables related to acceptance factors

(See Tables 7, 8, 9, 10).

Table 7 The most frequently mentioned usefulness arguments per role and per dilemma (N = 48)
Table 8 The ease-of-use perceptions per role and per dilemma (N = 48)
Table 9 The most frequently mentioned performance arguments per role and per dilemma (N = 48)
Table 10 The main reasons for social pressure per role and per dilemma (N = 48)

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Van Looy, A. Employees’ attitudes towards intelligent robots: a dilemma analysis. Inf Syst E-Bus Manage 20, 371–408 (2022).

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