Senior Care and The Future of Work

Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

In the book, Klaus makes a convincing argument that we are entering a fourth industrial revolution marked by the rise of new and wide-ranging fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the internet of things (IoT), autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing. Just to name a handful!

Why does our current environment deserve to be called a new industrial revolution? Simply because these changes are happening so fast.

Klaus distills what 100s of leading executives are experiencing in their companies and how these leaders foresee the rising pace of innovation affecting their organizations in the near future. One of the most pressing topics of the book is the future of employment and there were phenomenal takeaways for the senior care industry—especially in light of the fact that 6 of the top 10 fastest growing professions in the country are health care or senior care professions.

A More Positive Transition

Technology impacts employment in two fundamental ways. First there is a destruction effect as disruptive technologies substitute capital for labor causing unemployment and the need for workers to re-skill.

Second and equally important there is the capitalization effect, when the demand for new services, made available by the new technology, shoot up leading to the creation of new jobs, companies, and even entire industries!

These two effects may have different timings. Meaning the destruction effect could happen quickly, while the capitalization effect may take more time to introduce the new demand and employment opportunities. We can take steps to speed up the capitalization effect, if we choose to.

The question, Klaus argues, is “what should we do to foster more positive outcomes and help those caught in the transition?”.

What Types of Tasks Are At Risk?

What types of tasks are most vulnerable to new forms of innovation? Our intuition here is a good start—those tasks that involve repetitive mechanical activities performed with precision. With this in mind, a number of white collar duties performed in law, financial planning, accounting, and other professional services firms are at high risk of automation. In fact, two researchers, economist Carl Benedikt Frey and machine learning expert Michael Osborne, have conducted a study to quantify the probability of professions being automated. They found that, about 47% of total employment in the US is at risk of automation—possibly in the next decade or two.

Their study suggests a likely “hollowing” out of the routine and repetitive middle-income jobs in the labor market leaving high-income cognitive and creative jobs and low-income manual occupations.

This is possibly an alarming study. I have to admit it scares me a little. With that said, I’ve seen new technologies introduced into other professions rapidly, and the outcomes those workers had, gives me confidence that new technologies will make senior care a better career for the average caregiver, support staff, and executives. Together, we have reason to stay positive, hopeful, and open to new ways to improve our work.

Tech Can’t Love Us (or Our Seniors)!

Senior Care is first and foremost about providing for the needs of our elderly. The elderly have real physical needs and often these needs are greater than the average person’s. With that said, it’s clear that the psychological and emotional needs of seniors—sometimes intricately wrapped up in their physical condition—are the primary needs that need to be met.

Seniors want someone to listen. They want to feel heard. For someone to be physically, emotionally, and mentally there—fully present with them. They need someone to be patient with them. To be kind to them. They need a caregiver who can put their needs before their own. A caregiver who does not easily get angry or hold grudges. Someone who protects them, trusts them, hopes with them, and perseveres with them. They need someone to show them love.

As a self-labeled tech guy who has read far and wide on new technologies, automation, and gizmos—I’m confident in saying there ain’t even the smallest chance an app, robot, or thing-a-ma-jig will be able to serve these highest needs of our seniors.

What the Experts Overlook

Fundamentally all work is deeply relational. Every type of “work” has a relational component and a task component to it.

Technology continues to help us with “tasks” but fails miserably at making inroads into the “relational” dimensions of work.

Researchers predict that low-risk jobs in terms of automation will be those that require these relational social and creative skills. Emotional intelligence in other words.

They highlight stereotypical creative roles like marketers, software developers, designers, and executives. But in my opinion they gloss over the deeply creative, social, and relational work of senior care!

The Value of Empathy and Compassion

Klaus Schwab leaves the door open that, “demand may grow for roles that machines cannot fulfill and which rely on intrinsically human traits and capabilities such as empathy and compassion”.

He acknowledges there is a risk that these roles, may not be adequately valued by the market in light of their increasing demand.

For smart savvy business leaders, appropriately understanding and valuing empathy and compassion in employees, will be a huge competitive advantage.

Conclusion

For caregivers: Your compassion, empathy, and ability to meet seniors’ emotional needs is your most valuable asset. For those who feel this isn’t their strength, don’t worry, this is a skill like any other. It can be learned and improved. Lean in to this element of your work and seek out employers that understand the value of compassion and empathy.

For senior care support staff: You likely have too much to do and not enough time to do it. You are the saints of senior care. Regain your sanity, by embracing technology to help you with the numerous tasks you are responsible for. Delegate the routine and repetitive tasks to tools. This will free you up to better care for your seniors, their children, your caregivers, and each other. Understand that your competitive advantage in recruiting caregivers, is in making an amazing personal impression on them from the first time they engage with your company, to supporting them in their day to day, to the day they decide to move to another provider. Every interaction is an opportunity to lead and to serve.

For senior care leaders: Recognize that your one sustainable competitive advantage is having a staff skilled in “emotional intelligence”. It’s your responsibility to prioritize this, to have it infuse every aspect of your mission, vision, and culture. Our capacity as a society to train and equip people in these skills, will be the bottleneck in your ability to appropriately meet the rising demand for your services. Take steps to appropriately reward and recognize empathy and compassion in your team and you’ll see innovation in your service delivery, improved profitability, and faster growth.

Photo by Paul Gilmore on Unsplash