Future skills for an ‘age of automation’


Future skills for an ‘age of automation’

Dr. Richard MacKinnon, Managing Director at WorkLifePsych gives tips on how to develop psychological flexibility to fulfil your goals.

I’m not one for making firm predictions about the future of work, but I think it’s fair to say that, given current trajectories in the Western world, we’ll continue to see changes to how, where, when and by whom work is done. When we factor in the increasing role of automation, it’s important to consider what that will mean for employees’ skillsets.

“What does this mean for me?”

As a workplace psychologist and coach, my focus is on developing people to improve their productivity, welling and professional effectiveness. Dealing with organisational change represents a major theme in coaching conversations, especially when the individual is impacted by the change they didn’t initiate. It can prompt challenging reflections on their place in the workforce, put a dent in their self-confidence and lead to all kinds of unwelcome thoughts and emotions about the future. If we want to prepare people for the scenario of increased automation and its impact on people, let’s start by looking at the fundamental personal skills they’ll need to deal with these changes effectively.

A flexible approach

I look at workplace change and its impact on people through the lens of psychological flexibility – a set of thinking and behavioural skills that enable people to keep going through periods of difficulty and discomfort. The scientific evidence-based for these skills is strong and long-standing. It illustrates the significant positive impact these skills can have on job satisfaction, resilience and productivity. And the good news is that anyone can learn them!

When developing our psychological flexibility, we learn to be clear about what really matters to us – in terms of our values – and put this into practice when we can. We learn to develop a focus on the here and now, avoiding unwelcome mental time travel into worrying or distressing imagined futures. We learn to develop a flexible self-concept, one that is shaped and lived by the context in which we find ourselves now, not outdated or irrelevant beliefs about how things ‘should’ be.

Developing psychological flexibility also gives us the skills to not be led and dictated to by the worrying thoughts that change can prompt, but instead to use our values as the compass that guides us through challenges.

Individuals and teams I work with using this framework learn how to:

  • Show up: be present, mindful and flexible in the here and now
  • Let go: of struggles with unwelcome thoughts and emotions
  • Get moving: using values to guide choices in the pursuit of meaningful goals.

As well as, not instead of

These skills represent an addition to, not a replacement for, ethical and carefully managed change. When developed, they allow employees to keep going in pursuit of their goals, despite the upset and discomfort change can bring, while continuing to experience real meaning in their work. Which surely represents a future of work that’s attractive to everyone.


Richard MacKinnonDr. Richard MacKinnon is a Chartered Psychologist and Registered Coaching Psychologist. He’s the founder and managing director of WorkLifePsych, a visiting lecturer at Goldsmiths University of London and the co-host on the fortnightly podcast ‘My Pocket Psych’.




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