The robots are coming…

As technology advances, Laura Thomson-Staveley considers how to embrace AI and what needs a more human approach

Laura Thomson-Staveley

founder & leadership coach and co-host Phenomenal Training and Secrets from A Coach podcast


Reflect on yesterday and all the tasks and interactions you had. Could a robot have been able to do what you did? In 2014, this might have been just the stuff of movies, but in 2024 we are now seeing new technologies launch at a pace and take-up that exceeds the predictions. We still have a chance to thoughtfully integrate the impressive technological advancements we're witnessing.

As a workplace learning and development consultant, I grapple with equipping today's workforce for fulfilling and healthy future work experiences. As a mother to an eleven-year-old, I ponder what steps to take to ensure my child enjoys a positive work life in the future. Less Sarah Connor from Terminator, but equally committed to making a positive difference.

My fascination with robots and artificial intelligence (AI) stems from their potential impact on the workplace. Currently, the conversation around robots and AI often presents a stark, binary view—either utopian or dystopian. This perspective can disempower us, making it seem like the future is out of our control. Yet, the future is unfolding now, with today's pre-teens set to enter the workforce by 2030.

Humans excel at adapting to environmental changes, but today's workforce must do so more rapidly than ever before. Against a backdrop of pandemic fatigue and general decline in wellbeing, a sense of realistic optimism is essential to enabling our next generation of talent to enter the workplace.

Amid the fear of job loss to robots, we must identify and protect the unique human elements of our jobs.

Laura Thomson-Staveley, Founder and Leadership Coach, Phenomenal Training and Co-Host, Secrets from A Coach podcast

What changes have you already seen in your industry? Robotics has already transformed manufacturing by reducing the number of factory jobs. The key difference between robotics and AI is that while robotics replaces our physical tasks, AI is encroaching on cognitive tasks traditionally performed by humans. This shift presents a pivotal moment to make intelligent choices about integration. We have a duty to future generations to understand and act upon these developments, ensuring a beneficial relationship with technology. So, what to do?

Humans vs. robots

We face two major responsibilities as the current workforce. Firstly, amid the fear of job loss to robots, we must identify and protect the unique human elements of our jobs. The essence of our work involves qualities that robots can't replicate - caring, collaboration, curiosity and creativity. These attributes are inherently human and defy algorithmic patterns, making roles that embody them less susceptible to automation. It’s those moments that you cannot measure, giving an irony that these moments hold low value.

One of the biggest challenges we face is how to define and measure the intangible human moments that make life what it is. Just think how much conflict occurs during annual appraisal time when you try and calibrate people into the bell curve. How do you measure genuine care? It often takes time and that’s not easy to justify when the pressure is on.

To explore this, I embarked on a 12-month journey to determine what humans uniquely bring to their jobs that machines cannot. In workplace learning and development, and as a parent, I aim to foster skills that will enable fulfilling work lives. Reflecting on my own career, I realised that the most meaningful moments and friendships have come from work. People often stay in their jobs because of their colleagues, not because of the job itself.

AI might streamline many functions, but it can't replace the human connections and spontaneous interactions that make work enjoyable. We must preserve and emphasise the human aspects of work while leveraging technology to support these elements. This involves shifting from competency frameworks to focusing on personality traits and behaviours that enhance our humanity at work. What might that look like for you and your team?

Healthy work behaviours

Our second responsibility is to model healthy work behaviours for future generations. It's essential to avoid the trap of busyness for busyness's sake, especially as technology increasingly automates routine tasks. For instance, scheduling meetings, which once took significant time and effort, can now be done in minutes with an app. This efficiency should free us to focus on higher-value activities.

However, there is another irony: as smart technology advances, we find it harder to disconnect from work, making us more robotic. This creates a cycle where robotic behaviour in service roles increases the likelihood of automation. To counter this, we need to integrate technology in ways that enhance our humanity rather than diminish it. Notice the human edge moments, choose what needs to be prioritised, and take action to make it happen. I’m sure ChatGPT could give a handy step-by-step list of how to do it.

Critical human skills

Regardless of the timeline for widespread robotic integration, we are in a period of rapid transition. To navigate this, we must cultivate three critical human skills: emotional intelligence, personal resilience and mental presence. Emotional intelligence allows us to understand and manage our emotions and those of others. Personal resilience helps us withstand and adapt to pressure and life's challenges. Mental presence enables us to focus deeply on tasks, leveraging our imagination and intuition.

While the robots are indeed coming, our response shouldn't be to get more busy. Instead, we should seize this moment to thoughtfully integrate technology, ensuring it enhances rather than replaces our humanity. Whether in the workplace or at home, the boardroom or the bedroom, our decisions now will shape a future where we have the opportunity for humans and robots to coexist productively. This balance is essential for creating workplaces where technology supports us in being our most human selves, allowing us to thrive alongside our robotic counterparts.

Let’s keep using our free will while we can: what could be one thing you want to start doing, stop doing, or continue doing that you know will enable your human edge to shine through tomorrow? What type of shift in your everyday conversations and interactions would remind you of your unique human ability to be caring, collaborative, curious and creative?


Laura Thomson-Staveley is founder and leadership coach at Phenomenal Training and co-host of Secrets from A Coach podcast. For more information visit: and

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