When Robots Join Our Team: A Configuration Theory of Employees’ Perceptions of and Reactions to Robotic Process Automation
Robotic process automation (RPA) as a lightweight automation technology has witnessed an increasing uptake in the industry in recent years. Despite considerable changes in employees’ tasks and processes brought about by the introduction of RPA, there is a lack of research that explores how employees react to an RPA implementation. Hence, the goal of this research is to understand employees’ perceptions of and reactions to RPA as these affect their interaction with the technology and, ultimately, their adoption and use. To address this research gap, we conducted a case study at a financial institution in New Zealand and interviewed 18 employees of the business units and members of the RPA team. Building on a configurational approach, we developed a mid-range theory and identified four distinct configurations that show how employees’ perceived consequences of software robots on their jobs influenced their collaboration with the automation team, their attitude towards the change in work tasks and processes and ultimately their interactions with software robots and attribution of software robots’ roles and performance. Our findings may inform implementation and change management strategies and accommodation initiatives to support employees’ needs to facilitate adoption, which is crucial for organisations to realise the benefits of RPA.