The goal of this conference is, as in previous years, to bring together international scholars and business leaders to facilitate the exchange between business and academia on the latest ideas and empirical results concerning work in the digital age, the transformation of the HRM department and its activities, and to match cutting-edge smart HRM research and practice with the focus on HRM for industry 4.0.
Digitization is referred to as disruptive innovation that opens up new business and social opportunities and at the same time challenges traditional job design. These challenges can result in both people and organizational change. Workers may need to develop new competencies and capabilities, from technological expertise to social and emotional skills as well as creative skills (Colbert et al., 2016), whereas organizations are challenged to redesign their structures and processes (Kane et al., 2016).
In many ways, we may think these developments as positive ones. With industry 4.0 computers and automation will come together in an entirely new way in manufacturing, with robotics connected remotely to computer systems equipped with machine learning algorithms that can learn and control the robotics with very little input from human operators (Marr, 2016). Thus, industry 4.0 is accelerating the change in relationship between workers and machines. What blue-collar workers used to do is increasingly being done by machines and will be accompanied by changing tasks; as a consequence, more humdrum and ‘dull’ activities can be performed by machines, while human tasks will be characterized by growing autonomy and empowerment at decreasing costs (Holland & Bardoel, 2016).
The 4.0 revolution is also changing the time and space dimensions of work, extending new organizational opportunities and work designs to the whole workforce, including blue-collar: smart working, agile working, new virtual production. As a consequence, the number of 9-to-5, five day a week jobs is likely to decline, and more varied forms of work are going to emerge. These changes could enable a better work and life balance for a wider group of workers, as well as, from the perspective of the organization, a more efficient way of designing work. Digitization also enables organizations to provide clear goals and real-time feedback to support continuous development and motivation (Sonnentag et al., 2008).
On the other hand, both research and practice suggest some potential downsides. Detractors of the 4.0 revolution prophesy that smart machines will replace human work, and that this will happen not only for routine activities, causing an unprecedented job loss and, consequently, dramatic unemployment. Furthermore, full-time employment, which was the predominant way of working and living in the 20th century, seems to be progressively substituted by a wide variety of alternative and more precarious work arrangements, forcing organizations to redefine and continuously change the architecture of their management practices to better cope with the increasing diversity of workforce (Klotz, 2016).
From the employee perspective, these changes bring about growing sense of job insecurity and technological angst. They are influencing the quality of social interaction toward isolation and segregation (Turkle, 2011). The continuous learning path and the difficult to separate work and non-work domain could cause work-life balance conflicts, stress, and burnout, especially for those who are not digital natives (Butts et al., 2015). Moreover, there is evidence that these radical changes could negatively impact individual creativity and critical thinking (Jackson et al., 2001).
This challenging scenario represents a tremendous chance for the HRM domain. It provides stimuli to develop positive social change and to develop and adopt new digital systems and innovative organizational solutions. HRM professionals and research can help business leaders and employees shift to the 4.0 mind-set, digital ways of managing, organizing, and leading change. To face this opportunity, HRM 4.0 needs to partner with IT, adopt design thinking, and use integrated analytics. It represents a new world for HRM, potentially opening up new career opportunities and transforming the impact that HRM has on people, business and society at large (Strohmeier & Parry, 2014; Bondarouk & Brewster, 2016).