Digital HRDigital TransformationThe effect that technology can have on work-related stress

The effect that technology can have on work-related stress

Mike Blake, wellbeing lead at Willis Towers Watson, looks at how technology has added to employee job stress and what employers can do to help.

Hi tech, hi spec living

When computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1990, little did he know that he had changed working conditions forever.

Similarly, when Martin Cooper from Motorola made that first phone call from a handheld mobile phone on 3 April 1973, did he realise that generations now live their lives from their fingertips?

Both contributed to our current 24/7 digital lifestyle. We now live, work and play – and sometimes even breathe – through technology.

Holidays can be booked in three taps, new partners can be found in two swipes and colleagues thousands of miles away can be reached in a matter of moments.

Technology has allowed us the freedom to conduct work outside the confines of the office, offering an unprecedented level of flexibility.

It gave businesses access to a world of fast information and big data – making employees more efficient and companies more profitable.

Immediacy is now the norm. Improvement is expected. Innovation is assumed. But this new way of working runs the risk of creating a workforce that is worn out and whose downtime is wiped out.

In fact, Willis Towers Watson’s Health and Benefits Barometer research has revealed that almost a third of UK employees (32 per cent) say workplace technology – from computer software to mobile tech – increases their job stress.

Of these stressed respondents, 45 per cent claim that technology had heightened their workload and a third (33 per cent) said it triggered tighter deadlines.

Technology for people, not just profits

Digital healthcare innovations, such as wellbeing hubs and apps, virtual GPs and chatbots can pave the way for healthier, happier and less stressed staff. Finding the right mood-boosting tech solution will help alleviate some of the tech-induced anxiety that has been brought on by increased workload, frustration and expectation.

According to the HSE a staggering 595,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2017/18. This resulted in 15.4 million lost working days.

Leveraging certain technologies, particularly smartphone tech, can help combat or negate the stresses of workplace technology and, in turn, help improve sickness absence and staff retention.

Taking the time out

Meditation is often seen as a luxury or afterthought but setting a bit of time aside for emotional wellbeing has numerous benefits for employees. And technology has brought meditation to anyplace, anytime.

Employers can direct their employees to apps that allow them to break the cycle – of being too busy, too stressed, too sleep-deprived, too distracted – and take time out of the working day to escape work-tech and focus on me-tech.

For busy, time-stretched individuals, some platforms introduce daily micro-meditation sessions that last just three minutes – ideal for slotting into a work break. Such apps are purposed to help users relieve anxiety and stress by listening to sounds of nature, keeping gratitude journals and tracking emotional moods throughout the workday.

Or if you have employees who always tend to be on the go, some apps offer meditation sessions that are organised and designed according to where you are throughout the day – from the moment you wake up, to travelling on a bus, to walking through the city or a park, or even eating.

For employees who struggle with their mood, an app which invites feelings of calm and a sense of clarity and perspective may be the best option.

Or for ambitious professionals who want to improve personally and professionally, there are growth-oriented e-learning applications that provide transformational audio tracks for improving different areas of life, from productivity to positivity.

It’s good to chat-bot

As demand for mental health services continues to surpass availability, employees can now play a role in monitoring and managing their own mental health with chatbots, which are available anytime and anywhere.

Bots use artificial intelligence to initiate natural, personalised and human-like conversations via text offering emotional support and practical advice to users.

They use open questions, such as ‘How are you feeling?’ in order to encourage users to openly discuss their emotions and describe how their stress in manifesting itself.

These robo-therapists can measure, track and even predict emotions 24/7 and can suggest long-term coping strategies that employees can implement to change the way they think about or react to events in their lives.

Many employers find that their staff are able to open up more freely to the familiarity of their own smartphone or tablet, as this removes the fear of stigma and judgement.

The digital doctor will see you now

The pressures of work and the ‘more for less’ culture that has emerged in recent years can leave employees feeling time-strapped.

From emotional to physical conditions, it is important that employees look after their wellbeing.

By offering instant access to telemedicine services, employees can virtually connect with a doctor from the comfort of their own desk, or at their convenience.

This allows employees to get efficient and effective diagnosis and even prescriptions, and hopefully engage with employees who likely to avoid the doctor, put off by the long-waiting times or disruption to their day.

Strike the balance

As evidenced by the Willis Towers Watson research, workplace technology can contribute to stress amongst employees.

Technology can, of course, be a catalyst for smarter, more efficient, working but employers should recognise the pressures that can also result from it, from heavier workloads to tighter deadlines, and put measures in place to support their employees.

Creating policies, such as breaks and no-email after 6 pm, will help to alleviate some of this pressure and remove the burden of fulfilling all expectations that is felt by workers.

Used in the right way, technology can be used to combat stress issues, helping to create a more resilient workforce, who have control over and the tools needed to manage their own emotional wellbeing.

As an employer with a duty of care, ensure you make technology the friend, not the foe.

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