How workplace technologies can support good mental health.
In the digital age few, if any, organisations can survive or thrive without technology. It has changed the experience of work in every sector and role, disrupted processes and collaboration for the better, and has created entirely new industries that employ millions globally.
But for all its positives, the pervasiveness of workplace technologies that allow us to work whenever and wherever we want is also credited with fuelling an always-on culture, and it's damaging our mental health.
April is Stress Awareness Month, so in this month we look at the impact workplace technologies can have on employee well-being and how organisations can support responsible use.
The dark side of digitalisation
According to research, 86 percent of workers find it hard to switch off outside work hours and 70 percent say the stress of technology failing affects their mental health. And this survey was carried out before the COVID-19 pandemic blurred the lines between work and home. The stats have likely become even more concerning since.
Workplace technology can be a blessing and a curse when it comes to employee wellbeing. On the one hand, many of us now have access to technology that makes our lives easier at work. It can make us more efficient and have more practical benefits on our working lives.
On the other hand, the very same tools can end up being all-consuming and make it difficult to switch off, leading to burnout and costly presenteeism.
The impact of covid-19 on workplace technology use
Over the last 40 years, workplaces have seen a dramatic change, with technology revolutionising our work experience. However, nothing could prepare us for COVID-19. There is no doubt that the pandemic has accelerated the need for workplace tech adoption and our reliance on it.
Since March 2020, the pandemic has reshaped the meaning of workplace technology, with reports showing at its height, 60 percent of workers were working from home. Some haven’t stepped foot into an office in over 12 months or seen their colleagues face-to-face.
As a result, organisations have harnessed the power of multi-cloud to work collaboratively as a workforce, therefore improving technology adoption and scalability in support of communication and collaboration tools.
This fully digital experience, without physical touchpoints, has meant many employees now find it hard to switch off from work when they should. The temptation to work that little bit later or check emails more frequently is hard to resist and with no commute, it’s easy to log on earlier and sign off later.
Responsible use of workplace technology to support wellbeing
The benefits of workplace technologies for organisations are clear, but this can’t be at the detriment to employee wellbeing. After all, organisations are nothing without their people. Leaders and managers need to be role models by exhibiting the behaviours they want to see across the organisation. Communicating loudly and clearly that time off and regular breaks are ok, and then taking those breaks themselves is vital. At Softcat, we work collaboratively from the top down and spend a lot of time reminding people to switch off at lunchtime and the end of the day.
We have done lots of exercise-related competitions that have encouraged employees to get outdoors and exercise. We also try to avoid emailing colleagues out of hours or expecting someone to be contactable when they're on annual leave. Our manual efforts are also assisted by the new features in platforms such as Office 365 such as ‘My Analytics’, which allow employees to manage and monitor how much time they spend working and how they are using that time, plus whether they are taking breaks or working too long into their evenings.
And in addition to our day-to-day initiatives we have regular wellbeing pulse surveys using an external survey platform. We also have an Employee Assistance Programme that is available to employees and their dependents 24/7. On our Sharepoint site, we've set up a page dedicated to mental health support, listing all our Mental Health First Aiders, plus various numbers people can call to access free advice.
Empower employees to get the most out of technology at work
While the pervasiveness of technology at work can affect the mental wellbeing of the workforce, so too can inadequate training. Poor planning and communication can mean employees aren’t able to complete tasks and end up feeling frustrated and stressed when a new system or tool is introduced.
In fact, a recent study found up to 30 percent of workers believe their technology and digital skills are holding them back at work.
So, it’s important that the same level of consideration is given when introducing technology into the workplace to pre-empt the impact it will have on those who use it and smooth out any issues before they arise.
There is so much great technology at the moment that, ironically, helps us disconnect from technology. But it has to be used in the right way to improve wellbeing.
To fully benefit from the digitalisation of work, employees need consumer-grade experiences that support productivity, flexibility and healthy practices. While we may all be well-educated in technology as a society, some workplace tools and systems are complicated for employees outside of the IT team to understand and get to grips with. That’s where HR and internal communication comes in.
A good relationship between the IT and HR teams is vital to ensure that strategies and communication around workplace technology and employee wellbeing are aligned. Any technology, designed to make life easier, can do the exact opposite if the user doesn’t understand how it works or the benefits.
Input from line managers is extremely valuable in identifying how employees are responding to new workplace technologies. Change can be unsettling, and workers can understandably be apprehensive and find the whole thing stressful.
Alongside formal training sessions, it’s important staff are granted the time and space to experiment with new tools and that they understand it's ok to get things wrong! They should also be encouraged to communicate and feedback on their experience, so the right support is identified if they need it and to improve future roll outs.
We must start using workplace technologies to improve employee mental health and recognise they're not just essential for business objectives, but overall wellbeing. We’ve adapted to this high-tech world, now let’s use it to our advantage.