Will cloud and wearable technologies make things better or worse?
Cloud and wearable technologies are the latest drivers of change.
Cloud computing allows companies to access all the services employees need to do their jobs – from email and word processing to business intelligence data – via a large pool of shared remote servers, rather than its own data storage. Because the technology can be accessed remotely and securely, employees can access, use, save and share everything they need to do their jobs, via any internet connection.
Companies can therefore become more agile and use more flexible working patterns to better meet customer needs and reduce pressure on office space, desks and car parking. As wearable tech becomes a familiar consumer item – a ‘must-have’ for many people – the more it will form part of everyday working lives, extending the level of access and connection with information and work tasks. IT is no longer available via a separate object, but is part of you. The Apple Watch and its physical alerts to texts and messaging is the obvious example of how wearable tech is now accepted as the norm. And Google is already envisaging a future where our clothing will be IT-linked as standard.
The way in which work isn’t fixed to any one location where employees need to be physically present to operate effectively, clocking in and out, is an opportunity which will affect employees in different ways depending on their own style of working, attitudes and needs. While some people seem able to dip in and out of work in this way, the ‘always-on’ culture has also caused many others to become sick with stress and anxiety, helping to make mental health related issues the biggest cause of absence, costing UK businesses 13.5 million days and over £18Billion in lost time and productivity a year. Fitting jobs around lives instead of lives around work, could enable workers to work when and how they want to – as long as they are psychologically prepared and supported to deal with the flexibility.
For cloud technologies to enhance our lives, it’s essential that employers and their managers monitor carefully the impact new ways of working are having on both the health and productivity of employees, keeping an eye out for negative behaviours, such as email addiction and extreme working patterns, so they can put appropriate education initiatives and policies in place. The very real risk is that instead of using greater access to work more flexibly and productively, the treadmill effect simply continues, with the new flexible tech further lengthening and intensifying the working day, turning the current mental health problem into a mental health crisis.
The dark side of Technology and the six consequences associated with technostress are:
Technology forces us to multi-task and exposes us to ever- increasing amounts of information, but there’s a limit to the extent to which we can process information efficiently.
Despite its immense potential to improve employees’ lives for the better, increased use of technology is also at risk of damaging our mental health and giving rise to technostress.
Far from liberating us, the very ease with which we can now access and share information, to work from anywhere, means most of us now feel compulsive about being connected, forced to respond to work-related information in real time, trapped in almost habitual multitasking and left with little time to spend on sustained thinking and creative analysis.
The resulting ‘technostress’ phenomenon is now the subject of research at Lancaster University Management School, with five technostress-creating conditions identified as follows:
Technology forces us to multi-task and exposes us to ever-increasing amounts of information, but there’s a limit to the extent to which we can process information efficiently. We still need to process information in a way that allows us to digest it and process it creativity. We still have to ‘cook’ data for it to become useful.
Even if we’re strong advocates of technology, we still have to learn how to use it. The sheer pace at which technology is evolving means it’s difficult to keep learning new things, forcing us to devote time and effort in learning and understanding how to use new applications, which can often prove incredibly frustrating.
No one’s entirely sure what’s going to be developed within the next few years. The pace of innovation is particularly unsettling because knowledge becomes rapidly obsolete. Any initial enthusiasm for learning new applications and technologies can easily give way to anxiety about the need for constant refreshing and updating.
One of the biggest downsides to technology is its ability to follow us around. Thanks to technology, we can no longer easily switch off from work. The regular working day can easily extend into meals, family time and holidays, giving rise to ‘always on’ working and making us feel tethered to the workplace.
Technology is constantly changing the way we do things. Many of us worry that if we can’t keep up with new technology, we’ll be replaced by someone else who can, making us want to work harder and prove our worth so that we’ll feel less threatened and more valuable to the organisation.
Some common impacts of this at work are:
- Role conflict when workers fail to agree with the ‘best practices’ offered by new technology
- Reduced job satisfaction as those struggling with technology are given negative job appraisals
- Decreased innovation as technology encourages more hurried and less creative responses
- Reduced productivity as techno overload distracts people with unnecessary information
- Technology dissatisfaction from staff who feel overwhelmed or intimidated by new technology
Some key tips for Employers to help with the Technostress:
- Bring back downtime
Work used to flow in peaks and troughs. We used to have a busy day or year-end, only for things to calm down again. Now, everyone is under constant pressure. One in five people works through lunch, while many others use their commutes to catch-up on emails, send texts or conduct research, so as not to ‘waste’ time. Yet regular breaks make us more creative, productive and less error-prone; we need to clear our minds at least once a day to maintain perspective and differentiate between what’s important and what’s urgent. By encouraging leaders to role- model thinking and reflecting, and even gazing out of windows, you can start the journey towards increasing resilience by giving people the mental respite they need to start working smarter, not just harder.
- Provide mental health education
Just as there are numerous things we can do to optimise our physical health, such as exercising, eating well and not smoking, the Mental Health Foundation has identified 10 things employees can do to sustain good mental health, from taking regular breaks and asking for help, to staying in touch with friends and making time for activities they enjoy. then, employers can help by sharing this information and encouraging employees to consider how to put these principles into practice as part of their ongoing development. Ideally, every child would leave school with the knowledge and ability to proactively manage their mental health. Until then, employers can help by sharing this information and encouraging employees to consider how to put these principles into practice as part of their ongoing development. Asking new employees to create a mental health plan, based on these principles, could also become part of their induction process.
- Put in place limits
The simple act of going to work means we have to suppress our desire to stay in bed. If we delay going to lunch to hit a deadline, we have to suppress the physical desire to eat. If we opt to work late, we suppress the emotional desire to spend time with family and friends. We do this of our own volition because we want the resulting sense of achievement, career progression or financial reward. Humans have a great capacity for work and generate huge satisfaction from learning and driving themselves to achieve, but at some point the level of suppression becomes unhealthy. By using resilience training to educate employees how to listen to and act on their warning signs, you can stop them from pushing themselves past their personal limits.
- Empower employees
If you asked an employee to put their hand into a fire, they’d refuse on the grounds that it would burn them. But if you set them an unobtainable target, they would probably try to achieve it. That’s because although we understand the impact of the choices we make on our physical health, we’re much less aware of the impact on our mental health. Most employees are now in the habit of relentlessly pushing themselves. Then, when they fall into a low mood or find themselves shouting at their partner, they fail to see the connection. As well as educating employees about the relationship between the choices they make and their mental health, they also need to be empowered to have a choice – to be allowed to say no when things get too much.
- Show managers how to care
Empowering employees to say no is a first step. Training managers to accept this – and to coach employees to find other ways forward – is another thing altogether. By the time employees become so stressed that they ask for help, most just want to be given the answer. Managers are only too keen to give employees answers, but, ironically, giving answers is not the best solution. Employees need to be listened to, coached and offered options so that they can feel in control and empowered to make their own decisions and plans. Managers often observe employees struggling but are under as much pressure as anyone to get the work done. Offering help, support and empowerment take precious time and energy, which managers often feel they don’t have. This can lead to managers turning a blind eye to problems, hoping that if they ignore them, they will disappear. Critical to turning this situation around is developing managers’ ability to exercise their duty of care by encouraging employees to look after themselves.
- Prevent email addiction
Employees are now ‘anxiously attached’ to their mobile devices, with 88% compulsively checking their email when they leave the office ‘just in case work sent something important’. We’re conditioned to respond quickly to email at work, but it’s a reflex that’s difficult to switch off, especially if they feel anxious about what’s happening in their absence. They’d rather know what that ping meant than ignore
it and imagine the worst, causing them to constantly check in only to end up dealing with trivial matters. Although it’s ultimately up to the employee to find a way to use email healthily, employers can help with education about the addictive nature of email and policies and processes for limiting this, such as using other forms of communication if something urgent actually arises.
- Change the culture
Of course, no amount of training or policies will change things for the better if managers aren’t prepared to lead by example. For example, if the company wants to discourage the use of email on holiday, but the department head spends more time on his forecast than his suntan, the message is: ‘This what it takes to get on here’. Similarly, if managers tell someone who confesses they’re feeling overloaded to ‘just get on with it’, or criticises employees for not responding to a weekend email, nothing will change. Leaders and managers must therefore be helped to understand the scale of the mental health issues now facing their organisation, and to become empowered to become part of the solution.
My HR Hub help current client with these challenges by:
1 Day Resilience Building Workshop
Reduce the risk of employees becoming sick with stress or anxiety when you educate them how to proactively look after their mental health. Bite-sized courses are also available.
Managing Mental Health Module – a programme that was shortlisted for Best Mental Health Resilience Strategy.
Develop managers to build resilience in themselves and others by making a Managing Mental Health module an integral part of their learning and development.
Delivered by our partners and one of the UK’s leading resilience psychologists, role-play helps managers to discover how their roles as leaders can help or hinder the creation of a mentally healthy work environment. Role-play and post-course learning materials help embed learning.
Managers are also trained how to save valuable management time by guiding employees with mental health issues towards appropriate support. They are also encouraged to use a dedicated mental health helpline, for expert advice on managing employees affected by mental health issues. Or to discuss how best to support someone they’re concerned about.
Employee Assistance Programmes:
Delivered by one of the best EAP providers in the UK, this 24/7/364 programe will help employees to overcome issues making them distressed with round- the-clock access to emotional support, legal, financial, debt, childcare and eldercare information. This package includes 6 face to face counselling sessions.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org www.myhrhub.co.uk