Technology’s impact in the workplace is unquestionable- the increased use of remote working, mobile devices and new technologies in the workplace all designed to improve employee and company performance is clear for all to see. However, the debate continues on whether this impact is positive or negative on employees’ wellbeing.
The argument that technology has been detrimental to employee health is nothing new. Some employees arguably now find it very difficult to switch off from work, where smartphones and emails have made it possible for them to be contacted 24/7 (including when on a holiday), and there is a constant stream of information to process. For organisations, this can result in a reduction on employee productivity (for those who are always switched on), heightened stress (and time off for illnesses arising from workplace induced stress) and reduced performance.
However, there are encouraging signs to suggest the positive potential of technology to improve employees’ wellbeing, and there are several methods already in use across multiple companies.
Take Crossrail as an example; they are putting a focus on workplace mental health and do confidential online assessments of their employees’ mental health, which they then use to monitor signs of stress and respond when there are indicators that there are problems. Crossrail are also working with TFL to distribute devices to look at how fatigue affects their shift workers’ sleeping patterns, to better understand the effect work is having on them.
Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool have also used technology to monitor and improve staff wellbeing. A daily five-question poll is used to “take the temperature” of the staff, and health and movement trackers are used in tandem with online networks to help achieve fitness and wellbeing goals.
Companies also use technology to enable remote working, which again allows individuals to perform their work from home (or elsewhere), to tailor around their other demands for the day and balance home and work life. To achieve positive effects there needs to be collaboration from both employers and employees in determining boundaries and expectations from each other when remote working.
The use of wellbeing apps is on the rise in workplaces and covers a wide range of aspects of employee health. For example, mindfulness apps encourage employees to take ten minutes to calm their minds, and others are used to guide them through meditation. Other apps monitor physical activity and food intake. Employers could take advantage of this kind of data to better understand the needs of their staff, and in using the data to adapt the working environment, they could simultaneously improve wellbeing and productivity.
As can be seen, used correctly, the use of wellbeing technology in the workplace can be of great benefit to employers. To counter the potential harm technology can cause to employees’ wellbeing, increased focus should be placed on how it can be used to improve it.