The impact of technology on mental well-being (and what you can do about it)

The impact of technology on mental well being

There is an increasing awareness of the importance of mental wellness and supporting well-being of employees in the workplace. As we grow more aware, we are seeing a decline in mental health across the globe. The way we communicate in the workplace and the technology that enables this communication, deserves a lot of the blame.

Many of the most successful consumer applications developed in the last 10 years have been primarily about consumption, designed to steal your attention. Strategies that prey on basic human needs of acceptance and inclusion have led to the rise of the likes of Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and more—both in downloads and usage.

More recently, we have seen these same strategies leak into enterprise applications. Business products have adopted these same patterns, obsessions with notifications and gamification. Every application now competes for your attention in a systemic and impactful way—to the point where a distraction-free smartphone is now a thing.

A dangerous desire for eyeballs is now seen in the apps we use each day at work, and this has happened without sufficient consideration of the negative effects on the mental well-being of the workforce.

We are now dealing with a constant stream of consciousness throughout our lives. Leaving work on a Friday with the prospect of an uninterrupted weekend and the peace of mind that activities are under control has disintegrated to a far-flung dream. It is no surprise that a worrying decline in mental health is being felt, and it is partly a hangover from the always-on economy.

The blame does not sit entirely with the tools that are used. Many teams are working longer hours, dealing with increasing expectations from clients and managers, struggling to focus on what’s important, spending time on the wrong things, and missing deadlines. And as professional and personal life increasingly blends into one, stress and anxiety at work is spilling into the home.

By 2030, mental health is expected to have become the largest single healthcare burden, costing $6 trillion globally. The awareness of mental well-being, and the factors that can affect it, will only continue to rise, and everyone, and everything, must play a role in reversing the trend. The costs of ignoring it are too high.

“A decade ago, topics like anxiety, addiction, resilience and mindfulness were taboo at work and in life. Today, employees actively seek out companies that support their mental well-being, from the physical environment, to the tools and resources they provide, to the way managers and leaders genuinely show care. Investing here is not just good for people—it’s good for business.” Henry Albrecht — CEO, Limeade

What’s next and what you can do about it.

There is increasing evidence that workplaces can play an important and active role in maintaining the mental health and well-being of their workers. And this should be seen as a top priority. Not only are happy staff good for culture and morale—a mentally healthy workplace is a sustainable workplace.

Workplaces such as these have enhanced productivity, performance and client satisfaction, decreased turnover, absenteeism and risk of burnout, and happier staff over long periods of time. The top talent—those spoilt for choice when selecting an employer—want to work for sustainable employers.

One of the most important and obvious roles a workplace can play—yet one that few are doing much about—is re-addressing the work-life balance that has been lost in an always-on, digital-first society.

Implement a 7-to-7 rule, where communication is discouraged (or even forbidden unless it’s an absolute emergency) before 7am and after 7pm.

An expectation of immediate response has become the new normal in so many businesses, with many employees saying they feel pressure to respond right away on instant messaging tools. Yet in almost all situations, a response is not really needed immediately. Next time you communicate with a team member, don’t expect anything right away, just get back to work. And encourage others to do the same. Responses can wait until people are free and ready.

These expectations need to be changed throughout your workplace. Something that can help is setting a goal for all digital communications to be dealt with within 24 hours (or whatever works). This requirement removes the feeling that people should respond to everything immediately all the time. If something is urgent, then it should be escalated to a phone call.

Managers should also remember the influence they have. Don’t expect staff to take holidays, switch off on weekends, or leave the office at a reasonable hour if you are doing the opposite.

The tools that we use—specifically, those who are building them—must play their role too. There is a need for more considered, contextual, collaborative platforms for knowledge workers to work with colleagues in sustainable, distraction-free ways. Workplace technology needs to shift its focus from eyeballs to output.

Workplace well-being was one of 5 trends identified in How We Work: the 5 trends shaping modern workplace collaboration. Download the full report

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