How technology can help boost workplace wellbeing
Sue Horsfall, HR Director, Agilitas, explores how the shift to home working will have an effect on mental health and how, if tackled correctly, the benefits could be long lasting. She also shares her insight into how to innovate and trust in technology, which could result in a better world for mental health, both inside and outside the workplace, in years to come.
Workplace stress is something many people face, with around 17.9 million workdays lost every year as a result. Part of the solution lies in good communication, so it is the responsibility of each business to ensure that they are achieving the same levels of communication as they would in the office. Although it is difficult to replicate a work environment where there is plenty of opportunity for face-to-face interaction, technology is now fundamental in filling this void – and will be forever. Simple steps like replacing phone calls with video calls can help reduce anxiety and keep staff connected and ensure they feel supported.
While keeping communication levels high, it is important to establish boundaries to avoid sending messages outside of working hours. This means finding a balance so that digital correspondence does not get overwhelming or affect the employee’s home life. Working from home can also bring its challenges for workers, due to distractions, lack of personal contact and the inability to ask quick questions, so having resources at their disposal to tackle this is crucial.
As we navigate through the current unprecedented situation, technology can and must play a key role in ensuring that employees’ mental health needs are being supported. The digital world and personal wellbeing don’t always sync up, but it’s a misconception that they can’t go hand in hand. By questioning this, we can unlock the potential technology has for improving mental health.
Technology has changed the dynamic of the workplace, with everything from emails, conference calls and IT infrastructure now available remotely and in just one click. Although this has made working life much more streamlined, it has also led to a working culture where we are ‘always on’, leaving many employees struggling to achieve an equal work life balance.
Wellbeing covers physical wellbeing as well as emotional and psychological health, and it’s important that organisations build an inclusive and supportive working culture that ensures people are confident in their roles and have a positive outlook towards their work. Without this, there can be consequences for the mental health of workers which negatively impacts on absenteeism, productivity, and retention.
However, cloud technology can help facilitate a healthier and happier workforce when used in the right way. Along with offering scalability, agility, and flexibility, it helps companies improve the productivity of employees. The technology has made the concept of a mobile workforce a reality. This movement is also gaining popularity, as it allows staff to take more control over their working style and operate from anywhere in the world.
Accessibility, automation, collaboration, security and transparency are just some of the areas that make up a modern workplace and cloud-based solutions that facilitate these qualities are replacing legacy IT systems and processes. This makes systems more streamlined, seamless and improves the productivity of employees, providing a positive impact on well-being and job satisfaction as well as communication.
It then falls to the employers to discourage unnecessary weekend and out-of-hours work and ensure employees take all of their annual leave allowances and operate a no-emails policy in the evenings or at weekends – all actions that can help make sure staff switch off. Just because employees can be contacted at any time, does not mean they should be.
Long lasting benefits
Technology equips employees with the digital tools they need to take control of their own wellbeing, so employers should be looking at how they can use it to support their employees in leading healthier lives. Technology encourages employees to take a proactive rather than reactive approach to their health, with wearable technology playing a big part in this.
These devices put wellbeing constantly at the forefront of employees’ minds and informs them of their health-related choices on a day-to-day basis. With health-related technology, individuals can take positive action and control of their own wellbeing and digitally track progress. This helps motivate employees, encouraging them to stay on course and achieve their personal health goals.
Technology is not a one-size-fits-all approach. However, it can be a cost-effective and convenient way to tailor resources to an individual’s priorities, needs and wellbeing status to find out what types of technology will best suit that particular workforce.
Technology creates a digital support network and is a way of connecting socially to the peers we no longer see on a regular basis, with video calls and instant messaging helping to keep employees talking. Reliance and usage of these tools as a way of staying in touch and reducing isolation have been integral throughout the pandemic as it forced millions of UK employees to work remotely. Now, many of these new virtual practices look set to stay.
Employers can take advantage of this by encouraging healthier lifestyle choices that are personal to each staff member. For example, some employees may benefit from a meditation app while others may find a fitness app more useful. Integrating gamification can take it one step further by encouraging healthy competition among colleagues. This involves adding game mechanics into non-game environments, like a website, online community, learning management system or business’ intranet to increase participation with the goal of inspiring collaboration, and interaction.
Trust in technology
Having the right technology has been crucial to surviving working from home and vital when it comes to reducing stress. With the added pressure of at home distractions, allowing staff to set their own working hours is a great advantage with accessible technology keeping the lines of communication open and giving employees the information and tools they need.
There are, of course, a huge range of ways to improve wellbeing in the workplace, and what is right for your business will depend on your particular business structure, market and employees. However, by deploying a strategic approach supported by the right technology, simple changes could lead to significant improvements.
Technology can and must play a substantial role in ensuring that employees’ mental health is supported. This means providing them with the support they need, wherever they are, as well as addressing the specific mental health challenges that long-term home working can bring. If we adopt this attitude, the benefits could be long lasting and paradoxically, this stressful and challenging situation in which we are forced to innovate and trust in technology could result in a better world for mental health, both within and outside the workplace, in years to come.
Work-related stress Podcast
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Listen as Peter Kelly, Senior Psychologist for the Health and Safety Executive, talks about work-related stress and the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on employee mental health, and a discussion on the upcoming ISO45003 Standard.
Connect 2021 – Workplace Wellbeing Conference
As part of our online event Connect 2021, running from 1-30 June, the Workplace Wellbeing Conference will feature three, full days of in-depth presentations, panels & interviews with leading experts in workplace wellbeing. The conference is designed for anyone involved in wellbeing initiatives within their organisation as well as anyone looking to support their own wellbeing or the wellbeing of others.
Speakers include former No. 10 director of communications and strategy Alastair Campbell; astronaut Major Tim Peake; Mind CEO Paul Farmer; Olympic gold medallist Amy Williams; award-winning campaigner Tom Dunning; HSE Principal Human Factors Specialist Phoebe Smith; and many more.
Tickets to the conference are £120 + VAT, with 20% of the ticket price donated to conference charity partner, Mind.
The conference takes place from 1-3 June 2021.