We live in a world steeped in technology. From the moment we wake up to the time we close our eyes at night, innovations surround us. This routine isn’t always a bad thing — it keeps us connected, allows us to work remotely and makes it easier to track what’s going on in the world around us. It isn’t all good either, though, especially in the workplace.
Could technology be harming the wellness of employees?
Why Is Employee Wellness So Important?
What is employee wellness, and why is it so important?
For decades, workplaces focused on health and safety — protecting employees from physical hazards and accidents. Until recently, health and safety didn’t include mental health, but as the stigma surrounding this topic has faded, employee wellness means taking steps to care for employees’ minds.
You don’t need to coddle your workers and hold their hands through everything. They are adults, after all. Instead, you must give them the tools and techniques to improve their mental health while continuing to thrive in the workplace. This proactive approach isn’t just beneficial for employees, either.
Workers that feel like they’re being taken care of are more productive, come to work when scheduled more often and have more positive social interactions. Companies that focus on employee wellness experience less absenteeism and lower employee turnover, which can save a lot of money in the long run.
Technology is also an essential part of running a modern business, and many decision-makers try to incorporate as much of it as possible into the workday. Could innovations put employee wellness at risk?
Pro — Technology Facilitates Better Communication
One of the most significant benefits of technology in the workplace is that it helps facilitate better communication. Between text messages, emails, chat programs, video conferences, and phone calls, it’s impossible to be out of contact in today’s world. It allows people to work remotely all around the globe while staying in touch with their team, just as if they were in the office.
With the world facing the potential for quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, technology allows people to continue to work and earn a living, even if they’re not allowed to leave their homes. Remote work is starting to become a necessity, and we’re living in an age where advances make it possible.
Communicating with your coworkers has never been easier — but there is a downside to this perpetual connection.
Con — It Makes it Hard to Maintain a Work-Life Balance
Millennials are a big fan of work-life balance. As usual, you go to work to make enough money to live and pay bills. However, when the day is over, and you clock out, it’s like the office doesn’t exist. You shut off your phone, don’t check email and don’t think about your to-do list until the next scheduled shift. For many, this approach makes it easier to focus on family, education and personal interests.
Workplace technology makes this balance nearly impossible because you’re always connected. You’ll always have the pressure to check an email or respond to a message. A ding or notification icon makes us aware that there’s an issue that requires our attention. We feel we must answer any call that comes in, regardless of the hour or whether scheduled to be at work.
Without that healthy balance between work and life, employee wellness suffers. Long hours and high-stress levels harm the immune system, leaving workers prone to illness. You get overtired, especially if you’re spending late-night hours responding to emails or worrying about the office. Plus, excessive fatigue can lead to mistakes or injuries on the job.
Without a healthy work-life balance, you may find yourself unable to differentiate between the two places, and you end up suffering for it. This issue becomes an even more significant concern when employers pay for workplace technology like cell phones, as employees may feel obligated to answer calls regardless of where it falls on their schedule. When employees push through this fatigue and stress for too long, they can often burn out, requiring an extensive or vacation or rest period to recuperate.
Pro — Wearables Can Improve Employee Health
Wearable technology is an excellent way to help you stay healthy, whether you’re using a Fitbit or other similar technology. If employers subsidize the cost of wearables, it makes employees more likely to join in on the fitness festivities. Many of the apps that work with these wearables offer the ability to set up friendly competitions or challenges. These features appeal to our inherent competitive spirit — no one wants to be left behind, and we all want to win, even if the only prize is bragging rights.
These wearables contribute to employee wellness by encouraging people to get up and start moving. Many companies are already adopting wearables to keep employees healthy and safe, whether that means helping them reach a certain number of steps per hour, or, like Audi, to use a prototype exoskeleton that protects employees from back strain.
Of course, not everyone will feel comfortable with these new technologies, even if the employer is footing the bill. However, it often provides the motivation necessary to get employees moving — instead of sitting all day in a cubicle.
Con — Older Workers Might Feel Left Behind
Nearly everything we do links to technology, from making a phone call to applying for a new job. Even going to the doctor’s office leaves us breathless as we try to make heads or tails of the innovations that are keeping us healthy. Not everyone feels comfortable with all of these new advancements, though.
While 44% of the millennial generation feels like employers should adopt the latest technologies, 60% of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers admit they’re afraid of new technology utilized in their workplace, as they’re fearful of being left behind.
It seems strange when we spend so much of our time steeped in technology. Almost everyone uses a computer, smartphone or tablet to shoot out texts, look at emails and check social media. However, if you use these gadgets as part of your daily work life, and you’re not able to catch up and learn how to adopt it quickly enough, it could negatively impact your wellness and mental health.
Employers can overcome this negative outlook by offering comprehensive training and choosing technology wisely. You don’t have to buy all of the newest toys just because they’re out there. Instead, make sure the tech you’re choosing will benefit your entire crew rather than leaving some of them in the digital dust.
Pro — Technology Empowers All Employees
In today’s world, everything links together — and in some cases, we mean that literally. Right now, there are more than 12 billion connected devices around the globe that make up the Internet of Things. By the end of next year, that number could nearly double to 20 billion. Networked and connected technology is here to stay, and when used correctly, it can empower your employees.
Technology can allow employees to have more control over the workplace, from the places where they complete tasks to the conversations they have with colleagues and clients. During this process, they won’t have to run every single question or request past a member of management. No one likes micromanagers, after all, and employees are often happier in workplaces where they have more control.
This empowering technology will never take the place of leadership, but it can make people more comfortable in their workplaces, improving morale and overall employee wellness.
Con — It Makes People More Impatient
Do you know why so many millennials say that they prefer to text instead of call? Because, to use an archaic analogy, texting is like leaving your calling card with someone’s butler — I would like to speak to you, but please respond at your leisure. Calling, on the other hand, is an immediate demand for someone’s time, something seen as pressuring and rude. Technology gives us the ability to connect with someone instantly, but at the same time, it makes us more impatient.
If someone sends you a message when you’re off the clock, they still expect a response and may even get frustrated or angry if you don’t get back to them quickly. Even when we’re away from work, some people feel like they’re entitled to our time and attention. If you respond, you’re damaging your work-life balance. If you don’t, you might find that you’ve made an enemy when you return to the office on Monday.
This impatience isn’t limited to conversations between employees either. Bosses are infamous for demanding employee time during off-hours, primarily due to the constant levels of connection workplace technology provides.
Pro — It Prepares Employees for Their Industry
Whether we like it or not, technology is part of the workplace, and that isn’t something that’s going to change anytime soon. In some fields, it’s impossible to thrive without at least a basic knowledge of all the innovations used in the industry. Limiting technology doesn’t just damage employee morale — it can harm their chances of being successful in their chosen sector if they ever decide to work for another company.
If you were hiring someone to create a program for you, you wouldn’t choose someone who didn’t understand the basics of programming, right? If you rely on communication through text or instant messages, you may shy away from someone with no knowledge of computers. Not having experience with workplace technology does not look good on an employee’s resume.
Ideally, we know you’re not setting your workers up to leave. However, there are always cases where there are better opportunities elsewhere. In cases like that, you should be encouraging your best and brightest to move onward and upward. Not only are you making the industry more robust as a whole, but you’re creating a bridge — if you can ever offer a better opportunity than the one they left for, you might be able to bring those best and brightest back into the fold.
Con — Banning Technology Can Hurt Morale
How many times have you seen offices that ban technology — especially for personal use — during the workday? It’s become a common theme in many industries. Smartphones, social media, and other tools are banned. In some instances, you might not be allowed to bring your phone to work with you. While this rule makes sense for projects involving sensitive information, what about everyone else?
Banning technology in the workplace has been shown to hurt employee morale, which lessens overall wellness. We’re not suggesting you allow unchecked social media use during office hours or browsing on smartphones while ignoring customers. However, finding a balance between productivity and technology use will become essential. No one likes to feel cut off from the world when they’re working, and these gadgets don’t stop existing just because workers are on the clock.
Instead of banning technology entirely, try limiting it to break times — whether those are scheduled breaks or ones taken during the workday to give your brain a chance to refocus. It might not sound like a significant change — in fact, you may already allow gadget use during free time. However, allowing people to stay connected to the world around them can drastically improve workplace morale.
Is Workplace Technology Hurting Employee Wellness?
When it comes down to it, whether or not workplace technology is hurting employee wellness depends on a lot of factors, including how often you use it, if it helps workers complete tasks, if you implement proper training and if bosses use it to infringe on work-life balance.
You don’t want to ban gadgets and innovations in the workplace entirely. This policy could turn away potential candidates and sour the moods of current staff. Instead, find that perfect middle point that allows you to use tech without it damaging employee wellbeing. Finding this sweet spot is easier than it sounds, as long as you’re willing to look at your office objectively and identify where you need to make a change.