Technology and stress in the workplace


Information technology in the workplace can have different reactions among people. New technology can be considered to be good - for example, when the computer programme completes the work in a quicker time than the previous system - or equally, to be detrimental - such as when the printer breaks down continually.

Cary Cooper, a professor of organisational psychology and health, has advocated the proposition that "new technologies and organisational culture are both crucial in managing employee wellbeing" ('The future of well-being: part science, part-people,' People Management, 7 January 2014).

The introduction of new technology, particularly personal devices, into the working environment has increased the pressure for a greater output with an equally great immediacy. The e-mail revolution led to instant messaging on smart phones, which in turn has resulted in increased stress levels for employees.

One of the positive advances is technologies, including wearable ones, that can measure the vital signs of stress and psychological health in real time. The work of businesses will be to transfer what is, at present, in the domain of the gadget lovers into workplace tools.

There has been a lengthy debate as to the mind and body interaction, but it is indisputable that the brain's reaction to stress leads through the nervous system to the release of steroid hormones.

One of the end results in this chain reaction is the release of Cortisol, which can result in mental and physical health deterioration – a significant issue in an ageing workforce.

We are reminded that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139: 14, see also Psalm 103: 14), and that God has created within us indicators of when things are not as they should be.

Within the working environment, there are many factors that cause this stress reaction, such as relationships, changes, resources, workloads – both relating to the company and to our outside life. Tracking the impact of these factors upon our lives can be difficult so that is why 'personal analytics' (a term coined by Professor Cooper) is important - that is the regular check of how we are managing each area of our role and how it compares to similar times in our working experience.

Although the concept is not unique as of itself, there is increased awareness of the work-life relationship and the technology that allows both the employer and the employee to manage their lives more effectively. Allowing the staff member to check their health regularly and in real time, without having to take time out from tasks, is a movement in the right direction.

Immediate and accurate diagnostics are needed. An example is the personal 'Resilience Snapshot' tool (devised by Robertson Cooper) enabling self-reporting and comparison of wellbeing results. In addition to enabling employees to track their resilience and wellbeing over the long term, it creates the environment of personal responsibility, so allowing managerial and training time to be used elsewhere in the organisation.

The key to the whole issue is for organisations to be interested genuinely in their staff members. In investing time and resources for the wellbeing of those in the company will result in maximised motivation, health (resulting in fewer absences and early retirements for health reasons), less stress with its outcomes, and loyalty to the organisation.

Although installing health technology will see increased benefits for the company, the value that an organisation has toward its employees will be more telling so that work-life will be an imbedded part of the company's culture. As Bill Gates stated: "Technology is just a tool…the teacher is most important."

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