It comes as no surprise that digital technology has transformed the way many businesses operate and support their employees. From the Internet of Things, communications platforms and collaboration software to smartphones, apps and virtual services, tech is an undeniably powerful force, something that has become glaringly evident over the last few months. But, when it comes to its impact on employees’ health and well-being, is it a force for good or for evil, or a little bit of both? And what can employers do to leverage the positive influences and diminish the negative impact on workers?
Technology as a health promoter
According to the recent Aetna International Digital Health Dilemma 2020 report, survey respondents have clearly bought into technology’s ability to improve connectivity, collaboration and productivity and, as a result, worker health and well-being. 93% of workers in the UAE say technology lets them complete simple tasks quickly, connect with co-workers across different locations and receive job support. 85% say technology lets them manage time better, thus reducing stress levels. And 54% of UAE workers say technology helps them improve physical and mental health overall.
Technology as a health detractor
While most employees recognise the advantages of workplace technology, they do acknowledge that it has its drawbacks. For example, 72% of UAE respondents believe that being able to have a company mobile phone to handle work calls and emails remotely helps them better manage their mental health. Yet 69% worry that they use their phones too much. That’s probably why 61% try, but apparently fail, to check their phones less often.
Striking the right balance
There is a clear opportunity for organisations to harness the positives that technology enables. And while the coronavirus outbreak will one day run its course, few organisations will fully return to the norms, cultures, policies and practises that were in place pre-pandemic. It’s now more incumbent upon organisations than ever to understand how to apply technology in ways that enable collaborative, flexible, productive and healthy working practises for the benefit of all.
Employees clearly see the value that workplace technology brings, but they just as clearly see its shortcomings. They want to unplug when they’re out of the virtual office, which can be difficult to do when they carry all the tools of their trade in their pockets. Employers should leverage employees’ call for more help curbing always-on culture and tech overload by:
Establishing workplace policies: If organisations provide technology to workers and expect them to use it, they should also erect guardrails to help individuals unplug outside office hours. And those policies should be enforced, not to punish workers but to protect them.
Communicating clearly: Communicate workplace policies and educate workers on how to keep work from bleeding into personal life. And that means limiting work-related communications to work hours. Again, organisations operating internationally or across different time zones need to provide a degree of flexibility, give and take, and trust when it comes to establishing boundaries for working hours and out-of-hours communications.
Leading by example: It’s important that business leaders model the company culture they are promoting, especially since they often struggle more with work/life balance than many of their workers. Some practises, such as in-person meetings, might be difficult for international or virtual teams. Being available through one-to-one calls to offer emotional and professional support is a powerful way for leadership teams to explore new or improved guidance or support mechanisms to help meet employees’ needs.
Some organisations and workers alike have embraced digital health tools, as evidenced by the proliferation of wearable fitness trackers, joint mobile health applications and workplace wellness programmes that are tied to them. These tools can help members establish goals, set fitness schedules and stay on top of their well-being by sending reminders whenever a member is due for a check-up, flu shot or repeat prescription.
Yet, there is room for improvement and organisations can do more to ensure employees harness the power of technology to improve their physical and mental health:
Know your audience: Rather than simply handing out Fitbits or launching a wellness initiative, organisations should first engage workers via surveys or one-on-one line manager discussions to find out about their areas of interest and appetite for health and wellness apps.
Identify your priorities: Audit the employee population to identify health risks and high health claims. Personalise your approach: Create a customised wellness strategy by identifying and implementing benefits and digital tools to meet the unique needs of your workforce.
Employers need to set clear data-use policies, educate employees and allow employees to share in the organisation’s future direction. To help alleviate concerns, organisations should establish policies to protect workers’ health data and ensure that workers are aware that they retain ownership of that data.
Inspire confidence and trust: Communicate the organisations’ commitment to upholding data privacy and to empowering employees to own and retain control over their data. Detail the relevant processes, policies and regulations at play.
Build the culture together: Give employees a voice and the chance to help shape the company’s culture and join the company on its journey through a shared sense of purpose and values.
Celebrate successes: If the use of anonymised health data leads you to start a program that yields measurable results, share that success with workers. Let them see the impact analysing health data can have.
Business leaders today have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reconsider how their organisations deploy technologies and digital tools to help improve workers’ health and well-being. Working in tandem with their health benefits and technology partners, business leaders should harness lessons learnt during the pandemic to create a more holistic approach to employee well-being, embracing the power of technology to positively influence health and well-being.
- The pandemic will one day run its course, but few organisations will fully return to the norms and practises that were in place pre-pandemic.
- It’s important that business leaders model the company culture they are promoting.
- Audit the employee population to identify health risks and high health claims.
- Organisations should establish policies to protect workers’ health data.
- Business leaders have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to help improve workers’ health.