Mobile Technology in the Workplace: Friend or Foe of Mental Health Wellbeing?
35.68% of people claim that technology used to stay connected with work outside of normal working hours has a negative impact on their life.
(Research Report: The Impact of Technology on Work / Life Balance – First Psychology Scotland)
Businesses wouldn’t give an employee a pneumatic drill without adequate training and evidence of competence. There would be training records, method statements and risk assessments in place to ensure the employee remained safe. If a third of users reported the drill causing health problems, would it be taken seriously by companies? We feel it is likely that it would. Changes to the tool, changes to the training or changes in the way it was used are probable.
However, not all companies appear to be taking an equivalent approach to tools that impact mental health and safety.
First Psychology Scotland carried out a small research project (235 people) on the use of technology to stay connected with work, outside of normal hours. This flagged up some concerns that may be worth consideration. The research concluded that there were significant differences in people’s perception of the impact of technology on mental health wellbeing. For some respondents, it was having a clear detrimental impact whereas for others, there were significant positives.
Technology Outside Normal Hours
The research showed that the use of technology outside of working hours was greater than expected for certain times. The study indicates that for more than half of respondents, there was no real downtime during evenings, days off and holiday periods. This does cause concern with the potential impact on family relationships and mental health being well recognised. The findings were as follows:
Impacts on Mental Health Wellbeing
Around a third of respondents recorded some negative impacts of this. Their views were as follows:
- 39% of respondents said that technology results in them finding it hard to switch off from work when at home or out with friends.
- 36% of respondents said that staying connected to work outside of working hours had a negative impact on their life.
- 35% said that feelings of anxiety were experienced when they could not access technology to check messages.
- 27% said they found it difficult to control the amount of time spend using technology for work purposes outside working hours.
- 31% said they would like their employer to take measures to prevent the over-use of technology for work purposes.
However, these negative responses are offset by 53% of respondents who felt that technology allows flexibility and has a positive impact on stress levels. Also 50% of people who felt that the technology increased social contact during the day and enabled pressure to be better coped with.
What Does This Survey Tell Us?
There are several weaknesses with this survey such as scale, selection of respondents and bias within the survey group. However, the results do warrant some thought. There is clearly a divided opinion on whether the use of mobile technology is a positive or negative for promoting mental health wellbeing.
Could this be down to the way the use of technology is managed through the organisations these respondents worked for? Could a corporate culture of ‘always available’ be different across organisations? Could managerial expectations of employee behaviour be different? Could the element of control that individual users have over its use be different?
Clearly more research is needed on this topic but with the wide prevalence of employees remaining connected outside of working hours, any proven impact on mental health needs to be taken seriously.
Ideas to Address Mental Health Wellbeing
Many organisations have excellent processes and policies around this area but if you have concerns about your own, the following may give you a start in addressing it:
- Carry out your own survey and understand your own team’s feelings on the subject
- Have clear policies on what is expected in relation to the use of technology outside working hours.
- Monitor timings of emails and phone calls outside of working hours to understand the scale of use.
- Carry out risk assessments and implement method statements for the use of technology outside of working hours. Ensure these are embedded and followed.
- Identify key groups of users who have a high degree of out of hours contact and ensure processes are in place to monitor and support with any mental health challenges.