How much does technology mess with your wellbeing?

Technology has transformed the way people do business and the way that they work, saving time, boosting productivity and providing flexibility that can enhance work-life balance. But there are some down sides to working in the digital age; the faster we are able to communicate and interact, by email, text or instant message, the more we seem compelled to do it.

And whilst the convenience and cost effectiveness of virtual connectivity, via Skype, Google Hangouts etc., is live video technology a healthy substitute for face-to-face interaction?

Could our reliance on desktop diaries and calendars to schedule reminders and on our computers to remember passwords and other key data on a daily basis have a negative long-term impact on our memories.

More worrying is the catalytic effect that new technology has on the continued encroachment of work into social hours.

Georgette Stewart, managing director at IT recruitment firm NSK Consultants says: "Emails on tablets and smartphones are starting to give notifications from the workplace throughout the day which can interrupt out of office hours. The disruptive nature of emails and notifications can have a serious effect on the stress levels on employees."

And the bottom line benefits of technology become meaningless when the same technology impacts on people’s mental and physical health and wellbeing because it is not being managed properly.

While digital devices, software and data help connect staff, speed up communication, and provide insight, as Rikke Duus, senior teaching fellow at UCL School of Management, points out, people have limitations.

She says: "There is a danger that the speed of technology is superseding the human threshold and we will struggle to keep up. For many, technology has already erased work-life boundaries, increased expectations of performance and taken away ‘time to reflect’. Today, we live in an age of quick responses, fast information and multi-tasking. However, it is important that we do not let technology take control and overrun us, replace human conversations, deep thinking and reflection."

Read: Five steps to better wellbeing as an entrepreneur

But that can be easier said than done. Take email technology, for example, which has quickly become the main, and sometimes sole, form of workplace communication. The result is that people are constantly being distracted by their inbox, which affects their productivity.

Jo Matkin, sales and marketing director at Capita Resourcing says: "We rarely give our full attention to the task we are attempting to complete and in some cases, technology is putting the brakes on our productivity, rather than making us more efficient. If mismanaged, workers can quickly become overloaded and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of email traffic they need to sift through."

Does this mean that we need to start rejecting new technology to retain a positive state of mind and a productive workplace?

No, says Jason Stockwood, CEO of insurance broker Simply Business, it just needs to be managed in a controlled and sensible way.

"Our employees are encouraged to not email during their holidays and have permission to auto delete all emails on when on annual leave," he says. "Used effectively, technology can reap significant rewards for companies and their staff."

The company uses technology to deliver training, interactive learning programmes that empower staff to think independently throughout the decision-making processes.

Read: How is working long hours affecting our bodies?

"Training is complemented by data driven analysis, ensuring that learning programmes and workplace culture initiatives are effective," adds Stockwood.

Businesses, from start-ups to large corporations need to be more mindful of the way they implement technology. That means creating opportunities for offline activities, teamwork, conversations, and deep learning without the interruptions of technology, says Duus.

"Business is about people, not technology. Therefore it is central that human skill, inquisitiveness and ingenuity is fostered and not replaced by digital devices, software and data," she says.

Individuals, too, need to take more responsibility for using technology in a healthier way by modifying their own behaviour around things like emails.

Matkin says: "When I’m in the office I have a rule never to email someone if I can see them; a quick conversation is far more productive, and keeps the email traffic down."

Setting aside designated times to manage email, and switching off notifications to avoid distraction can help too. With smart devices it is all too easy to be ‘always on’, and habitual checking of emails out of hours simply exacerbates the problem.

Employers, too, may need to rethink their focus on technology, not only as a driver of productivity, but also as a deal breaker when it comes to attracting and retaining talent.

Research carried out by Capita Resourcing found that in spite of common preconceptions about younger employees wanting to embrace technology in the workplace, over half (54 per cent) of Generation Z candidates would prefer to work face-to-face in a small, well defined team, rather than virtually.

"This suggests that organisations need to encourage more direct ways of working and communicating where possible," adds Matkin.

Technology has advanced across a number of businesses and industries, creating many new roles and positions for IT professionals. It enables the smallest businesses to trade globally, connect people on opposite sides of the world instantly, and at any time, and it has rendered many of the most laborious and time-consuming business processes obsolete.

But it has also blurred the line that separates work from the rest of people’s lives, and those companies that recognise the link between employee wellbeing and productivity and implement a culture where employees can work with technology, not against it, are the ones that will reap the benefits.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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