Does Hi-Tech Cause Hi-Stress?

 
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International Stress Awareness Week 2018

International Stress Awareness Week takes place on 5th-9th November, providing opportunity for your business to promote the importance of wellbeing and stress reduction. The focus this year is to examine the impact that technology has on our wellbeing with the theme Does Hi-Tech Cause Hi-Stress?

This focus comes at a time when our relationship with technology is increasingly coming into question. For many of us we are faltering at finding a way to balance the hugely positive impact that technology has on our lives, with protecting our mental and emotional wellbeing. Some commentators have even gone so far as to state that ‘social media is this generation’s smoking’, such is the impact on our health and wellbeing. Social media is of course just part of the problem, our ‘always on’ and connected world means that the lines between work and home life are increasingly blurred, with the result often being very little downtime.


We spoke with Work Well Being Associate Hannah Massarella for her views on the effects of technology on our wellbeing and how we as business leaders and individuals can lead the change in creating a better balance.

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There seems to be a growing awareness of the personal cost and impact on our mental health of excessive screen-time. Why do you think we find ourselves in this situation?

Technology is amazingly useful and provides us with an infinite amount of information and ideas. It also makes life so much easier and faster, we can do everything from our smart phones – from paying for lunch to finding our future partner. However, I think technology can have a numbing effect, and when we feel stressed or overwhelmed it’s quite easy to get lost in social media rather than to feel our challenging feelings.

Sadly, as with most numbing strategies (alcohol, over-eating, drugs) they feel good in the first instance but over time leave us feeling more stressed and low. Technology is just the modern-day numbing strategy. What we really need is to learn ways to process and be with challenging emotions first, and then use our technology for actions or information that are truly useful to us second.


A new study found that 54% of people spend their journey into work looking at emails, and suggested that employers should recognise this time as part of the working day. What are your thoughts on this, do you think this will help to alleviate stress and improve work life balance? 

If someone is actively using their commute for emails, then it should be counted as part of their working day. However, it should come with some clear boundaries, and it should be a personal choice discussed with colleagues/line managers. 

I am a firm believer in starting your day the way you want it to pan out. So, jumping out of bed, running for the train and heading straight into emails is probably not going to alleviate stress. However, if someone starts their day well, and perhaps even gets a later, slightly quieter train and begins work as the train pulls out of the station, this may work well. Some people prefer to separate work and life; keeping work within the literal walls of the workplace, and so for them I think it’s very important not to email on the commute. 

I think the key point is consciousness, and an agreement with colleagues about whether you are going to email on the train or not. And with that comes a need for management who treat staff like adults who can design their working day in the way that works best for them.  


In a recent legal case an employee in Ireland was awarded financial compensation for the right to unplug, after she argued she was required to deal with out-of-hours work emails. As employers, how can we ensure that we are supporting employees to unplug, whilst also ensuring that our business continues to thrive?

Businesses thrive when employees feel energised, respected and empowered. I think encouraging time to unplug, and to invest in non-work re-energising activities is an important part of any thriving business. 

Senior leaders must support this by modelling the same behaviour. It is really challenging for staff to give themselves permission to unplug and invest in other interests when their managers are emailing them in the evening or at weekends. 

Because technology is so helpful and it’s so quick to access and act on things I think we need clear boundaries around unplugging. Sure, it would only take a minute to respond to one email, but once you’re in, your mind switches into work mode, and you might end up responding to five more queries. 

Organisations with an un-plugging culture are the successful organisations of the future. Their staff will be energised, clear, present and empowered. And that will lead to organisations that thrive.


What strategies would you suggest if we find ourselves struggling to switch off from technology and work? 

Permission slips are a beautiful strategy. Writing a slip that says ‘I give myself permission to finish work at 6pm this evening and pause my emails’ and carrying it with you through the day is very powerful. By writing the slip you tell your unconscious brain that there is no shame in stopping work at that time, and so when 6pm comes around you feel happy and confident about leaving. 

Secondly, I would encourage positive replacement from technology. So, planning in activities where you can’t be online (unless it’s a part of the activity such as at-home guided yoga or meditation). Planning in activities that allow your mind to be at peace, or to wander and think creatively. 

Thirdly, being in nature and being present and mindful about what’s around you is a beautiful alternative to being on technology or thinking about work. Paying attention to the changes of the leaves, or the movement of the clouds is incredibly therapeutic. Not only does it provide space away from work/technology stimuli, it calms your nervous system, which makes you more resilient and able to deal with stressors. 


At Work Well Being our remit is to support your business to thrive by enhancing the health and happiness of your people. When it comes to technology, for us that means equipping individuals with the skills to unplug to enable them to return to work refreshed and reenergised – and that crucially, these behaviours are modelled and encouraged by senior leadership.

Our ‘Mastering Technology’ workshop explores the importance of forming positive boundaries with technology and shares strategies for achieving this. Talk to us to find out more about delivering this transformational workshop at your workplace.

 
Abby Hubbard