“I think what it’s done is that it’s increased the emotional load, the emotional demands of our work because the computer can’t manage the emotions, you have to do it. What we’re doing is richer, but not always in a good way.”
With millions working from home during COVID-19, researchers warn technology is a double-edged sword that can have a negative effect on the mental wellbeing of staff.
Researchers at the University of Sydney Business School reviewed more than 100 academic studies examining how technology-driven changes at work affect workers and businesses.
A lot of it comes down to ensuring you implement boundaries around when and where you work within the home.
— Dr Shanta Dey, University of Sydney Business School
“Ultimately we concluded that mental health needs to be higher on the work agenda,” said co-author Dr Shanta Dey, from the Discipline of Work and Organisational Studies.
“Working from home and the use of technology really is a double-edged sword.”
Dr Johnson agrees: “We need leaders to recognise that functioning at that level all the time is not possible and it’s not good for us and it’s not good for the organisation,” she said.
“We need to build in safety valves and also redundancy into work so people have opportunities to recover and to manage the more challenging aspects of their work more effectively.”
Dr Dey said technology could have positive and negative effects, but when it was continuously used with few breaks, it could be really draining, especially when the boundaries between work and home were blurred.
“We did find very clearly a pattern of findings from these studies which found that there can be a lot of benefit from working from home as long as you structure it so it can be a win-win for businesses and employees,” Dr Dey said.
Recent research by Culture Amp found many workers were struggling to switch off from work or take sufficient breaks.
The university business school’s study highlighted the importance of having strategies in place to safeguard the mental health of employees.
These include following a regular routine that includes physical exercise, taking regular breaks and customising notifications on digital devices, such as turning off unnecessary notifications at night.
“A lot of it comes down to ensuring you implement boundaries around when and where you work within the home,” Dr Dey said.
Associate Professor Helena Nguyen said it was important for managers and supervisors to routinely check on staff’s wellbeing.
“Managers’ increasing confidence to initiate conversations about mental health and wellbeing has been a silver lining of this pandemic, and will be even more critical as they navigate returning to offices,” she said.
Dr Dey agrees: “If you don’t have a mentally healthy workforce, it’s very hard to sustain a high-functioning, productive organisation,” she said.
“Employees spend more than a third of their waking hours at work so if their mental health is not safeguarded, that is undoubtedly going to impact their performance and productivity.
“So it’s important organisations recognise that and design work so it protects employees’ mental health, because it’s in their best interests.”