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Protecting worker mental health amid technology-driven change

Wednesday 24, Jun 2020

NSCA Foundation, Safe-T-Bulletin



Protecting worker mental health amid technology-driven change

With millions of people working from home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, researchers from the University of Sydney Business School have identified key strategies to safeguard mental health, including following a regular routine and turning off unnecessary notifications on devices. The research paper synthesises existing studies on how technology-driven changes at work will impact workplace mental health and employee wellbeing, reviewing more than 100 studies to examine the positive and negative ways that technology can impact workers and businesses.

“While technology can streamline many aspects of work, its continued use with few breaks can be really draining, especially when the boundaries between work and home life are blurred,” co-author Dr Shanta Dey from the University of Sydney’s Discipline of Work & Organisational Studies said. Self-care strategies highlighted by the study include following a regular routine that includes physical exercise, taking regular breaks and customising notifications on various digital devices.

Associate Professors Helena Nguyen and Anya Johnson, co-directors of the Body, Heart and Mind in Business Research Group, emphasised the critical role that managers play in modelling healthy behaviour for employees, particularly as many Australians resume working in offices. “It’s important that managers and supervisors embed systems for routinely checking in on the wellbeing of their employees,” Associate Professor Nguyen said. “This can be especially difficult without in-person contact. 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.”

Professor Nicholas Glozier from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre, another co-author of the paper, also specified that new working patterns could also challenge the daily routines that help many people keep their body clocks stable, with the research team also emphasising the importance of employers keeping their workers informed. “Employees need to be involved in the decision-making process around the implementation of new systems and procedures,” Associate Professor Johnson said.

“Having some level of control and actively participating in change are important protective job design features for mental health. This is even more important when so many of the factors impacting people’s work in recent months have been dependent on controlling the spread of the virus,” Associate Professor Johnson added. A key conclusion of the research team’s paper is that mental health needs to be higher on the work agenda.

The paper, titled ‘A review and agenda for examining how technology-driven changes at work will impact workplace mental health and employee well-being’, was published in the Australian Journal of Management.

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