In March 2020 Aetna conducted an international survey to uncover how the Covid-19 pandemic was affecting employees’ health and wellbeing following the global rise in employees’ stress and anxiety levels. The study, which surveyed 4,025 employees from mid- to large-sized businesses across the UK, the US, the UAE and Singapore, was designed to gauge workers’ views on workplace technology and digital health services, with a view on understanding how best to help employees achieve a better work/ life balance and health outcomes.
Overall, it seems that employees are equally optimistic and cautious about digital technology in the workplace and its effect on their wellbeing. For example, 71 per cent of those asked believe that their employer could help them better manage their physical health through workplace technology; 61 per cent believe their employer could help them better manage their mental health through workplace technology; and while almost 90 per cent of workers say technology lets them complete simple tasks quickly, connect with co-workers across different locations and receive job support, around eight in 10 (79 per cent) say technology lets them manage time better, thus reducing stress levels.
However, opinions on the downside of tech are equally consistent: 61 per cent of respondents say that pressures to answer calls outside of work makes them more stressed; 62 per cent say that pressures to respond to emails outside of work makes them more stressed; and 56 per cent say that reliance on and overuse of communication platforms and work-related emails increases their stress levels.
In fact, when asked by Aetna, 65 per cent of respondents said that being able to have a company mobile phone to handle work calls and emails remotely helps them better manage their mental health, but almost the same percentage (64 per cent) worry that they use their phones too much. Indeed, seven in 10 (70 per cent) respondents admit to checking their phones first thing in the morning for work-related messages, whilst nearly two-thirds do the same thing right before going to bed.
It is therefore unsurprising to learn that 76 per cent of respondents believe curbs on out-of-hours use of work-related technology could help them better manage their physical health.
Elsewhere, the survey also identified that as far as remote working goes, while a considerable percentage (44 per cent) say that it is often more stressful then working from home, the majority disagree, and many insist that remote working makes them feel less stressed about their work (70 per cent); helps them work shorter hours (66 per cent); improves their quality of life (80 per cent); and improves their physical health (73 per cent). On the other hand, 66 per cent says that remote working blurs the line between work and home life, and 60 per cent say that it increases the pressure to respond to work outside of office hours.
Commenting on the findings, Richard di Benedetto, President at Aetna International, said: “Our research shows there is a very clear opportunity for businesses to harness the positive power of technology to help support and improve employee health and well-being. However, as we do so, it is vital that we acknowledge that an always-on culture is simply not compatible with mental or physical wellbeing.”
In response, Aetna suggests establishing workplace procedures that protect employees from a tech overload and workplace burnout, communicate clearly with and educate employees about how to keep work from bleeding into their personal lives and encouraging business leaders to ‘lead by example’, providing emotional and professional support.
“As restrictions in some countries begin to lift by varying degrees, I would encourage employers to set the bar high when planning their approach to employee health and wellbeing support post-lockdown,” di Benedetto said. “Now is the perfect time to reassess the technology and policies you have in place and to make a positive commitment to integrate humanity, compassion and trust into your corporate culture.”