Digitalisation is inexorably influencing our society, yet hardly any employers are fulfilling their digital duty of care. New ways of working require a rethink. The use of new technologies is opening the boundaries between work and private life. For employees, this not simply brings the advantage of more flexibility, but also the risk of no longer being able to switch off. Employers should therefore ensure that time offs are respected, and that screen time does not increase unnecessarily. In addition, an enabling technological environment should contribute to the efficient use of working time. This also enhances the employee experiencing by reducing related stress and frustration.
The WTW's Benefits Trends Study, that was fielded in 2021, shows that two out of five employers want to improve the technological environment in terms of access and choice of benefits. To achieve this, digital communication platforms that are targeted and accessible from anywhere at any time are a good way to go. Employees expect this flexibility.
When implemented correctly, employers’ benefit from an improved employee experience, which in turn has a direct impact on the perceived employer brand and the attraction and retention of talent.
More than half of the participating employers are also looking into improving the employee experience through an integrated wellbeing approach. This seems particularly important after looking at the ADP Institute's 2021 People at Work Study, which indicates that the proportion of unpaid overtime during the pandemic has increased globally from 7.3 to 9.2 hours per week compared to before the pandemic. In Europe, Switzerland leads with an average of 7.9 hours per week.
Undeniably, wellbeing is not just a pandemic buzzword. Our wellbeing encompasses four dimensions and has a direct influence on our private and business lives. Feeling emotionally balanced, financially secure, socially connected, and physically thriving are the best prerequisites for an engaged workforce. Digitalisation has an ambivalent function in this respect.
Thus, the use of new technologies not only has an impact on the employee experience, but also - in a positive and negative sense – on our health. On the one hand, new technologies and apps offer employees access to various health services that can cover all four dimensions of wellbeing. On the other hand, employees spend more and more time in front of a screen, move less and suffer more and more from less-than-ideal workplace conditions in terms of ergonomics, especially in their own home offices. On top, the digitalisation brings with it the danger of a lack of separation between private and business life and social isolation.
While employers try to minimise cyber risks on the business environment through employee training, the risk of digital employee burnout often goes unnoticed. According to WTW research, the stress levels in relation to COVID-19 have been falling again since the beginning of the pandemic. Nevertheless, communication with employees will presumably - even if current forecasts are positive in relation to the development of the pandemic - continue to take place more and more in a digital environment. For the employer, this implies not only lower office costs in some cases, but also fewer face-to-face conversations and the risk of losing contact and a feeling for the wellbeing of their employees. Regular check-ins and measures such as employee surveys and virtual focus groups make employees' voices heard, but how can employers encourage their employees to take regular breaks?
To make a decisive difference, companies should ensure that boundaries and healthy behaviour, supported by appropriate wellbeing measures, are an integral part of the company culture. Managers should also increasingly act as role models and lead by example. Besides respecting regular breaks, this includes, for example, a healthy approach to reading, sending, and answering business emails. The topic of work and flexibility should also be discussed in the team to make the individual's work patterns transparent (e.g., an employee often works an hour in the evening because he takes care of the children until 9 a.m.) and to clarify expectations (e.g., emails should be answered within two working days / for urgent matters there is a telephone / chat). Furthermore, stress workshops can help to raise awareness among managers and to make it easier to recognise and deal with employees at risk of burnout. It is important to set a benchmark for self-care.
Even though employers have a great influence on the digital wellbeing of their workforce, employees should also be aware of their own responsibility. Work smarter, not harder and make use of technology to your own benefit. Interruptions that prevent efficient work can be reduced with simple means, such as the correct settings for notifications. Additionally, various functionalities, such as digital to-do lists can help to organise the working day and to respect rest periods. It is also advisable to shut down and close the notebook before dinner. This significantly reduces the temptation to log in later to send this one last email, etc. Besides using technology to one’s own advantage, employees should also take digital time outs and fill them with non-digital hobbies such as for example mindfulness exercises. Dealing with the new working environment needs to be learned. This even applies to experienced colleagues who realise that the learning curve can be steep and that it takes commitment to improve. But the effort is worth it, because with a few tricks, certain tasks can be done much more efficiently.
Inevitably, for our society, we find that digitalisation can be both a curse and a blessing. New responsibilities arise in relation to hybrid working models and the working environment. Employers are subject to a digital duty of care, which includes managers that are leading by example and a working environment that enables self-care. Moreover, companies must be aware that flawlessly functioning hardware and software are even more important than before the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees, on the other hand, should be aware of their own responsibility and not exclusively learn how to use technology in a way that is beneficial for their wellbeing, but also plan offline times in their social environment - in the sense of "living digitally more consciously". Switch off sometimes and stay healthy.