With computers and mobile devices the norm in today’s workplace, computer-related stress is a risk for employers keen to keep productivity levels up and sickness absence down. But technology can also provide an answer to some of these problems, explains Robin Christopherson.
It is difficult to imagine a modern workplace without some form of computer technology being used. Computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones have all been designed to solve problems for us, make our businesses more efficient and ultimately make our lives easier. That theory is well established, but, in practice, there are still many instances where the devices we use are often the root cause of the stresses and strains of everyday working life.
According to the Health and Safety Executive, 11.3 million of working days lost due to work-related ill health can be attributed to stress, depression or anxiety. The average number of days lost per case for stress, depression or anxiety is 23. (Labour Force Survey 2013/14). Employers wishing to reduce their sickness absence rates need to look at ways in which the workplace itself can be optimised to manage and reduce stress at work.
Interacting with technology during the working day can be especially stressful if the equipment you are using is broken, outdated or operates using incorrect or inappropriate software for the task. Often, the workspace being physically cluttered adds to an employee’s feelings of stress and anxiety, rather than the computer equipment directly.
Other environmental factors such as background noise, lighting and an openplan office layout can be as much of a stressor as work pressures and challenging performance targets. Computers can be used to overcome some of the natural stressors that we encounter at work.
Useful productivity tools
It sometimes feels like we are constantly being urged to work harder, smarter and faster. The good news is that there are several programs on the market that can actually help you work more productively. Dictation or voice-recognition software has recently gained in mainstream popularity thanks to “Ask Google” and Siri on Apple products. Disabled people, for example those with dyslexia, have long been using dictation software to overcome communication barriers in the workplace. There are specialist products such as Dragon available on the market but, nowadays, most desktops and mobile computers come with built-in dictation software.
Having the ability to dictate emails, text messages or longer documents offers everyone the opportunity to work differently and more productively. Mind-mapping software such as Mind Manager, Xmind and My Study Bar were created to help students, professionals and businesses map and plan ideas more efficiently. They are particularly beneficial to employees who think visually. Some people with dyslexia (around 15% of the population) have found mind-mapping software a better alternative to note taking as it is a tool better suited to how they problem solve and process information.
Similarly, an audio-recording program called Sonocent has been used by people with dyslexia and other disabilities in educational and business settings to capture live lectures, meetings or interviews.
There are a range of programs that can be used to help organise your workload, your ideas and improve your time management.
Calendar systems such as Outlook, if used correctly, can alert employees to looming deadlines, important meetings or presentations and help to manage and prioritise day-to-day tasks. Using the right tools to get the job done has always been important. Employers need to ensure that employees are trained on how to use organiser tools such as Outlook properly; often this is where they fall short and just expect employees to know how to use very advanced technology.
Fortunately, the Microsoft website has a lot of examples on how to become an Outlook “super-user”. The advent of “bring your own device” to work also presents employees with an opportunity to become better organised by synchronising personal information and management software with that of their employer. For example, synchronising calendar and email systems allows employees to manage working and non-working activities on one device, in one go, rather than having to switch log-ins.
Small changes, big difference
For people with cognitive, motor or vision impairments, small changes to the computer station area can make a huge difference to their working life. If employees have a disability, employers are duty-bound to make adjustments to their workstations, working patterns and responsibilities. Not only are employers responsible, they also have a duty of care and are at legal risk if they are not proactive in offering and implementing the adjustment that the employee needs.
AbilityNet runs a monthly series of free webinars for employers, HR professionals and employees to help understand how technology can help disabled people in the workplace.