David Greenlees, Managing Director, Priority Software UK discusses the additional pressures from working permanently online
The very first Labor Day in the United States was a strike protesting long workweeks and horrific working conditions for blue-collar workers. In 1882, the average American laborer worked 12-hours a day, seven days a week, and children as young as five or six worked in mills, factories and mines nationwide.
Yet, more than 125 years later, there are millions of employees across the country who work excessively long hours. Granted, their plight is nowhere near what those who lived through the late 1800s had to endure, but it is a growing issue that continues to go unnoticed.
Working long hours endures
I’m referring to technostress, a term that describes the additional pressures from working permanently online and has been associated with decreased job satisfaction, organizational commitment and productivity. Today, however, they are no unions or strikes to protest the fact that many employees work unbelievably long hours via their digital devices.
Technostress takes a toll
The constant use of emailing, instant messaging and social media is leading to information overload, frequent work interruptions, and constant pressure to be accessible and available. As more and more employees are equipped with mobile phones, tablets and laptops, they’re expected to be connected at all hours of the day, including weekends and holidays.
The effects of technostress include general and chronic fatigue, an apathetic or cynical attitude, concentration problems, muscle tension, and burnout. Information overload can also result in workers being unable to manage their priorities or their time, often resulting in panic or guilt.
There is also an increase in errors, delays in completing tasks and work that is only partially finished because employees are constantly distracted, checking their phones for new messages and faced with the pressure to immediately reply. With response times expected in real-time, some workers are unable to fully understand the root cause of a problem and struggle to come up with viable solutions.
Technology as the solution, not the problem
While technology may be the root cause of technostress, it can also serve as the potential cure. There are many automated tools that can, for example, filter emails so that only those that require an immediate response rise to the top of one’s inbox. WhatsApp and text messages can be blocked for specific time intervals when employees need total concentration and don’t want to be distracted. In after-hours situations, emails can be sent as text messages to avoid having employees sit in front of the computer when at home with their families.
The number of hours in front of screens can be tracked so that when employees exceed certain guidelines, they can be encouraged to cut back on working after hours. Also, management can encourage a culture where when employees are on vacation, their personal time is valued and they are only contacted when it’s absolutely necessary.
Optimizing back-office processes
The same time and effort invested in streamlining manufacturing processes in the factory can be applied to optimizing back-office processes. Automating the approval process for purchase orders, expenses and price quotes can minimize the back and forth of emails. Invoices for late payers and retainer customers can include predefined rules and then be sent automatically. Chatbots and natural language processing tools can be used to automatically respond to inquiries about invoices, product deliveries and the most common customer support questions.
Employees can even be rewarded for finding ways to streamline communications with suppliers, partners and customers, as well as information flows between internal departments, including finance, sales, manufacturing and logistics. A business management system such as an ERP can translate this input into automated business processes. The ideal system should be user-friendly and highly customizable so it can easily integrate with existing workflows.
User-friendly company culture
Quality of life in the workplace is just as important now as it was during the Industrial Revolution. A company culture that values personal time combined with digital technology to ease workloads, reduce unnecessary communications and make the workplace more efficient and user-friendly can help alleviate the impact of technostress.