How Technological Disruption is Reshaping Workplace Health and Safety Models IT Professionals

INTRODUCTION

Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen, coined the term Disruptive Technology in 1997 in his best-selling book “The Innovator’s Dilemma”. He describes it as the transformation of business models and value networks by technology or business innovation. Disruptive technologies might lack refinement of definite practical applications during their inception, but radically change the outlook and functioning of society or the sector that they operate in. Some such examples of disruptive technologies are the PC which replaced the type writer, Email, smartphones, cloud computing, social networking etc. Some future technologies which haven’t fully been integrated yet but will radically change everything when they become fully integrated are the Internet of things (IOT), Driverless cars, Blockchain technology, and AI algorhythms.

While embracing new technologies such as AI can have a positive impact on employee engagement and health in the workplace, such as solving logistical problems without human input, provide fitness and health tracking, provide automated user interfaces and even water the plants at the office, innovations can lead to mass unemployment, increased detachment and over-commodification leading to a dearth of human creativity in projects, increased screen time resulting in chronic illnesses and blurring of boundaries between work life and home due to rise of full time work from home arrangements enabled by telecommunications innovation.

This essay seeks to explore the impact of technological disruptions on standards of workplace health and safety for the modern office worker, especially in the IT industry and strategies on how to adapt to the changing ecosystem.

NEGETIVE IMPACTS ON TECHNOLOGY ON WORKPLACE EMPLOYEE HEALTH AND SAFETY

Even though technological innovations such as work from home schemes may lead to increased profit and productivity for the company in the present phase, rampant overuse blurring the lines of work and home life is susceptible to the law of diminishing returns and decrease productivity of employees in the long run due to a tremendous increase of cognitive load from the always-on culture[1]. In fact, it has been shown in studies that flexible work arrangement which were introduced to offer more relaxed environment, have actually led to an increase in work hours[2]. For eg., according to the American Psychological Association, 53 percent of Americans work over the weekend, 52 percent work outside designated work hours, and 54 percent work even when sick.[3]

Constant multi-tasking and digital interruptions by emails, texts and phone calls have resulted in employees being forced to complete a task faster for dearth of time. A study by cognitive scientist Gloria Mark[4] has shown that this tremendously increases the stress and frustration levels of the individual decreasing his ability to process key information and analytics[5] which leads to a decrease in productivity and performance[6].

Virtual meetings have made it quite cheap for the IT organisations who now have larger and larger number of people participating in a meeting due to organisers not taking a risk to leave anyone important out. This results the employee’s day being spent in back to back meetings with very little retention of what actually transpired in such meeting. Instead the day could be spent on engaging in the actual job of the employee, who now may have to stay back overtime to complete the task or sacrifice work life balance during the weekend.

Personal addiction to technology by the employee leads to an extremely poor and broken sleep cycle due to blue light emission from electronics reducing melatonin required for sleep and leads to inability to concentrate at the work place during the day.

What is being observed increasingly is the physical disconnect that IT workers face in the recent years. Increased work hours, coupled with constant after work emails have led to a disconnect from friends and family in real life. Increasing this trend is the use of social media that has an illusion of satisfying our social urges but is no substitute to real physical interaction. That problem is compounding as studies show that the use of social media triggers a dopamine response in the brain similar to a hit of the drug cocaine[7]. Increased use of social media has also given rise to the modern phenomenon called FOMO – fear of missing out. Employees see the glamourized life of others carefully curated social media streams which only highlight the positive. This sends them down a spiral o depression as their lives pale in comparison.

WHAT EMPLOYERS CAN DO

  • Using AI to manage schedules – Using AI can actually liberate employees to by taking over the mechanical and tedious work leaving the creative and high level tasks to the human employee, leading to better job satisfaction and positive growth. Ai can also help to manage digital clutter, such as automatically sorting emails by priority, only pushing most important ones to the employee’s phones, etc. A brilliant example is google collaborating with behavorial economist Dan Ariely to integrate AI into their app which can schedule automatically schedule appointments for performing vital tasks which were missed due to other inconsequential tasks when the employee has free time.
  • AI to track health and work patterns – All of use leave digital footprints (meta data) as we use apps and services in our daily lives. These can be tracked and analysed in a positive way. The most meta data rich applications are calendars and emails and now it’s even possible to capture and analyse data from phone and video calls regarding tone of voice, facial expression, level of sweating etc. to evaluate employee stress levels and addictive technology abuse. [8]. There are already soft wares that track application and internet use with time spent on such which can be used to create reports comparing similar stats among different employees to find cultural patterns and discourage always on behaviour. For eg. An overworked employee can be reminded that he is working a lot more than others and be encouraged to take a breather or discuss workplace load with the manager.
  • Technology to enable productive habbits – Applications themselves have built in notifications to curb rampant use or notify others that the employee should not be disturbed. For eg. An application called “Flowlight” analyses the keyboard and mouse use of the IT worker to automatically signal other employees that the such person should not be disturbed right now as they are “in the zone”.  Another application called “Thrive” automatically alerts callers that the person is “thriving” now and will respond later[9].
  • Technology to combat peer pressure – The modern system to having a busy work day with no work-life balance has become associated with high status. Technology can be also be consciously used by companies to logistically disable the option to send work emails after office hours thereby promoting such a culture among employees. A radical system introduced in a MNC automatically deletes emails from employee’s phones while on vacation while alerting the sender that the message was “not received”[10].

CONCLUSION

In short, technology can lead to both good and bad outcomes for IT employees. It is up to the management to inculcate a positive corporate culture to maintain employee well-being and ensure that the employee is not being overburdened with work and no long-term harm befalls due to a lack of work-life balance, which we have already shown to have a negative impact on productivity and organizational profit. As shown there are a lot of positive technologies available in the market, both paid and free, and it is up to the leaders of the company to get them to work. AI even though has disrupted the work place, cannot be ever a complete substitute for human creativity and ingenuity, and thus human resources would always be the most valuable resource for the company.


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