Workers back restrictions on technology use to improve physical and mental health

business tech

Employers should restrict technology overuse to offset remote working mental health pressures and allow employees to manage their physical health better, according to new global research published today.

The insights, commissioned by Aetna International from over 4,000 workers across the US, UK, UAE and Singapore, highlight the ‘digital dilemmas’ businesses now need to manage with employees, especially in relation to remote working.

The research shows that many workers would welcome the introduction of a business policy to manage technology and screen time overuse, with over three quarters feeling it would help them to manage physical health better and 65% believing it would support their mental health. According to the study, over 40% of employers did not have any guidance in place to deal with this tech overload.

Despite these concerns, there was still clear agreement from workers who took part in the survey that technology can play a positive role in improving mental and physical health. 78% stated that it enabled them to manage workloads better, meaning less stress, and 74% agreed that it provided more time to exercise. In terms of country comparisons, UK workers were least likely to acknowledge the health benefits that technology could enable. For example, the data shows UK workers are less likely to agree that technology at work improves physical and mental health by enabling them to balance life and work, compared to UAE, Singapore and the US.

However, even with these benefits, close to half also felt that remote working could be more stressful than being in the office and a substantial number felt remote working blurred the line between work and home life. Meanwhile 60% felt it increased the pressure to respond to work outside of office hours.

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 well-being.

“Recent events have forced organisations across the world to re-evaluate how they are helping their employees to manage their physical and mental health. This is the most important opportunity in living memory to change the way we all work for the better. Business leaders everywhere should seize this chance to excel as far as company culture and employee health and well-being are concerned. ”

The findings come alongside a recent study published by the Mental Health Foundation, which shows as many as 75% of UK employees feel remote working under lockdown negatively affects their health by causing burnout and anxiety.

However, Aetna International’s research also uncovered an ‘always-on culture’ before lockdown, with the majority of workers checking work phones first thing in the morning and 64% before they go to sleep.

Two thirds felt that checking their phone for work messages made them feel stressed whilst overuse of communication platforms and internal emails was a stressor for 56%. Comparing UK versus US, workers in the US were less worried that they use their phone too much, but much more likely to check for work related messages out of hours.

The research also shows employees are concerned that technology negatively impacts their physical health, for example by damaging eyesight from PC overuse and eating into exercise time.

Richard di Benedetto continued: “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 well-being support post-lockdown. 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.”