Is technology creating stress and hampering employee engagement

We all know that technology can save us time, boost productivity, help employees to communicate. In fact it probably can do anything you would wish it to do – like the best trained robot! However there is a downside to technology. Some of us are good with IT; others want to throw a computer out of the window as soon as it goes wrong. These are everyday stressful situations found in workplaces throughout the UK but what happens when technology becomes too frustrating, or becomes more ‘Big Brother’ than a helpful application?

Ever since George Orwell published 1984 society has feared the day they would be living under ‘Big Brother’. TV producers have made millions out of this intrigue into our every waking moment, but technology and its application is creeping into many workers lives and is destroying years of good workplace relations.

How is technology ruining employee engagement?

Hands up who’s got a smartphone? Who cares if geolocation is switched on? This simple device can quickly and easily enable managers to see exactly where their workforce are at the touch of a button. Many employees from a vast range of industries have all complained that their smartphones or iPads have geolocation added as standard, and feel that they’re not trusted to go about their daily business without someone wondering if they had popped to the shops, or picked the kids up when they should have been at a client meeting.

Geolocation can also be tagged to social media posts too, and again, employees have started to feel anxious about how they are being checked-up on. Social media with the introduction of Yammer to the internal communications sector has again heralded a new technological dawn. Again, it offers HR and PR professionals a unique tool to boost internal comms, but social media also has a darker side. We’re all well aware in the recruitment sector about personal social media pages being monitored to see what type of person they’re really getting, but companies have still been very slow in creating strong workplace policies to guide employees on what they can and can’t say about their organisation to friends and family online, which leaves employees wondering what they can and can’t do.

But like with all things technological social media comes with its own language which itself can prove stressful and frustrating. Not everyone knows a tweet from their infographic and their wiki from their app. Of course it favours the young and in an ageing workforce it can be tricky to keep all onboard. Companies need to be aware of their employees’ skillset and encourage a wide dialogue with their staff via a variety of traditional and new media outlets.

Gamification has also been heralded as the latest technique to improve data collection in the field of employee engagement. However the ‘games process’ can be a real turn on for some but a huge turn off for others depending on their skillset and background. We’ve seen some recent push back on this already with some common criticisms including ‘it’s not a real game’ and ‘it’s really only bribery’ and even some feedback that people try to ‘cheat’! Not fantastic from an employee engagement perspective.

The majority of these problems do not stem from organisations going out of their way to introduce baffling new applications or be ‘Big Brother’; it’s more of a bi-product from the introduction of new technologies. I recently heard about an organisation that had fitted new tagging equipment into their field based people’s vehicles. The employer wanted to ensure they knew where their employees were in case they broke down, or to view their location if another job came up nearby – which, in itself seems sensible. As the new technology was rolled out, employees were informed of the changes and why they were being implemented – again, the right thing to do.

However, as the technology evolved it provided the operations team with new services and tools, enabling them to alert each driver if they had been too heavy on the brakes or had driven too fast. The operations team thought that this would be a great way to help save the company money, and to help reduce accidents on the road and there were very strong commercial and responsible reasons for doing this, but all of the drivers with this new technology have become incredibly angry as they feel someone is – ‘checking up on me all the time’. None of the team was informed why the company had made the switch; and to be told by text message that they had driven too fast, or slammed on their brakes had really annoyed a lot of team members.

These are just a few examples of how technology can create frustration and tension in the workplace and erode good levels of employee engagement in weeks. As ever happy employees are ones that feel respected and trusted to do their jobs well. With the onset of more technology being available to companies to help them reduce costs and increase productivity, company’s departments are going to have to work together much more closely to analyse the impact on how new technologies will be accepted by their employees.

Our advice in situations such as those above is simple. Put yourself in the shoes of your people.

Do you offer sufficient training when new technologies are applied into the workplace? Do you assume everyone is fluent with social media?

How would you feel if you received a text message from your employer telling you that that brakes had been used to fiercely? Is that likely to endear your people to your organisation or frustrate, de-motivate and disengage them?

When it comes to employee engagement ‘trust’ is paramount, technology, even when implemented with the best will in the world can erode that trust and very quickly. Technology can certainly help businesses but if the process of implementation is not fully thought out or if it morphs into something more ‘Big Brother’ as the capability of the technology is improved – then you run the risk of greatly undermining employee engagement.

Take some time to review the use of technology within your own organisation. Listen to your employees, is it being used in the way it was intended or are you in or moving towards a situation where technology is undermining the relationship you have with your people?