A recent study shows that at work, at least one in four people experience mental health issues such as depression or anxiety. Although a range of factors of course contribute to psychological problems, the growing use of technology may well play a significant role. As organisations drive towards digitisation, telework and working within virtual teams are becoming more and more common. Increasing numbers of people no longer have to face a tiring daily commute, but instead work from home and connect with colleagues anywhere in the world.
The Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) that are implemented to overcome distance can however mean that we are now overly connected. This connectivity paradox stems from the fact that some people feel under pressure to be constantly connected on ICTs such as e-mail, mobile phones, social media etc., which can result in technostress.
However, our increased connectivity through ICTs and expanding teleworking practices can – perhaps paradoxically – also lead to feelings of isolation and a loss of belonging to the workplace community. Greater connectivity indeed leads to increasing loneliness as we each now live in what Sherry Turkle for instance refers to as ‘private media bubbles’. This connectivity and loneliness paradox has two implications for tackling mental health issues in the workplace:
- Whereas mental-health problems and depression are topical issues, loneliness is not fashionable to talk about at work. It might be the next taboo that needs to be broken in order to create truly healthy workplaces.
- Many workplaces now run mental health first aider programmes to give line managers and employees the practical skills to recognise the symptoms of mental health problems and how to guide a person towards appropriate professional help. The growing popularity of tools and protocols that help discover danger signs of stress does indicate that the taboo around stress and mental health is being broken. However, I also do wonder whether we are formalising conversations that we would have had naturally with our colleagues when seeing each other at the office every day, physically working together, spending lunch breaks together and bumping into each other at the water cooler.
I would be curious to hear your thoughts and suggestions on how we can overcome this connectivity paradox to tackle mental health issues in the (virtual) workplace!
by Dr Caroline Rook
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