From ‘ping dread’ to burnout: why we must manage technology instead of letting technology manage us
In the summer of 2021, remote or home working for desk based workers was more or less commonplace by now due to the pandemic, even if they did not yet know if (or how) it would last in their own organisations in the future. Our policy and research team started a series of work and health discussions with our members on a variety of topics including carers, flexible working, wellbeing products, health related employee benefits. The main concern people either requested to talk about or that naturally emerged from our discussions was, simply, emails. As we started talking about this more, we looked into where the workplace technologies – particularly those that send us notifications or ‘pings’ – employers provide for employees and the way they are being used at work is actually making employees unwell and causing them to disengage from their job.
The term ‘ping dread’ emerged – and each time people spoke about the “dread” created by the sheer amount of emails and ‘pings’ from workplace tech they regularly experience, conversations about exhaustion, stress, anxiety, and burnout emerged. As a result of the continuous amount content and ‘information overload’ caused by having so many ‘pingable’ devices open during the working day, one employee told us, “I was in a really bad place, but we’re remote, so no one saw”. This should never be the case in any organisation, for anyone.
It is an employer’s legal duty to prevent work related injuries. This includes ensuring the psychological health and safety of employees in their working environment. Diversity and inclusion practice in the UK too often focusses on employment law and the Equality Act alone. The consequence of this can be that health and safety law is rarely understood or utilised by inclusion practitioners in the workplace. Health and safety provisions are instead too often redirected to ‘risk’ or health and safety teams. However, UK health and safety guidance tells us what contributes to workplace stress and occupational burnout, and it also guides us on what to look out for to tackle it.
This discussion paper draws out some statistics about how we use tech, some sad words of how employees “dread” annual leave because it makes before and after their leave busy and stressful, and it also offers questions to ‘prompt’ internal discussions in organisations about the culture of burnout they could be creating by not acting on how workplace tech is managed in their workforces.
“I was in a really bad place, but we’re remote, so no one saw” (Employee)
“I felt sick and I dreaded coming back to work in January after the Christmas break, because I knew how much work and how many emails would be waiting for me when I’d return” (Employee)