By Angela Matthews
“One employee told me, “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.”
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 we did not yet know if (or how) it would last in our own organisations in future. Here in BDF’s policy team, we started a series of work and health discussions with our members on a variety of topics – carers, flexible working, wellbeing products, health-related employee benefits. But the main thing people either requested to talk about or that naturally emerged from my 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 to use at work are 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 of ‘pings’ of content and ‘information overload’ caused by having so many ‘pingable’ devices open during the working day, one employee told me, “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.
But it is an employer’s legal duty to prevent work-related injuries – and this includes ensuring the psychological health and safety of employees in their working environment. Diversity and inclusion practice in the UK loosely tends to focus on employment law and the Equality Act, increasingly some human rights frameworks sometimes maybe. This, coupled with disabled people’s (very understandable) urge to move away from being subjected to health and safety narratives and procedures, has meant 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. But doing this ‘misses a trick’. 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.
In March this year at our mental health and technology conference, I gave a presentation titled, “From ping dread to burnout: why we must manage technology instead of letting technology manage us”. Today we are publishing a discussion paper under the same title. The paper draws out some shocking statistics about how we use tech, some sad words of how employees “dread” annual leave because it just makes before and after leave busy and stressful, and it 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.
We will be holding a discussion group for BDF members in the summer. I hope to see you there.