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Last year, it was reported that 595,000 workers suffered from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, costing the UK 15.4 million working days. Not only does this diminish workplace productivity, but employees who feel this way are less likely to feel loyal to their company or motivated to give their best performance.

Technology has enabled many of us to be constantly available, even outside of working hours, and is often blamed for creating what is commonly referred to as an “always-on” culture. But is this way of working really contributing to work-related stress? Or are technological advances making life easier?

Technology: friend or foe?
Technology has received a lot of bad press as a contributor to workplace stress. But in reality it’s a huge enabler of flexibility and time efficiency.

Thanks to technology we can work anywhere, at any time, while previously arduous tasks – such as submitting expenses or choosing benefits – have become quicker and easier. Remote access also gives us the freedom to leave work when we want to – and check on that last item when we get home. Ten years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible.

Above all, we live in a society of instant gratification and fast solutions, even at work. Technology provides this. Organisations need to recognise the power of technology in helping communicate the culture of the business as one that supports and enables the changing needs of the modern workforce.

Company culture is key
The problem isn’t technology – culture needs to be reflected in everything an organisation does, from office environment, to policies, values and the benefits they offer their employees. For example, many organisations still have a culture that rewards presenteeism; being visible in the office for the duration of the traditional working day. But the assumption that we are all 100% efficient at prescribed times throughout the day is an outdated one. 

Offering your staff something that saves them time and makes their lives easier is a great way to reinforce your culture, while positively impacting motivation and overall productivity.

Aligning business infrastructure with culture
Change must cascade from the top – leaders need to encourage their employees to use technology as a positive enabler, to strike a work-life balance rather than just work more in their personal time.

There are infrastructural changes that need to happen to make this mandate ring true; businesses need to make sure that all their operations are set up to provide employees with the same workplace experience – wherever and whenever they’re working.

If we take benefits as an example, from a cultural perspective, being able to access them from anywhere is as important as having access to email. If employers can’t provide remote access to all the platforms employees enjoy in the workplace, then technology becomes a restriction, forcing employees to go into the office rather than facilitating choice in when and where they work. 

Flexibility needs to carry through to the benefits on offer 
Employers should also think about the benefits they offer; how appropriate these are and what they say about their organisation. If a high proportion of an organisation’s employees work from home, offering a cycle to work scheme or gym memberships tied to office locations is not only useless, but demonstrates a lack of consideration for the needs of their employees.

Instead, employers should look to build alignment between their culture and their benefits scheme. If they want to develop a more flexible culture, offering benefits that employees can enjoy from anywhere is a good place to start. It’s also so important that these benefits are effectively communicated to all employees however or wherever they work, and that they are available to access whenever needed – that’s where technology comes in.

Evolving to a new way of working
Organisations need to support employees in new ways of working, taking advantage of technology as a key communicator of company culture. To embed organisational culture, employers should make sure employees feel it during every engagement with their organisation; from conversations with their managers, to the IT infrastructure they use, the office environment they work in and the benefits they receive.

Ultimately employers should cultivate a workplace culture that helps and supports their people and enables them to be the best they can be – regardless of their personal circumstances. Implementing a comprehensive online infrastructure is a crucial element in this. Not only does this enable people to access everything they need all in one place wherever they are, it also becomes a key space for communicating to employees and highlighting the benefits on offer.

Rather than promoting workplace stress, technology can enable employers to build an open, accepting and flexible workplace culture.

Jack Curzon, Consulting Director – Thomsons Online Benefits

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