Are new technologies threatening employee well-being?

4 measures to prevent occupational health and safety risks in the digital age

By Anna Ginès i Fabrellas

It’s no news that new technologies are completely reshaping work environments – most often for the better, but not always.

The widespread use of laptops, tablets, smartphones and cloud-computing systems allow employees to continue providing services outside the office and after working hours.

This technological hyperconnectivity can trigger new psychological risk factors associated not only with the technology itself but also with the flexibility that it encourages.

Yes, technology can be a double-edged sword for employees.

Technology and flexible work arrangements can generate new risks derived from work intensification, constant connectivity, permanent availability and work-life overlap.

Addiction technology
Constant connectivity can be bad for employees (Photo: Hannah Wei/Unsplash)

In our research, we show that employers need to implement four major health and safety measures to protect employee well-being in the digital age.

1. Information, training and awareness of the correct use of technology

To protect workers from psychosocial risks, employers are obliged to inform their employees about the negative consequences associated with technology.

Employers must also train workers on how to use technology correctly to avoid the risks associated with its abuse or misuse.

Employers must inform their employees about the negative consequences of technology

In our findings, we outline several measures that employers can adopt to guarantee the well-being of workers who use new technologies. These include:

  • Training on new technologies to prevent technophobia.
  • Management of work and rest periods for the use of electronic devices to reduce techno-fatigue.
  • Strategies to avoid constant interruptions, unexpected work developments and multitasking madness.

2. The right to clock out

Earlier this year, the European Court of Justice ruled that control over working time is a compulsory health and safety measure. Member states are now obliged to implement measures that prevent excess working time and ensure that workers are entitled to a minimum daily rest.

Measures to control working hours can reduce the risk of constant connectivity or workaholism associated with new technologies and help protect the well-being of employees.

Working time can be controlled with traditional time-clock systems based on electronic cards or biometric systems, or through apps, intranets, cloud computing, geolocation systems or by monitoring email activity or internet navigation. 

No matter what systems are used, however, employers must always guarantee workers’ right to privacy and protect their personal data.

3. Availability time

To protect workers’ well-being, we suggest that another effective control measure would be to specify availability time, understood as a time during which a worker, despite not being at work, must remain available to tend to work-related matters.

For example, a worker whose workday ends at 6 pm could agree to be connected and available until 8 pm to answer calls, reply to emails or tend to any unexpected work demand.

Establishing availability time would be an effective measure of control over working time

Establishing specific hours of availability would be an effective measure of control over working time, especially for flexible work arrangements. It allows some degree of flexibility over working-time management while respecting rest periods and work-life balance, as it directly reduces the expectation of availability and connectivity.

Availability time also allows a much clearer distinction between work and life and prevents unscheduled and excessive extensions of working time.

4. The right to digital disconnection

In our research, we suggest another measure to guarantee rest periods and protect employees’ well-being: introducing the right to digitally disconnect.

This means having the right to turn off electronic devices during rest periods so as to block any type of communication from the employer or coworkers.

Resting at home
Photo: Drew Coffman/Unsplash

To ensure this right to digitally disconnect, employers must establish mechanisms to guarantee that managers and workers don’t connect with each other outside of working hours.

It requires recognising workers’ right to switch off their electronic devices outside office hours and the employer’s obligation to guarantee absence of contact during rest periods. 

Measures to guarantee the right to digital disconnection could include the following:

  • Prohibiting communication outside working hours.
  • Implementing blockage systems in the company’s intranet or cloud-computing systems during specific time frames.
  • Installing software that prevents messages from being sent or received outside of office hours.
  • Activating alert systems that inform workers when they have reached the limit of working hours.

Measures to control working time are not incompatible with flexible work arrangements, telework or even worker autonomy in the management of working time.

At first, workers might feel that they are subject to more control and monitoring by the employer, which can negatively impact employee satisfaction and well-being. 

Control measures, however, can have a positive effect by reducing technostress, work intensification, life-work overlap, constant connectivity and permanent availability.

All written content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.