The Role of Technology in Burnout

Does it help or harm?

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Gwen Moran wonders, in Workplace Burnout: Could More Tech Be the Answer?

While the always-on culture fueled by technology has been partially blamed for increases in workplace burnout, the reasons are more complex.

I wrote about the World Health Organization’s recent report on burnout, quoting Zaria Gorvett:

According to the WHO, burnout has three elements: feelings of exhaustion, mental detachment from one’s job and poorer performance at work. But waiting until you’re already fully burned out do something about it doesn’t help at all –and you wouldn’t wait to treat any other illness until it was too late.

Moran points out that WHO may be stopping short of really granting burnout the medical status it deserves:

WHO stopped short of classifying burnout as a medical condition. Instead, it’s listed as an “occupational phenomenon,” and included it in a chapter of reasons for which people contact health services — but are not considered illnesses or health conditions. That’s good news for individuals and a possible area of concern for employers, says Russell Thackeray, Ph.D., a U.K.-based licensed clinical psychologist and organizational development consultant.

“The move by the WHO represents, in my view, an acknowledgement of the seriousness of mental health conditions, long under-appreciated because of the lack of physical proof,” Thackeray says. “For example, break a limb and the evidence is there for all to see. However, anything that’s more ‘in the mind’ can often be attributed to being moody, lazy, or even a strategy.”

‘Strategy’, meaning goldbricking.

Moran notes,

Burnout is also a concern because of its ubiquity. Research from Gallup in 2018 found 44% of people surveyed said they “sometimes” experience burnout on the job. Meanwhile, 23% said they felt it “very often.”

The culture of overwork seems to be the main culprit in burnout, as Moran notes:

While the “always-on” culture fueled by technology has been partially blamed for increases in burnout, the reasons are more complex. The 2017 Employee Engagement Series conducted by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace found that the top three reasons respondents for burnout included unfair compensation (cited by 41% of respondents), unreasonable workload (32%), and too much overtime/after-hours work (32%).

Can technology help or just cause more overwork?

20% of human resources leaders who responded to the Kronos research cited insufficient technology for employees to do their jobs as another primary cause of burnout. At organizations with more than 2,500 employees, 27% of respondents felt this way.

Some organizations are turning to platforms like Glint to enable feedback and monitor engagement, performance, and growth. Such tech tools may help organizations spot areas that contribute to burnout and address them, says Jim Barnett, co-founder, CEO, and chair of the software platform.

Again, we encounter the failed promise of our social tools, or at least their inability to overcome the deep cultural skew of overwork culture.

Written by

Founder, Work Futures. Editor, GigaOm. My obsession is the ecology of work, and the anthropology of the future.

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