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Robots to the rescue of mental health in the workplace

As work stress reaches an all-time high, can robots support mental health better than humans? ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK looks at the new evidence.

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A large health insurance organisation in South Africa uses monitoring software to measure staff’s level of attention on the computer screen – and equates lack of attention with lack of productivity. Aside from the fact that such micromanagement is known to be deeply unproductive, it is deeply ironic that the employer is probably contributing to mental health issues.

A new study shows that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased workplace stress and anxiety for people around the world – and they prefer robots instead of other people to help. At least, that’s what they told researchers in the new AI@Work Study 2020 by software company Oracle and HR research and advisory firm Workplace Intelligence.

The global survey of 12,347 employees, managers, HR leaders, and executives showed unprecedented levels of stress. Contrary to a widespread belief that remote working has given people more family time, more than a third of respondents reported a lack of work-life balance, and a quarter suffered burnout.

A clue to this impact lies in two another findings: that a quarter of these working people also suffered depression from lack of socialisation; and boundaries have increasingly blurred between personal and professional worlds with people working remotely. Well over a third of people find themselves juggling unmanageable workloads.

The study should come as a warning to organisations that are intent on micro-managing their remote working staff. All in all, a huge 78 percent said that increased work stress had negatively affected their mental health.

Of course, this is the downside. There are tremendous benefits too, and half the respondents (51%) indeed found they had more time to spend with family, while 31% had more time for sleep and 30% were getting more work done. But that barely makes up for the 40% who reported sleep deprivation, 33% reduced happiness at home and 30% saw family relationships suffering.

No wonder three quarters of respondents also believed their company should be doing more to protect the mental health of their workforce.

Read more on the next page about how mental health has not only become a broader societal issue because of the pandemic, but also the main workplace challenge.

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