Technology at workplace is inevitable, irreplaceable and an irrefutable fact. However, the impact of technology on humans has not always been the focal point. In this article, renowned psychologist and founder of first technology de-addiction clinic at NIMHANS, Bangalore (India) Dr. Manoj Sharma takes an unbiased view on the impact of technology on the mental health of workers.

The workplace is one of the key environments that affect the person’s wellbeing and health. There is a growing awareness of the role of work in promoting or hindering mental wellness and its corollary mental illness. Most mental health professionals agree that the workplace environment have a significant impact on an individual’s mental well-being such as personal identity, self-esteem, and social recognition.

The common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are the most frequent causes of occupational disability. There are various environmental factors that clearly have an influence on the health of workers. The political environment, policies that govern labour market, access to basic services including health service and stability and family networks and low organisational justice are linked with an increased risk of common mental disorders.

The consequences of mental health problems in the workplace includes,

  • Absenteeism: Increase in overall sickness absence, particularly frequent short period of absence; Poor health (depression, stress, burnout); Physical conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, ulcers, headaches, sleeping disorders, neck-and backache, low resistance to infections.
  • Work Performance: It includes reduction in productivity and output, increase in error rates, increased amount of accidents, poor decision making, deterioration in planning and control of work.
  • Staff attitude and behaviour: Loss of motivation and commitment, burnout, poor time keeping and labour turnover.
  • Relationship at Work: Tension and conflicts between colleagues and increase in disciplinary problem.

Internet use at workplace

Individuals found to be “Internet-dependent” have frequently been found to be attracted to interactive internet applications, such as chatting, games, and shopping, whereas nondependent individuals seem to use the internet almost exclusively for sending emails and searching for information. Focus group discussion with employees (Government and Private) revealed engagement in online activities for personal reasons. The frequent access or availability of internet connection is being associated with decrease productivity due to frequent distraction through engagement online activities. The common activity accessed at workplace includes social media use, accessing music, watching show series as well as accessing pornography. Accessing pornography, online chatting, gaming, investing, or shopping at work were the leading causes for disciplinary action or termination. Higher status employees, as measured by occupation status, job autonomy, income, education, and gender, engage in significantly more frequent personal internet use at work compared to lower status employees. A cross-sectional prospective study showed that 58.8% of the participants used mobile phone along with other devices such as desktop, laptop, and tablet at work. 64% of the participants reported change in productivity due to non-work related internet use at workplace and 42% of participants postponed their work internet activities. WhatsApp was the most used application followed by Facebook and Gmail at work. Gaming applications and messenger application such as hike and hangouts were used less frequently .A cross-sectional study shows that 9.2% of participants were having occasional problems and at risk for developing addiction in functioning or moderate impairment due to internet use. Sleep, meal, personal hygiene, and family time were postponed for the people who were at risk for developing internet addiction

Positive aspects of internet use and mental health at workplace

On discussion with few people on how they use internet in workplace? The few responses are:

‘‘Personally internet affects me in terms of personal life, sticking to internet for a longer time affects my daily communication with my relatives but It helps to me manage stress at work place, when I am not able to meet my deadliness I start reading an article of my interest at internet for some time that helps me to calm down my frustration’’ – says a techie from Bangalore.

When I am doing my statistical part in my research work, I listen to music but when statistics become hard and not able to get the expected results. It stress me out,at that time, few hours of social media sites helps me to de –stress it”- says a researcher.

With advancements in technological innovations, Internet has had huge impact on employee work life. A study carried by Simmers in 2006, credited internet for positive transformation at workplace. According to Simmers et al. (2006) in 2004, 65.8% of internet users within the workplace acknowledged that going online while at the workplace improved their morale towards work.

Another study carried out by Pitichat (2013), the use of smartphones to browse within the workplace promotes employee autonomy and make them feel satisfied. He also argues that smartphones play a role in promoting positive relationship between employees in the workplace. Pitichat (2013) also reports, the use of smartphones within the workplace promotes a sharing of knowledge among the employees and employers.

As research highlights the positive impact of using internet, smartphone and other technology helps the employee to de-stress, to enable healthy relationship between the employee and the workers, internet use also affects the employees in large amount.

Negative aspects of internet use and mental health at workplace:

As I am in front of the system for a long hour and sometimes when deadliness is very nearby, a constant e-mails and messages makes me anxious and stress”- says another techie.

A lecturer from the academic Institute says “After my class hours, I usually access my mobile phone to check for any new messages, it has become a habit that even when I don’t get any messages, I am constantly on smart phone checking on various sites. Sometimes even during important meetings if I keep my phone on my table and go somewhere, I will be very anxious as mobile phone is not in my hand

There are several other responses saying that Internet use makes them social anxious, as most of the communication is through online, when the employees have to do a presentation offline or discuss with the superiors there is an anxiety and stage fear.

It is impossible to resist from checking a mobile phone or laptop when a notifications pops in. The notification can be of anything but there always seems to be an anxiety when there is a buzzing sound and this anxiety increases even more when we are at workplace. When an employee gets a notification mail from a employer, an employee gets anxious until he reads it. Problematic internet use can affects the mental well being of an employee apart from affecting the productivity of the organization.

Problematic internet use affects a social wellbeing i.e.  it makes them disconnected with the family, friends and other relationships. For example, an employee, a scientist whose job expects them to be get updated themselves with a newer research, spends most of his time in front of system, reading and writing makes them disconnected with his relatives and friends.

A cross-sectional study shows that 9.2% of participants were having occasional problems and at risk for developing addiction in functioning or moderate impairment due to internet use. Sleep, meal, personal hygiene, and family time were postponed for the people who were at risk for developing internet addiction (Sharma et al 2016)

As internet use at workplace is not only distraction but it can also affects our mental health. Employees sometimes constantly check on internet with a fear of missing out. As phones and computers are always alerting us it can lead to anxiety for an employee that fear of missing an important meeting.

Internet use at workplace can affect their cognitive functions as well. An employee working for a longer working hours in technology oriented may develop a difficulty in attention and concentration, they can also develop a memory issues.

Role of employers at work place

As mental health at workplace is always a topic of discussion in field of psychology as the nature and structure of workplace keep changing. We are in a generation where almost all the work needs an internet. It’s no doubt that internet is giving us positive impact but it also affects the employees and organization to larger extent.

To provide a better technology in work place, employers can follow certain ways in managing employee mental health

  1. A internet monitor system in laptop or smart phone assessing their internet use and giving them the feedback when internet is used excessively
  2. Internet based mental health apps helping an employee to address their mental health issue
  3. Digital Detox can be implemented in work place, guiding the employees on each day
  4. A mental health professional at work place addressing the psychological issues
  5. Workplace can motivate an employee who makes a commitment in life style changes by reducing an internet use and also support to others for reducing a internet use
  6. An online positive game in work portal that can be played by the employees in time of de-stress

We all know the importance of physical health but mental health is always our second concern. It’s time for us to maintain healthy internet use to workplace so that our personal-work life balance, our mental health is been taken care of.

About the author

Dr. Manoj Kumar Sharma

Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, Professor of Clinical Psychology, National Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences, Bangalore (India). Previously he worked for All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi. His area of specialization is understanding & management of technology overuse / addiction, developing assessment tool for their screening, Yoga and spirituality.

He is credited with starting the first Tech Deaddiction clinic (SHUT clinic-Service for Healthy Use of Technology) in India. He is expert member of World Health Organization group on addictive behaviors.

He carried out several research projects by National funding agencies in the area of: Behavioral management of Nicotine dependence; Correlates of Anger among Alcohol Users; Understanding & Prevention of aggression among Youth; Development & validation of Psychiatric morbidity scale; Behavioral addiction in the community: an exploration; Exploration of need and efficacy of internet based program for management of psychological problems; Cell Tower Radiation: psychosocial implication; Pattern and management of technology addiction; pilot work for development of intervention for promotion of healthy use of technology ;app development for promotion of healthy use of technology and social media & sexting.

He brought out articles (N=267) for raising public awareness  for promotion of healthy use of technology in National(i.e. Visual / print) and International (i.e. BBC & BMJ)

He has over 88 publications (National & International) to his credit in the domains of psychological test development; anger, alcohol use and its management; Pattern and prevention of technology addiction; mindfulness / Yoga and it applicability in smoking cessation as well as adjunct treatment modality for promotion of healthy use of technology. – E based psychological intervention Digital Detox app-