Our increased use of technology has in many cases been linked to adverse effects on our mental health. We’ve never been more connected, yet physically unconnected with one another. However, is it the fact that technology has allowed us to collect wide-scale data on mental health and happiness, which means we are bringing to light these issues that may not have otherwise been documented?
Over the last 6 months, there has been an increase in the use of technology for video calls, online shopping, home schooling and even live home workouts. It’s difficult to think of a service that doesn’t rely on some form of machine or connectivity.
In the world of work, the impact of a pandemic only 20 years ago would have been starkly different. Most employees were using office desktops, may not have had a mobile phone, and Skype (which is now being phased out) didn’t exist.
Call us optimists, but technology has (for the most part) had a positive impact on personal happiness, as well as created happier experiences in and outside of the workplace. Here are some of our thoughts on why…
Mobile phones, social media and other communication tools make it easy for people to contact anyone, at any time. They have been invaluable for individuals having to isolate from friends, family, and colleagues in 2020, yet also allow people to be part of a community where they may not have been otherwise. This includes establishing new relationships through professional networking groups or dating apps, to working in a café via a robot when the individual is not physically mobile (this is a thing). The result of this is more social relationships, and a greater network through which to give and receive support.
On the other hand, technology is replacing human interactions which best meet our emotional needs. Although accelerated by Covid-19, the emergence of voice speakers, chat bots and other technologies had already started to present us with virtual operators. In order to support happiness, experiences must retain human elements, which offer empathy and make the user feel valued. At work, this could mean communicating more with colleagues face-to-face (even if via video calls), or for businesses, offering personal telephone consultations to deal with complaints.
Studies have shown that giving resources such as time, ideas or money to others positively correlates with happiness. Giving can trigger the release of endorphins and can reduce stress. Technology has increased the ease of giving through fundraising campaigns and volunteering opportunities, making it easier for us to support those in need. Equally, providing help in a work capacity can help people achieve personal fulfilment; you may recently have seen numerous LinkedIn posts offering to assist connections who are seeking employment during a difficult time. Services should be designed to ensure the process of giving and receiving help is simple and effective. This includes making it easy to share content, leave feedback and identify relevant opportunities.
“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” – Chinese proverb
Freedom & productivity
The internet provides humans with a sense of freedom. Users can search for anything, express their opinions and work from anywhere. However, too much freedom can have a negative impact on productivity – imagine starting every document from scratch rather than using existing templates at work. Services that support high productivity, increase engagement. This activates different areas of the brain, including attention and memory and makes the user more present whilst completing and reflecting on a task.
Freedom and productivity must be reinforced by services to support happiness, considering the context of use and other systems that the experience relies on. By ensuring that content is understandable, relevant to user goals, and can be completed efficiently whilst offering the user control, an experience will create positive feelings of purpose and accomplishment. An example of this is offering product search filters to match user needs and values.
Research has shown that humans are unable to reliably predict their own desires, meaning that experiences should strive to ‘surprise and delight’ users. Providing an experience that evokes emotion (and is useable) can strengthen a connection to a brand or service, making users more likely to return. The same principle can be applied to supporting employees; unexpected recognition and personal contact are particularly important in the current climate where many people are feeling anxious. Connectivity in technology allows experiences to adapt over time, and services should seek to use personalisation, rewards, and positive storytelling to support personal happiness.
Some research suggests that technology, such as gaming consoles, displace the amount of time dedicated to activities including exercise and sleep, which are associated with endorphins and a healthy immune system. Whilst recently conducting DSE (Display Screen Equipment) assessments, I heard a lot of people state that they are working longer hours at home, whilst suffering the consequences of reduced physical movement as office meetings are replaced with virtual calls. To promote happiness, technology and employers must begin to make users more self-aware of their usage, taking responsibility for and addressing when individuals develop addictive or harmful habits.
In contrast, technology has promoted remote activities including at-home workouts, increasing the convenience of exercise for those with busy lifestyles or who are unable to travel. The ability to join others in live sessions increases motivation and human interaction; two key factors endorsing happiness. Technology allows us to access different experiences to meet our needs and preferences in different contexts.
Over time, humans have become more cautious using technology due to concerns around privacy and security, which has been heightened during the pandemic. To feel happy using a service, people must be able to trust it, which goes beyond privacy to cover the whole experience. Ultimately trust is rooted in a users’ relationship with a brand, and can be gained by being transparent, consistent and going beyond expectations to meet user needs. Trust within teams at work is also important, and can be achieved by communicating openly, following the same rules.
Whilst contributing factors to happiness can vary greatly across individuals, there is no doubt of the impact of technology on a number of the key ingredients, such as human relationships, freedom, and trust. With the presence of technology in most workplaces, the associated advantages and disadvantages discussed are likely to impact on people’s happiness both in and outside work. To safeguard personal happiness, services and employers should strive to provide positive experiences for users, recognising where technology supports this and where maybe it’s time to just “switch off”.
Get in touch to discuss how we can support your employee experience.