Even as technology is increasingly being identified as a root cause of workplace burnout, new tech tools are seeking to offer a solution.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized workplace burnout as a legitimate “occupational phenomenon”, defining it as a syndrome “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
WHO characterizes the syndrome by three dimensions: Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job and reduced professional efficacy.
According to Statistics Canada, 27 per cent of Canadian workers claim to experience extreme levels of stress daily, and an additional 46 per cent felt “a bit” of stress on a daily basis, with 62 per cent citing their jobs as the primary cause. Each week, about half a million Canadians miss work due to a psychological health issue, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Like many mental-health disorders, however, it’s often difficult to detect burnout, and even harder to intervene before it’s too late. According to a 2016 study by the Conference Board of Canada, depression and anxiety cost the Canadian economy almost $50-billion a year in lost productivity.
There are, however, a range of new tools and technologies that seek to help employers identify and prevent burnout before it happens.
Communication language analysis
Over the course of an average day, most employees use a range of text-based platforms to communicate – such as e-mail, Slack and text messaging – and the words they choose can actually help paint a picture of how they’re feeling.
“The patterns with which people use categories of prepositions and pronouns can be very tightly correlated to different psychological states,” said Jonathan Kreindler, chief executive of Toronto-based corporate culture analytics company Receptiviti.
People who are depressed tend to use more first-person singular pronouns, with their language focusing more on the present and less on the future, Mr. Kreindler says. By analyzing communications across a range of platforms, such as e-mail and instant messaging, the company is able to provide organizations with real-time data about the psychological state of various departments and job types.
For privacy reasons, however, the company doesn’t provide data about any individual employee. Instead, it helps clients identify potential problem areas in certain corners of their work force.
“If you know that women in a certain region, under a certain manager, all are far more stressed than the men under that same regional manager, there’s something worth investigating,” Mr. Kreindler said.
Emotional recognition in conversational speech
Just as our choice of words offers clues about our emotional state in written conversations, so too does our tone, volume and choice of words in spoken conversations.
“Using weekly discussion sessions with a specialized psychologist, we record the conversations and analyze them in order to capture the emotional cues that lead to specific behaviours,” said Rana Gujral, the CEO of Los Angeles-based Behavioral Signals. “Our aim is to teach our machine learning models to predict the signals that indicate disengagement or burnout before it reaches dangerous levels.”
The platform is designed to analyze how humans interact in order to detect sarcasm, sadness, anger or frustration, Mr. Gujral says, and suggests an appropriate response to diffuse negative situations.
Although managers treat all of their employees equally, he says, some may require more personal attention, breaks and time off than others.
“In the future we believe such algorithms will help not only with recognizing burnout before it happens, but also assist in hiring decisions, creating a more personalized relationship with employees that fits their needs leading to higher performance,” he said.
Data-informed listening sessions
Toronto-based employee recognition software Achievers has a range of tools that can help managers gain a better understanding of their staff’s mental health and well-being. They include surveys, check-ins and a desktop application that prompts them with questions about their emotional state. According to the company’s chief work force scientist, Natalie Baumgartner, it’s what they do with the data that makes the technology so powerful.
“Action Builder basically takes managers through a very simple process to help them identify the one or two hot spots to address this quarter, and gives them a step-by-step format to walk through a discussion that identifies one or two actions to implement before the next survey takes place,” she said.
Dr. Baumgartner adds that the software provides managers with an agenda for a listening session designed to elicit responses that will help them better address employee concerns.
“We have to be asking our employees to help us understand how we can best support them,” she said. “Continuous conversation is one of the pillars that needs to be incorporated at every level if we’re going to impact the lives of employees.”
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