25 Mar 2024
by Jill Shepherd

The Impact of Technology at Work on Mental Health 

I started the writing of this blog by avoiding the blank white screen I am now facing and asking Copilot to help. It turns out that my prompt writing skills are not good enough, as it wrote a formal essay on the role of AI and technology in mental health. I wanted a friendly blog covering the role technology plays in making our mental health at work worse, or better, or neither. Perhaps I will write this draft and then ask the AI to improve my writing style. Maybe that will make this whole exercise less stressful. 

There again it is hardly a stressful task. It is the sort that AI should make easier by helping me in some form or other. Plus, writing a blog involves subjective judgement and human intelligence, so I should feel at least that this sort of role will not be ousted by AI. Maybe using AI will make the writing style a tad too normal, or dare I say boring, anyway.  
That said, we can all feel unsettled by uncertainty as exemplified by AI. Our current mental health is not helped by current world affairs where humanity feels so very non-human at times and where being human seems very much not to be very humane when it comes to the longevity of a planet that is welcoming to us humans and general biodiversity. Add to these big issues, the other big issue of technology’s ever ubiquitous presence in ever clever forms and, well, you must worry and wonder. 
We could take a steer from Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me book that wonders whether androids would end up not bothering with us humans because we are corrupt, emotional and use power in odd ways. It does not help or perhaps it does, that there are many who interpret this book’s ending in other ways. And would an android think of writing, in a blog like this, about the role fiction can have in making us wonder about our mental health in the face of technology? 
I digress or do I? Does AI digress? 
My personal angle on mental health at work, in the face of technology, centres around learning. Learning always used to take us out of our comfort zone into a stretch zone and rarely into a panic zone, except perhaps of the ilk when taught maths badly at school, which might never leave you. Now technology can take us into that panic zone more often than before. This is because whether we are an AI expert whose expertise can be out of date so much faster than a year ago, or a person whose deep and broad expertise and salary relies on a legacy system that will by definition not exist some time soon, or an experienced manager who has always used data, who is now told they must become ‘data literate’, we all feel vulnerable. We feel vulnerable because if we do not learn to integrate technology, our professional identity is challenged to the point where either we do not have a role, or the skills we need to add value mean that our role is not the role we used to fulfil. That is if skills, rather than mind-set, are what defines what we do. Confused? Well, that might be the problem.  
We need to always think of how learning in the digital age, and for the digital age, is emotional and can affect mental health, if those emotions are not actively managed, surfaced and helped along. It is not that mental health cannot be managed in organisations in other ways, it is just that learning is a pro-active way of managing the potential negative impact of technology on mental health at work, when it comes to it changing who we are at work, and the work we do at work. So next time you procure learning, design learning, or learn – stop and think about its active role help take control of thoughts about technology and therefore feelings about technology.

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Jill Shepherd

Jill Shepherd

Practice Director, QA