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e-business: THigh-tech gizmos giving staff 'digital depression'.

Byline: Steve Pain Technology Editor

Research carried out by specialist training firm Priority Management has highlighted the rise of a new form of employee stress, labelled 'digital' depression, caused by the increase in technological and communications devices designed to make working life simpler.

According to Dr Peter Honey, consultant behavioural psychologist for Priority Management, the profusion of communications technology - mobiles, e-mail, wireless PDAs and laptops - is contributing to a rise in employee stress levels, currently said to affect 64 per cent of the working population.

The firm says that digital depression, the term given to the feeling of being overwhelmed by technology, is fast becoming an HR issue.

Priority Management warns that against a background of a stuttering economy businesses are putting more emphasis on increasing employee productivity using new IT systems and programmes. This has in turn led to a rise in work related stress, currently costing the UK pounds 3.8 billion each year

Dr Honey said: 'Digital depression is a direct result of the age of technology. Employees don't feel that they can escape anymore - up to five million employees feel stressed at work and up to half a million of us suffer from stress related illnesses.

'Eighty per cent of employees work more than 40 hours a week with only five per cent feeling a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

'Technology means that they are always accessible and e-mail especially raises expectations that issues need to be responded to urgently.'

Priority Management says the seven main signs of Digital Depression are:

Digital Darwinism - anxiousness caused by the belief that an evolutionary process is taking place and only the most technologically up-to-date will succeed.

Access Stress - an inability to unplug from working life leading to an increase in basic stress levels caused by constant interruptions from mobile phones, wireless devices, e-mail, landlines and laptops. This leads to a decline in quality of personal time and social life.

Cognitive Interruptus - a state of permanent interruption at work created by landlines, e-mails, mobiles, colleagues and bosses. This often leads to CPA (Continuous Partial Attention) and a sense of feeling out of control and 'panic-working'.

Continuous Partial Attention (CPA) - caused by the 24-hour world that we live in, CPA is the inability of employees to concentrate on one task alone, until its completion. Shorter deadlines, a faster working environment and the need to multi-task means that urgent matters take priority over important matters.

Device Creep - the pressure on companies, IT departments and individuals to acquire the newest wireless/all in one mobile-digital assistant-remote device to augment their collection of gadgets and toys regardless of whether it enhances productivity.

IT Rage - the frustration felt by employees during dealings over IT issues and with the inability to understand the behaviour of their desktop computers. The seemingly illogical behaviour of a PC combined with the urgency of a problem is often one of the key stress creators within a busy office environment.

The Technological Treadmill - a constant stream of communications creates a sense that work never ends. There are always more e-mails in the inbox, always queries to answer and more problems to solve.

Michael Beasley, a director of Priority Management, said: 'Technology does make people's lives easier if used correctly but this is rarely the case. For example, Microsoft Outlook is mainly used as an e-mail function but has many other features that can help people prioritise their working day and reduce the feeling of being out of control. UK employees work some of the longest hours in Europe but we are still 13 per cent and 20 per cent behind Germany and France respectively in terms of productivity. The most sophisticated technology in the world will be of little use in increasing personal productivity if an employee isn't fully trained to use it.

'If emptying your inbox in your daily big achievement, you are working to other people's priorities, not your own and the likelihood is that you succumb to one or other of the digital depression categories.' The company advises:

Schedule time to unplug yourself from your job - take breaks, go for a walk.

Understand your current technology. Do you need a training course?

Do you really need new technology, systems or programmes? You should be able to define how it will make you more efficient at your job.

Identify your priorities. Check your e-mail a few times a day - not continuously.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 18, 2003
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