Kyran Fitzgerald: Why tech has huge hidden costs in the workplace

Kyran Fitzgerald: Why tech has huge hidden costs in the workplace

Any jobs offer should open the door to a host of opportunities, but often, what awaits people is a mountain of obligations, a host of deadlines and a huge amount of stress.

In many cases, people are simply not getting the time to get the most out of their jobs. What we are witnessing, in some organisations, is the emergence of a cult of never-ending transformation.

Talk to people in many occupations from media to the professions to industry and you get a sense that they are working under the cosh.

In the health service, for instance, levels of dissatisfaction appear to be particularly high and much of that is down to high levels of administration.

New technologies promised an end to paperwork in many occupations. The opposite is occurring. Change is the managerial mantra which often leads to confusion and exhaustion.

The IT industry has been driving huge change and to many outsiders, its workers are in a privileged position, with quite a few earning salaries north of €100,000.

Recently, the website Silicon Republic reported the findings of a survey of 11,500 people by US group, Teamblind.

It found that 60% of the tech workers interviewed felt burned out, with women, in particular, suffering.

These high burnout levels are contributing to high levels of absenteeism — and to higher employee turnover, including the loss of talent from an industry that is suffering an acute shortage of labour.

But there could be another drawback from this “go for the burn” culture.

What if the loss of energy and talent is also leading to a loss of imagination and customer awareness when it comes to the design of the technology products we all rely on in this digital age?

Is the tech workforce being stripped of many of its most imaginative and creative people resulting in product lines and systems that are more clunky and less user-friendly?

And what if your workforce comes to be dominated by young male techies who are happy to work all hours of the day to generate lots of cash, for themselves?

The surgeon and medical writer, Atul Gawande, recently outlined the impact of a revolutionary new IT system on his working life and that of his colleagues.

His conclusions are provocative and, in some respects, alarming, though he also concludes on a note of very cautious optimism.

Mr Gawande is one of 70,000 employed by a large healthcare group. He talks about the chaos and cost of “the transformation”.

First, the cost, at $1.6bn (€1.5bn).

It emerged that most of the expenses accounted for in lost patient revenues and in paying all the support people required during the implementation period.

Mr Gawande is led to conclude that, three years on, “a system that promised to increase my mastery over my work has increased its mastery over me”.

As a surgeon, Mr Gawande spends less time at the computer. But his physician colleagues are snowed under, many forced to work late to deal with their admin.

“One of the strongest indicators of burnout is the amount of time spent tied up with computer documentation. There are epidemic levels of burnout among occupational physicians. Forty percent screen positive for depression. Seven percent report feeling suicidal,” he writes.

Mr Gawande believes that people have become “more disconnected” as a result, less likely to consult with each other.

“In the old craft-based, pre-computer system, there was plenty of room for people to do things differently. People could be innovative,” he says.

He concedes that in the old days there was “no real mechanism for weeding out bad ideas and practices”.

He met with his CEO to chew the fat, who was delighted with the increase in oversight because he now has the electronic levers to influence the thousands of clinicians who report to him.

The boss’s view is that hospitals have been blighted by unsafe practices which management and in a paper-based world could do little about.

Patients, in some ways benefit, but something has been lost.

Perhaps, the new breed of tech-savvy managers need to consider the words of the management thinker, Peter Drucker: “We are not going to breed a race of supermen. We have to run our organisations with people as they are.”

He adds: “The essence of management is not techniques and procedures. It is to make people productive, to harness their expertise. Management, in other words, is a social function.”

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