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Workers want robots, not people, to help manage COVID-19 stress - study

2020 has been the most stressful year in history for the global workforce and people want robots to help, according to a new study by Oracle and Workplace Intelligence.

The study of more than 12,000 employees, managers, HR leaders, and C-level executives across 11 countries found that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased workplace stress, anxiety, and burnout for people all around the world, and they prefer robots instead of other people to help.

The study found people across the world are battling increased levels of anxiety and depression at work due to COVID-19.  

  • 70 percent of people have had more stress and anxiety at work this year than any other previous year.
  • This increased stress and anxiety has negatively impacted the mental health of 78 percent of the global workforce, causing more stress (38 percent), a lack of work-life balance (35 percent), burnout (25 percent), depression from no socialization (25 percent), and loneliness (14 percent).
  • The new pressures presented by the global pandemic have been layered on top of everyday workplace stressors, including pressure to meet performance standards (42 percent), handling routine and tedious tasks (41 percent), and juggling unmanageable workloads (41 percent).
     

According to the study, mental health issues at work are negatively affecting people's personal lives

The global pandemic has exacerbated workplace mental health issues and the impact is not confined to professional lives people are feeling the effects at home as well, the study explains.

  • 85 percent of people say mental health issues at work (i.e. stress, anxiety, and depression) affect their home life
  • The most common repercussions were sleep deprivation (40 percent), poor physical health (35 percent), reduced happiness at home (33 percent), suffering family relationships (30 percent), and isolation from friends (28 percent).
  • As boundaries have increasingly blurred between personal and professional worlds with people working remotely, 35 percent of people are working 40+ more hours each month and 25 percent of people have been burned out from overwork.
  • Despite perceived drawbacks of remote work, 62 percent of people find remote work more appealing now than they did before the pandemic, saying they now have more time to spend with family (51 percent), sleep (31 percent), and get work done (30 percent).

Employees want help and are turning to technology over people, the study found.

People want more from technology than collaboration tools and instead want technology to support their mental health

  • Only 18 percent of people would prefer humans over robots to support their mental health as they believe robots provide a judgement-free zone (34 percent), an unbiased outlet to share problems (30 percent), and quick answers to health-related questions (29 percent).
  • 68 percent of people would prefer to talk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work and 80 percent of people are open to having a robot as a therapist or counselor.
  • 75 percent say AI has helped their mental health at work. The top benefits noted were providing the information needed to do their job more effectively (31 percent), automating tasks and decreasing workload to prevent burnout (27 percent), and reducing stress by helping to prioritize tasks (27 percent).
  • AI has also helped the majority (51 percent) of workers shorten their work week and allowed them to take longer vacations (51 percent). Over half of respondents say AI technology increases employee productivity (63 percent), improves job satisfaction (54 percent), and improves overall well-being (52 percent).
     

The report found mental health issues at work are not going away and cannot be ignored.

Employees worldwide are looking for their organizations to provide more mental health support and if this help is not provided, it will have profound impact on global productivity as well as the personal and professional lives of the global workforce.

  • 76 percent of people believe their company should be doing more to protect the mental health of their workforce. 51 percent noted their companies have added mental health services or support as a result of COVID-19.
  • 83 percent of the global workforce would like their company to provide technology to support their mental health, including self-service access to health resources (36 percent), on-demand counseling services (35 percent), proactive health monitoring tools (35 percent), access to wellness or meditation apps (35 percent), and chatbots to answer health-related questions (28 percent).
  • 84 percent of workers have faced challenges while working remotely, with the biggest factors being no distinction between personal and professional lives (41 percent) and dealing with increased mental health challenges like stress and anxiety (33 percent).
  • 42 percent of people said workplace stress, anxiety, or depression causes their productivity to plummet and 40 percent said it leads to an increase in poor decision making. 85 percent said work related stress, anxiety, and depression affects their home life.

"With new remote work expectations and blurred lines between personal and professional lives, the toll of COVID-19 on our mental health is significant and its something that workers across every industry and country are dealing with," says Dan Schawbel, managing partner, Workplace Intelligence. 

"The pandemic has put mental health front and center its the biggest workforce issue of our time and will be for the next decade. The results of our study show just how widespread this issue has become, and why now is the time for organizations to start talking about it and exploring new solutions."

"With the global pandemic, mental health has become not only a broader societal issue, but a top workplace challenge. It has profound impact on individual performance, team effectiveness and organizational productivity," says said Emily He, senior vice president, Oracle Cloud HCM.

"Now more than ever, its a conversation that needs to be had and employees are looking to employers to step up and provide solutions," she explains.
 
"There is a lot that can be done to support the mental health of the global workforce and there are so many ways that technology like AI can help. But first, organizations need to add mental health to their agenda.

"If we can get these conversations started both at an HR and an executive level we can begin to make some change. And the time is now."