No one can argue that the American workplace has not changed radically in the last 100 years. How about just the last 20 years? The nature of work and the kind of stresses we encounter are changing. Part of this is due to the speed of work, its occasionally ambiguous circumstances, its always-on presence, and its technology. All these factors have created new kinds of stress as Geoff Colvin observes (“The New Trend? Reducing Stress in the Workplace—by Order of Management” Fortune, August 11, 2014, p. 42):
“As work becomes increasingly cognitive, fast-changing, and uncertain, we’re wearing people out in new ways. These are unforeseen effects of the friction-free economy. . . . Friction made the economy less efficient, but it protected people; sometimes it was simply not possible for you to be reached or to get information or participate in a meeting. In today’s friction-free economy the old protections are gone, and employers and employees are struggling more than ever to figure out the new ones.”
Technology enhances before it harms. We enjoy the enhancements, but we must remain mindful of how the technology works so that we can prevent its harm. We are technology’s governor.
Increasing numbers of companies are recognizing these dynamics and are taking steps to address them. Wellness has increasingly become important. Today, technology means that wellness is even more important because the opportunities to undermine it are many. As a result, too many employees are succumbing to a degradation of their wellness because of the added avenues of stress. Colvin summarizes the situation well:
“We’ve been replacing the physical stressors of work with mental and emotional stressors for many years. What’s new is that we’re hitting a resistance point. Many people seem to be reaching a limit. In an increasingly friction-free economy, mental and emotional health is the new wellness.”