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Employees put off family life for fear of falling behind on workplace tech

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Workers are concerned that they will return to work after long absences and technology will have completely changed

More than a quarter (28%) of UK workers have said that their fears of being left behind by workplace technology are so severe that they have been put off having children, according to CWJobs.

This proportion rises to over half (51%) of workers in the IT and tech industry.

The Returnship Report, which surveyed 2,000 workers who took leave from work lasting over three months within the last 10 years, looked at the challenges facing businesses when employees return to work after a prolonged absence, such as paternity and maternity leave.

It suggested that, while workplace technology is helpful, it also contributes to stress and anxiety and even leads employees to rethink family planning because they are worried about being left behind while tech continually evolves in their absence.

Nearly half (45%) of employees who had returned to work reported that their workplace technology had either changed or was totally overhauled while they were away. Two-fifths (40%) said they felt left behind when they returned to work, over half (57%) said returning felt like it was their first day again and over a third (36%) said they struggled to operate technology that had arrived in their absence.

Over a third (38%) stated that their return to work was so stressful they felt nervous or anxious when contemplating taking another break.

Dominic Harvey, commercial director of CWJobs, said the issue could mean that businesses lose out on talent: “The tech sector can ill-afford to haemorrhage existing talent in the UK. Workplaces need to do more to bridge the gap for their employees when returning to work and create a working environment where they feel continually supported.”

The research found that concerns over not keeping up with tech are also hampering productivity. A third (33%) of employees said it took between one and six months to become fully accustomed to new technology that had been introduced while they were away and a further 38% admitted to struggling with everyday processes and other day-to-day jobs that had been altered by the introduction of new technology.

More than three-quarters (79%) said they required technology training on returning to work, but despite this, only 31% received full training and 20% did not receive any at all. As a result, over a third (38%) felt left behind by their employer or that they did not have the support they required to get back up to speed.

Keeping in touch days and returnships can help employees return to work more easily, researchers said. However, the report found that only 21% of respondents had heard of returnships.

Belinda Parmar, CEO of The Empathy Business, said a greater emphasis on belonging would help employees make a smoother return to work.

"We spend more than 50 years of our lives at work – that is more time than we spend with our families. We need companies to create programmes and empathy nudges that help people return seamlessly into the workplace and feel that they belong again. These nudges can be anything from creating spaces where parents can put up pictures of their children to giving people a tech re-education, so they are up-to-date with any advances from day one," she said.

"We need to close the gap and the current keeping in touch days are a good idea but these days are often small in number and little effort is put into addressing the skills gap. We need more empathic interventions and a much bigger focus on this if we want to create the workplace of the future.”