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Increased use of technology demands closer attention to wellbeing, says Microsoft HRD

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HR departments will need to increase health and wellbeing guidance for employees in the future as the use of new technologies in the workplace becomes more prevalent, Microsoft’s UK HR director has said.

Theresa McHenry (pictured) told HR Magazine although employers should provide employees with technological solutions to help them work flexibly, they also needed to guide them about healthy work practices.

She said employers should consider implementing technologies that would prevent workers from feeling isolated, and encourage them to find the right balance between work and rest.

“We’re a 24-hour, global organisation,” McHenry said of Microsoft. “People have different times when they work, so you have to trust people to know when and where they work best, and give them the support and guidance that says they need to take care of themselves at the same time.”

McHenry said health messages would become more important in the future. “Technology is a real enabler of flexible working, but it has it’s downsides as well,” she said.

“In the same way that technology means you’re always on and that might mean burn out and stress, technology also means you can work at home much more easily - but then you might become more isolated and that’s also stressful.

“It should be on the agenda for every HR department to think about promoting social and human interaction in whatever way they can - whether it’s connecting people virtually when they’re working at home, so they’re connected to the chatter going on in the office, or that when people do come into the office there’s a space for them.”

She added that that improving workers’ “resilience and energy” by catering for their wellbeing would improve staff retention.

Social isolation

Nuffield Health's group organisation development and HR director Marcus Powell backed McHenry’s comments.

“Technology is a huge enabler, but if it is not used as part of a wider people agenda it can lead to social isolation,” he said.

“Organisations provide many people access to a lively community that often is unavailable in other aspects of their lives.

“Social interaction creates a mechanism where people feel they belong, feel supported and can deal with the daily stress and anxieties that are frequent features of the modern work environment.’

 “All too often the decision makers in organisations are not conversant with the latest developments in technology and how younger generations use them to create social connection,” he continued.

“Therefore, HR departments have a huge role to play in helping adopt new technologies, whilst at the same time adapting traditional community development activities in new and innovative ways.”

Research published by Microsoft in November 2013 suggested 54% of workers in the UK work over the weekend, and 38% would like to work remotely more often.