Workers trust robots more than their managers

Workers around the world are beginning to trust robots more than people to support their mental health.

A study of more than 12,000 employees, managers, HR leaders and c-level executives across 11 countries found 68% of people would prefer to talk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work.

This increased to 80% who said they were open to having a robot as a therapist or counsellor.

Respondents said AI had helped their mental health at work with the top benefits being providing information needed to do their job more effectively, automating tasks and decreasing workload to prevent burnout and reducing stress by helping to prioritise tasks.

It had also helped the majority of workers to shorten their work week and allowed them to take longer holidays, increase productivity and improve job satisfaction.

But the study, conducted on behalf of HR research and advisory firms Oracle and Workplace and Intelligence, concluded that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased workplace stress, anxiety and burnout for people all around the world.

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UK respondents fared slightly better in terms of stress and anxiety levels at work at 62% compared to a global average of 70%, yet the research still pointed to a huge problem.

UK employees were also slightly more cynical towards using AI to help their mental health at work as much as other regions (60% vs 75% globally).

The majority (77%) of respondents wanted their employer to provide more technology to support their mental health and 69% are open to having a robot therapist, suggesting the UK is more open to AI’s help than they think.

Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Workplace Intelligence said the pandemic had put mental health front and centre.

He said: “It’s 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 new remote work expectations and blurred lines between personal and professional lives, the toll of COVID-19 on our mental health is significant – and it’s something that workers across every industry and country are dealing with.”

Nearly all (94%) of 22 to 25-year olds said their work stress impacted their home life, compared to 85% globally and 89% said the pandemic had affected their mental health.

Researchers said this was no surprise given younger generations have taken on the largest burden of working overtime.

Sixty-six per cent of 22 to 25 year-olds and 59% of 26 to 37 year-olds work at least five more hours a week than before the pandemic.

This was compared to just under half (48%) of 38 to 54-year olds and 31% of those aged 55 to 74.

The most common repercussions affecting peoples’ home lives were sleep deprivation, poor physical health, reduced happiness at home and suffering family relationships and friendships.

Despite this, 62% of people found remote work was more appealing than before the pandemic and said they now spent more time with family, slept more and could get work done.

Emily He, senior vice president at Oracle Cloud HCM, said HR needs to be doing more to support its people. “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, organisations 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.”

Research findings are based on a survey conducted by Savanta between 16 July – 4 August, 2020.