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Stressed-out remote workers turn to tech for support

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Over 20 months since the onset of lockdowns across the globe, workplace anxiety and stress has reached new levels among employees.

Hungry for new skills and remote work emotional support, employees across the globe are increasingly leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented and virtual reality to meet the evolving nature of workplace shifts, after the COVID-19 pandemic left them feeling lonely and disconnected from their own lives.

This is according to a new study conducted by human resources research and advisory firm Workplace Intelligence and commissioned by software giant Oracle.

The study, based on an online survey of more than 14 600 employees, managers, HR leaders and C-level executives across 13 countries, including SA, found the continued uncertainty due to the effects of the pandemic has left many workers in emotional turmoil, and feeling like their lives and careers are out of control.

The pandemic has had a profound impact on the world of work, and employees around the world have felt stuck in their personal and professional lives, as a result of trying to juggle working remotely, childcare, schooling and an unpredictable financial situation – all taking a toll on working families.

To retain and grow top talent amid changing workplace dynamics, employers have been forced to pay attention to employee needs more than ever before and provide better support.

However, the research notes many organisations are struggling with this new mandate to become nimble enough to accommodate the differing needs of employees of multiple demographics and regions, while keeping up with the surging demand for upskilling them while providing adequate emotional support.

According to the study, 85% of the global workforce are not satisfied with their employer’s support and are looking for organisations to provide more learning and skills development (34%) tools, higher salaries (31%) and opportunities for new roles within their company (30%).

Another 85% of respondents want to use technology, such as robots, digital assistants and chatbots, to help define their future by identifying new skills they need to develop (36%), recommending ways to learn new skills (36%) and providing emotionally-supportive ways to help them cope with the shifts presented by remote working (32%).

As mental health apps gain popularity, 80% of those surveyed are open to having a robot as a therapist or counsellor, and 83% would like their companies to provide technology to support their mental health. Apps for fitness, wellness and meditation are also increasingly contributing to balanced mental health, notes the study.

“The last year set a new course for the future of work. Surprisingly, amongst the stress, anxiety, and loneliness of the global pandemic, employees found their voice, became more empowered and are now speaking up for what they want,” says Yvette Cameron, senior VP at Oracle Cloud HCM.

“The evolving nature of the workplace shifted the way people think about success and reset people’s expectations for how organisations can best support them. To attract and retain talent, businesses need to place a higher priority on helping employees identify and develop new skills and provide personalised career journeys so they can feel in control of their careers again.”

Around 75% of respondents said they are willing to make life changes based on robot recommendations; 82% believe robots can support their careers better than a human by giving unbiased recommendations (37%), quickly answering questions about their career (33%), or finding new jobs that fit their current skills (32%).

Around 87% of respondents believe their company should be doing more to listen to their skills development and morale support needs and 55% are more likely to stay with a company that uses advanced technologies like AI to support their career growth.

“The past year-and-a-half changed how we work, including where we work and, for a lot of people, who we work for. While there have been a lot of challenges for both employees and employers, this has been an opportunity to change the workplace for the better,” says Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Workplace Intelligence.

“The results clearly show that investment in skills and career development is now a key differentiator for employers, as it plays a significant role in employees feeling like they have control over their personal and professional lives. Businesses that invest in their employees and help them find opportunities will reap the benefits of a productive, engaged workforce.”

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