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Company execs look to robots to deal with workplace anxiety

Read time 3min 40sec

Around 82% of company leaders and employees across the globe believe that robots, such as digital assistants, chatbots and autonomous robots, can better assist workers to cope with mental health issues in the workplace than their human co-workers.

This is according to a new study by software giant Oracle, in collaboration with human resources firm Workplace Intelligence.

The study of more than 12 000 employees, managers, human resource (HR) leaders, and C-level executives across 11 countries globally, found the COVID-19 pandemic has increased workplace stress, anxiety and burnout for the workforce around the world.

As employees increasingly look to their organisations to provide more mental health support, they prefer robots instead of people to help them deal with work-related stress, notes the study.

The new pressures presented by the global pandemic have been layered on top of everyday workplace stressors, noted the respondents, including pressure to meet performance standards (42%), handling routine and tedious tasks (41%), and juggling unmanageable workloads (41%).

According to the study, people want more from technology than simple collaboration tools, instead wanting technologies such as automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to support their mental health. Some 75% said AI has helped their mental health at work by providing automation of tasks, the ability to seamlessly share working docs online, the verification of information and instant communication tools to engage customers.

The top benefits noted were providing the information needed to do their jobs more effectively (31%), automating tasks and decreasing workload to prevent burnout (27%), and reducing stress by helping to prioritise tasks (27%).

Another 68% of people would prefer to talk to a robot over their manager about stress and anxiety at work and 80% said they are open to having a robot as a therapist or counsellor.

According to the survey, AI has also helped the majority (51%) of workers shorten their work week and allowed them to take longer vacations (51%).

Over half of respondents say AI technology increases employee productivity (63%), improves job satisfaction (54%) and improves overall well-being (52%).

“With the global pandemic, mental health has become not only a broader societal issue, but a top workplace challenge,” says Emily He, senior VP, Oracle Cloud HCM.

“Now more than ever, mental health is a conversation that needs to be had and employees are looking to employers to step up and provide solutions. 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.”

In addition, only 18% of respondents said they would prefer humans over robots to support their mental health as they believe robots provide a judgement-free zone (34%), an unbiased outlet to share problems (30%), and quick answers to health-related questions (29%).

As boundaries have increasingly blurred between personal and professional worlds with people working remotely, 35% of respondents said they are working 40+ more hours each month and 25% said they have been burned out from overwork.

Despite the perceived drawbacks of remote work, 6% of respondents said they find remote work more appealing now than they did before the pandemic, adding that they now have more time to spend with family (51%), sleep (31%) and get work done (30%).

“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,” says Dan Schawbel, managing partner at Workplace Intelligence.

“The pandemic has put mental health front and centre – 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 organisations to start talking about it and exploring new solutions.”

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